In what appeared to some to be a classic Howard Beale moment, flight attendant Steven Slater this week apparently grabbed a few beers, popped open the emergency door, and slid his way down to his personal 15 minutes of American pop culture stardom. Slater's alleged profanity-riddled P.A. tirade and grand escape were, we are told, an exasperated response to the rude attitude of a female passenger—a claim the airline is finding hard to substantiate. In the wake of Slater's impulsive performance, a chorus of attaboys has arisen from coast to coast, a legal defense fund has been established, and the saucy steward's Facebook status has gone exponential.

Only in our narcissistic society, though, might such poor judgment and outrageous antics be seen as somehow worthy of our esteem. Interviewed in the wake of Slater's saga, a teenaged Philadelphia fast-food employee later told the local press that, if she wanted to quit her job, she'd go out by "putting roaches in salads and drinks." A 22-year-old quoted in the same article claimed she would "steal some ----" (a colorful euphemism for "stuff"). Different approaches, but driven by the same thought process: "You don't understand me, therefore you are wrong, and you must pay!"  

Dina Lohan provides another poor example—this time, not just for her daughter Lindsay, but for the rest of us, as well. On Friday's (8/13/10) Today show on NBC, Lohan defended her "brilliant" daughter's behavior, and chided the "recused judge" who dared sentence the perennial offender to jail time for a probation violation on her most recent DUI conviction. Again: in the face of Lindsay's obvious outrageous behavior, somehow Mom thinks the system is to blame.

In the real world, criminal actions demand serious punishment. In Mr. Slater's case, we will all encounter demanding or irrational customers; everyone has a bad day at work. Some choose the high road, and often win over a grumpy soul with a cheerful servant attitude. Others simply give up, offering the world a dismissive one-finger salute--or something much worse. So, which response deserves folk hero status?