Words We No Longer Understand: “Hero”
So, last week, we were effectively homeless for about 24 hours. We moved everything from the one house but couldn’t actually purchase the new house until the day following. We figured, “Hey, we could go live in the woods or something, and hunt squirrels by throwing our shoes at them,” but then it seemed a wiser idea to stay at my in-laws, instead. As delicious as squirrel meat happens to be (it really is!), this just seemed more civilized. Plus: hey, they have television! Yay television!
The morning of our new home purchase, my mother-in-law had the TV set to… uhhh, one of the morning programs. Which is the one with Matt Lauer and the jolly no-longer-all-that-fat-but-his-head-now-kinda-looks-like-a-cinderblock-made-of-melting-chocolate weatherman? Right. That one.
They did a segment on that show about Steven Slater.
By now, you’ve heard about this guy.
Slater, a flight attendant, got bitched at and maybe knocked in the head by some passenger using the overhead bin door, then went to the intercom, said some mildly profane shit, grabbed two beers, blew the emergency door and slid his fed-up buttocks to freedom. It’s a helluva way to quit your job.
But the slant on the story was a little different.
What the fuck? Really?
Wait, wait, wait. Maybe it’s me that misunderstands. Maybe they redefined the word “hero” in the last few years? I’m supposed to get those memos, but you know dictionary bureaucracy! Let’s see, here — *flips through imaginary dictionary, which is to say loads up a dictionary website because nobody owns goddamn dictionaries anymore* — ahh, okay, here. Hero. Noun! Okay…
“A man distinguished by exceptional courage and nobility and strength; a champion: someone who fights for a cause.”
And a big question mark forms above my head. Bink.
Hero: guy who runs into burning building to save another life (man, woman, child, cat, wombat).
Hero: soldier putting his life on the line for country and ideals.
Hero: counter monkey at Quizno’s doesn’t like the stink-eye that the customer is giving him so he sprays hot sauce in her eyes, gulps a mouthful of Mountain Dew, and takes a dump in the sandwich toaster!
YEAAAAH! *guitar lick*
One of these things is not like the other. Listen, I get it. Slater was fed up. And he was reportedly dealing with some bad news — dead father, sick mother. Further, nobody wants to suffer abuse at the hands of customers. I’ve worked retail. Customers can be a real buzzkill, man. They always want shit. They’re like needy infants, grabbing at you with sticky jam hands, crying when they can’t get what they want.
I had this one time, right? When I worked at an outlet bookstore? Customer was buying books for his kid — a 12-year-old boy or thereabouts — and he paid in cash, so I made his change, and just as I was about to hand him his money, he decided, no, no, I want to pay with this pocket full of change instead. So he wanted me to switch it out and re-give him change. I was like, “Okay, whatever,” but then I’m stymied because the register already went through its magical mathematic-cycle and here I am with several dollars in change, and I just plain don’t know what to give this guy back. I’m looking for a calculator to work it out, and the smarmy prickhole says to his kid: “See? That’s why you want to study hard and learn math so you don’t end up behind a counter like this guy.” Oh. Oh. No you didn’t. I was flushed, red-faced, equal parts embarrassed and angry (did I mention the line of customers behind this jackwagon?), and thankfully I had this fireplug of a boss, this don’t-give-a-fuck-ever guy named Jon DiPippo.
He got in the customer’s face, told him to take his money, leave the books, and get the hell out of the store.
It was pretty awesome.
At that time, DiPippo was my hero.
But he wasn’t a hero. In the grand scheme of things what he did was not particularly heroic. It’s not like the customer was threatening people with a fire ax or something. Nobody was throwing Jon a parade.
Nobody was going to get on the news and proclaim him a hero. Working-class, folk, or otherwise.
Slater had a meltdown. Decided to quit his job in a manner befitting the oppressed. Fine. Good. Whatever. Never mind the fact that what he did was illegal — y’know, blowing open an emergency hatch and stealing beer. Never mind the fact that flight attendants have protocol and can use that protocol to their advantage by basically kicking anybody off the plane for whatever reason they damn well choose (did you see last week that Delta kicked a passenger off the plane for asking if the pilot had been drinking?) — you whack a flight attendant in the head, you can get served a one-way ticket to the tarmac, lady. Never mind the fact that just as flight attendants have been abused by customers, customers have in turn been abused by flight attendants (seriously, some of those assholes are real assholes). Never mind the fact that this economy continues to stumble around like a newborn foal on trembling legs and that jobs are hard to come by –
Let’s proclaim him a hero!
He sacrificed for our good! And by “our good,” I actually mean, “his good!” He fought off the terrorists known as customers and stuck a thumb in the eye of his apparently reputable employer!
Woo! Hero! Hero time! Champion of the working stiff!
No. No. He’s not a goddamn hero. You can approve of his actions, you can think what he did was abominable, you can not give one itty-bitty-titty what he did or who this guy is, but the one thing we don’t get to do is call him a hero. We go from 9/11 — a day of genuine heroism in the face of terror — to nearly ten years later, where we’re willing to call this cranky-pants flight attendant a hero?
Once, heroism was a gilded thing, a shining emblem of what it was to do right.
Now, it’s a half-off coupon at Bed, Bath and Beyond.
I think it’s time to start reclaiming words. Words that are being diluted by public misuse. What words do you hear that are constantly misused? What words strike your pet peeve nerve centers?