In 1981, some three years after Johnny Paycheck's version of "Take This Job and Shove it" topped the country charts, a movie inspired by the twangy slam-The-Man anthem opened.
The middling comedy, starring Robert Hays in his first big post-"Airplane" role, has been all but forgotten. Paycheck's hit, meanwhile, is enjoying a zeitgeist revival thanks to the real-life airplane antics of rogue flight attendant Steven Slater, whose slide down an escape chute armed with beer lived up to the spirit of the tune better than any flick ever could.
While it took a few years for "Take This Job and Shove it" to spawn a film, Slater's JetBlue misadventure within days spurred Facebook pages, songs (most notably Jimmy Fallon's clever "The Ballad of Steven Slater") and even an animated recreation. Now there’s talk of a Slater reality show – potentially carrying the steamed steward to the heights (or depths) of modern-day non-celebrity celebrity.
Perhaps the true ballad of Steven Slater isn't about living vicariously through a working stiff pushed two beers too far as much as it is about the jet-speed of his takeoff into what passes for stardom and folk-hero status three-plus decades after Paycheck’s blunt, fantasy declaration.
The folks at TMZ reported Monday that Slater has been offered a reality show in which he would help people quit their jobs – presumably with a dose of the Walter Mitty-without-impulse-control theatrics that helped his story go viral.
The premise, frankly, sounds decidedly unrealistic – especially with a 9.6 percent unemployment rate. But a harsh economic climate in which many workers feel trapped, no doubt, is part of the appeal of the Slater tale (When “Take This Job and Shove it” hit the top of the country charts in early 1978, it should be noted, the U.S. also was in a pretty miserable economic state, coming off 7.1 percent unemployment rate).
A Slater show could prove an interesting counterpoint to CBS’ surprise reality hit “Undercover Boss,” in which CEOs masquerade as employees to get a seemingly first-hand look at the conditions facing workers. The boss, more often than not, ultimately comes across as a hero of sorts who promises change – certainly not the kind of person you would tell to shove a job or anything else.
That’s long way from the plight of Paycheck’s song character, a factory worker who’s had it with a whole assembly line of bosses. But times have changed: Slater is a creature of the service economy age – he ostensibly was pushed over the edge not by supervisors, but by customers. (Never mind that his account of what sparked his reckless leap into fame reportedly is being questioned and that deploying the emergency chute could have caused serious injury or worse).
Part of the lasting charm of Paycheck’s song, besides the sentiment, is that the title says it all – much like Fallon's catchy refrain of “You gotta get two beers and jump,” which, when Slater finally slides off into the sunset, will be the soundtrack to his legend.
For fed up working folks everywhere, the tunes might be variation on a theme, but the song remains the same.
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Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.