Say No to Trump

Donald Trump is everywhere. He’s YOOOOOGE… and inescapable. I turn on my television and there he is. And he wants to be president.

At first, I thought it was a joke. I know that many still don’t take him seriously. But guys? I’m starting to worry.

In the age of “going viral”, it’s certainly not unheard of to take a joke a little bit too far. Take the potato salad story. In 2014, a Columbus, Ohio man started a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to raise money to make a potato salad. It was a joke, a prank, a gag. But somehow, it grabbed attention. People gave money, probably ironically at first. Who has spare cash to give away ironically? I don’t know. But apparently, there are more of them than you’d think. The guy who wanted to raise $10 to buy some potatoes and mayonnaise ended up pulling in over $55,000. Let me say that again. A month-long Kickstarter campaign meant mostly as a joke — meant to raise $10 at most — raised OVER FIFTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS. To make potato salad.

Now, as pranks go, this one was by all accounts benign. Even beneficial — the man who started it all ended up organizing PotatoStock, a giant potato salad party with the proceeds going to benefit charities that help homeless and hungry people. That’s awesome, and the fact that something so incredible could come out of a joke is probably part of the reason why people are eager to hop on the bandwagon of new, exciting, internet-friendly viral ventures.

But there’s a darker side to this, and you can see it by looking at all of the instances of a popular internet thing going horribly wrong. An innocent student hounded because he was misidentified as the Boston Marathon bomber early on. Fake charities, fake pregnancies, and faked illnesses. Anonymous. GamerGate. Rebecca Black’s Friday.

And now, there’s Donald Trump.

I know, I know — he’s a businessman and would-be politician, not an internet sensation. But in many ways, Donald Trump is made for the internet. He’s an active Twitter user. That hair. He says pithy, easily meme-able things. That hair. He’s “not politically correct”. That hair. The reality shows and pageants. That hair.

And he’s caught on, in a big way. And I’m starting to really fear how far this joke might go.

I urge you, if you’re looking at Donald Trump as a serious solution to the nation’s problems, please stop and rethink. If you know someone who has jumped on the Donald Trump bandwagon, please urge them to stop and rethink.

A country is not a business, and being able to handle money as a business person (however arguable Trump’s ability to do that is) does not translate to an ability to handle our country’s money.

A man who thinks that politically correct is a bad thing to be shouldn’t be allowed near foreign policy decisions. Political correctness is another way of saying “respect for others”. Trump’s brashness will lose allies and could conceivably start wars.

A man who is too thin-skinned to handle debate questions from Fox reporters can’t possibly be trusted with the immense pressures of the nation’s highest office.

We’re a nation founded on immigration. Trump’s attitude toward immigrants is unconscionable in a country that claims to pride itself on welcoming “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

And… that hair. Do you really want to look at it for four straight years?

Donald Trump is massively entertaining for a real estate developer. I freely admit that. Give him a new reality show. A new pageant. A new book deal. Let him back in the WWE ring. But for the love of all things sane and good, do not give this man elected office. Especially not THIS elected office.

Don’t Feed the Animals

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Today, I got sucked into a Facebook debate about Wisconsin’s bill banning shellfish for food stamp recipients. Of course, the bill doesn’t just ban shellfish — it also restricts “luxuries” like ketchup, potatoes, taco shells, and sharp cheddar cheese, to name just a few items. Anyway, as I think I’ve mentioned here, I tend to fall on the side of “feed the people, already”. I think that states can find better ways to spend their money than policing people’s food choices, and I also think that there are a zillion different situations out there, and food choices should be as broad as possible to cover all of those possible situations. And that’s what I was trying to express, when someone chimed in with the opinion that allowing people to choose their own food was”like feeding the animals — they become dependent and won’t fend for themselves.”

And that’s when I realized that I was making the wrong argument.

There’s absolutely no point in arguing that people who need food assistance should be able to make their own food choices and prioritize their own budgets when you’re dealing with the attitude that poor people aren’t people — they’re animals, begging for scraps. Later on in the conversation another commenter expressed that she felt that food stamp recipients should be “a little more desperate” than they currently have to be to qualify for food stamps, and also that, even though food stamp recipients get the same amount per month whether they buy steak or ramen noodles, so restricting their food choices doesn’t actually save anyone any money, she just “didn’t want to feel like she was paying for steak.” Not only do these types of people think the poor are animals, they aren’t even animal lovers. They want the animals to be closer to starving and get the bare minimum to keep alive.

Welcome to America, where corporations are people and hungry people are animals. Animals that aren’t desperate enough, no less. Maybe we should lobby to have food stamps declared a form of free speech.

How did this happen? Does it all go back to Ronald Reagan, with his (completely invented) “young buck buying T-bone steaks” and his (wildly exaggerated) “Cadillac-driving welfare queen”? Or is it deeper than that? Is it connected with the way we tend to demonize people of other races, ethnicities, and nationalities? Is it fear-based — perhaps related to the fact that most Americans are living one or two paychecks, or one medical emergency, or one natural disaster, away from poverty themselves? Do they think that if they convince themselves that people who need help are “the other”, then they can stop worrying that it will happen to them?

I don’t know. I wish I had the answers, but I don’t.

Here’s what I do know:

  • Poor people are still people. You can argue that a human being is a type of animal — and I’m on board with that — but a hungry person is not a different type of animal than a financially stable person. What’s more, from an evolutionary perspective, sharing is the smart strategy.
  • People deserve food, period. Whether or not a person works, no matter what you think of their life choices, there is no good justification for allowing a fellow human being to starve.
  • Poverty is not a moral failing. It’s simply the condition of not having enough money to meet basic needs.

Until people get on board with at least these three points, we’re probably going to keep seeing hateful petty bills intended to micromanage what the poor can have and do, and — not so coincidentally — make people who aren’t poor feel morally superior. Yay. And even getting everyone on board with those three points won’t totally fix it. I can think of a ton of other important points (such as “poor people aren’t automatically too stupid to budget their own grocery money”) that will need to be argued later. But none of them are even worth bringing up until the majority of society decides to agree that poor people are still people, that people deserve to eat, and that poverty is not a moral failing.

I don’t know how to bring anyone around to the idea that people who need help are people. Is it possible to infect people with empathy? Maybe I’ll make that my New Year’s Resolution. (I know it’s May, but I just had a birthday. It’s my New Year, dammit.) Figure out how to spread empathy. All I know is that people need food, and also a little respect and autonomy. And this “don’t feed the animals” attitude is what’s allowing politicians like the ones in Wisconsin to take food, respect, autonomy, and ultimately humanity away from their own fellow citizens and humans. It has to stop.

#DoFeedTheHumans

Some Thoughts on Mom of the Year

I almost hate to blog about Baltimore. For one thing, everybody is talking about Baltimore, and for another, I don’t know exactly what I can add to the conversation. I am probably the whitest white girl in existence, and if I try to talk about racism in the US or police violence against black men and women, I will probably get something wrong out of sheer lack of experience. For whatever it’s worth, my heart goes out to the families and communities of the people who have been victimized by the people that are supposed to be protecting our communities. I cannot imagine the heartbreak and anger they experience when again and again, our justice system minimizes and excuses these hateful and reprehensible crimes. I applaud them for the bravery they’ve shown in going out to protest these injustices. I don’t know if I could be that brave in the face of systemic oppression.

And that brings me to the woman who’s being referred to in the news and on social media as #momoftheyear.

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You can read the story anywhere on the internet right now. It boils down to this: that woman in yellow is the mother of the 16 year old child in the hood and mask up there. She spotted him in the thick of one of the riot that was occurring in Baltimore in the wake of Freddie Gray’s funeral. She grabbed him, she yelled, she hit him in the head, and she sent him home. And now she’s an internet meme.

I’m seeing her pop up over and over again on Facebook, and all too often, the discussion turns into some sort of grotesque extension of the Mommy Wars. Proponents of corporal punishment applaud her, peaceful parenting advocates deride her. I think they’re both missing the point.

This is NOT a parenting debate, not should it be. This is only newsworthy because of the events that created the situation that prompted this photo op, and that should be the focus. Turning it into a debate between spankers and non-spankers diminishes the issue.

I do not know if that woman is normally in favor of corporal punishment or not, nor do I care. I do know that she loves her son. That she wanted him out of the streets that day. That she wanted him alive. For all I know, she saved his life.

I do not know how I would react if I were in her shoes. Maybe the same way, maybe not. I can’t even imagine it. I know that I love my sons intensely, and if I saw them putting themselves in harm’s way, I would probably react with panic and fury. As a white mother with a white son, I don’t typically worry that when my child is out walking the streets, he’s going to be harassed by the police or shot by either a policeman or some NRA member who’s memorized the text of the Stand Your Ground laws. This mother has to worry about that on a good day, which is a fucking shame in and of itself. I can’t even imagine how bad that must be, nevermind how much worse it would be to see your child in that place at that time in that context. The closest thing I can equate it to is seeing your toddler trying to dart into traffic on a busy road. At a minimum, you’d grab them, as hard as you had to to stop them before they got to the street, right? In the heat of the moment, you might even yell or shake them or spank them, if for no other reason than the hope that next time, they’d associate the busy road with the shock of a yell or a spank.

Is that the way you would normally handle a 16 year old? Of course not. Could she have handled it differently? I’m sure that’s possible. But I don’t think it’s fair to judge her for her actions in what must have been a terrifying moment for her. And I applaud her for recognizing her child and getting him out of there, however it happened. I actually don’t think hitting is the best parenting tool. I’m not saying that it was OK in this instance or that it was an exception, I’m saying that it simply doesn’t matter. It was one moment in their lives, and it was a highly charged and potentially dangerous moment. It doesn’t tell us anything about this woman, her parenting style, her son, or their overall life. Not one thing. in not a parenting issue. It’s one small snapshot of a moment that has a larger context.

That larger context is what’s important here. Why was that child out on that street with his hood and mask? Maybe out of anger, knowing that people his community were being mistreated and abused by the supposed keepers of the peace? Maybe out of fear and anger, feeling that the same thing thing could happen to him, and it’s better to strike before you’re struck? I don’t know what was in his mind specifically, but I know that riot, along with the peaceful protests, were happening for a reason. I think addressing that is more important than handing out parenting rewards or criticisms. This scene wouldn’t have happened if Freddie Gray were still alive, if the Baltimore police had a history of fairness, if the United States were a place without unaddressed racial tensions. Let’s keep that in mind, and not get distracted from the real issues at play here.

 

Give Gwyneth a Break!

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I’ve been reading some pretty harsh things about Gwyneth Paltrow lately. Let me interrupt myself, before I even get started, and just state for the record that I am not coming at this as a Gwyneth fan. I’m sure that Ms. Paltrow is a lovely person and good at what she does… or maybe she’s not; frankly, I don’t really know. I know her name and that she is an actress, but I can’t think of anything much she’s done that I like, other than her guest starring role in Glee. Previous to watching those episodes of Glee that she appears in, I mostly knew her as the actress that I get mixed up with Anne Heche. (I get my skinny blonde actresses mixed up frequently. There are just so many!) Wikipedia informs me that Gwyneth was in Seven, which is a movie I like, but I am neutral on her performance. Point being, I’m not following her tweets (does she tweet? I may tweet her a link to this) or sending her fan mail (do people still send fan mail?) and I’m not defending her out of any type of loyalty to an actress I like. I would have pretty much the same things to say right now about any other celebrity that found herself in Gwyneth’s shoes right now. (Especially Anne Heche. Because in my mind, they’re basically interchangeable)

Gwyneth Paltrow recently participated in the so-called “food stamp challenge”, an activity that is probably a lot less fun than it sounds. Here’s a Salon article ripping up her performance in this fairly ridiculous, but basically well-intentioned, competition. At least, I guess you could call it a competition – there don’t appear to actually be any winners, but you usually don’t take the amount of shit Gwyneth is taking without losing something rather spectacularly, so I’m going to refer to it as a competition. If you’re not up on the latest in competitively slumming it, the food stamp challenge is when you figure out how much your state would give you to eat for a week if you were poor – probably based on the average family’s food stamp amount rather than any specific poor person’s amount – and then try to live for a week off of that amount of money for food. It’s a rich people activity – if you’re poor, it’s not called “the food stamp challenge”, it’s just called life – or, if you’re listening to Republican or Libertarian politicians or zealots, it might be called something like “entitlements forcibly taken from the wages of Hard Working Real Americans™”. Anyway. Celebs and liberal politicians do this to raise awareness of how tough it is to live on food stamps, in an attempt to get people not to object so much to a teeny tiny percentage of their tax money going to buy poor people food. It is silly, but, as I said, they do mean well.

Gwyneth is in the hot seat partly because her food choices were somewhat ridiculous — why so many limes, Gwyneth?gwyneth

– and partly because, well, she quit after four days. And then said, well, it’s impossible to live off of this. And you know, I get it… she does come off a little tone deaf. What was she going to do with that one jalapeno? Nothing in that picture would be improved by a lonely jalapeno. But frankly, I don’t think this is such a bad thing.

The Salon writer I linked up there is personally offended because she’s actually awesome at being poor, and she finds it offensive that Gwyneth tried it – badly – for four lousy days, then gave up, then talked about how impossible it is to live on food stamps. It’s not impossible! Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon is great at it, and it’s a skill, dammit! Gwyneth should have tried harder to develop that skill, and she shouldn’t assume that just because she couldn’t do it, no one else can either. Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon is living proof that it can be done! Don’t denigrate her SNAP skillz.

Blah. I’m not going to list all of my poor person cred, because it’s 4:30 in the morning, I’ve been working for the last 10 hours, and I have a baby shower to go to tomorrow. I should be sleeping, but I decided  to write this first because I really want to be a blogger, dammit. But this is already eating into my valuable and limited sleep time. Suffice it to say that I know what it’s like to shop with food stamps, OK? I know what it’s like to shop with food stamps when you’re working 50 hours a week and still can’t make ends meet, but at least you can tell people you have a job and they don’t treat you like total scum. And I also know what it’s like to shop with them when you’re unemployed and desperately trying to find a job. And jumping through hoops for help. And holding all the things together that immediately start falling apart when your income stops. And handling crises that would be minor annoyances to a person with any sort of income. And still trying to put on a show for the kids to convince them that everything’s all right. And all while being told by your society that you’re the laziest scum of the earth ever – why won’t you just go get a job and stop stealing money from Hard Working Real Americans™? No, I’m not still bitter. Point being, I have poor person cred, so I can talk about food stamp challenges and food stamp shopping skillz.

Here’s what I think. One: Gwyneth achieved exactly what this challenge is supposed to achieve. You’re supposed to have trouble with it. You’re supposed to come away thinking that living off of that little money is hard, and tell other people that it’s hard. You’re supposed to hate it so much you’re ready to quit halfway through. That’s the whole fucking point! You’re not supposed to come away saying, “I lived like a king on a food stamp budget.” That’s the Republican version of the food stamp challenge. (I wonder why they don’t do that? Hmmm…)

Two: OK, yes, when you actually have to live on food stamps every month, you do develop skills to make the money stretch (although it still runs out before the month is over, for most.) I’m not sure I agree with Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon that making the SNAP budget stretch farther is a skill to be super proud of. Sure, smart shopping is good for everyone, even not on food stamps, but, eh… “look, I’ve figured out how to eke out a living on my pittance from the government” is not something I’d put on my resume. But more to the point, I think Gwyneth demonstrated something here that often gets overlooked – sometimes you just need seven limes.

Here, “seven limes” means “something you’re used to having and don’t realize you can’t get anymore” or “something you crave” or “something that is available when better choices are not”. Usually, when people do the food stamp challenge, we get to see how they’re living off beans and rice and ramen noodles and peanut butter sandwiches. Maybe some expired meat. Most people do their research, or maybe they just follow a poor person around a Walmart, I don’t know. But the thing is, we (real people who use or have used food stamps in the past) don’t do our research on “lower priced places to shop or calorically dense, hunger satisfying items” before we apply for that SNAP card. We apply when we’re too damn hungry not to, not when we’ve completed a study of the shopping behaviors of the poor.

Some of us were never taught how to shop for groceries, while others were taught too well and want to buy the same tasty, healthy, non-damaged-or-expired food we grew up eating. Either way, you wind up with people who really don’t know how to eat like a SNAP recipient… most of us figure out by trial and error. Which means there are months when we buy the seven limes that used to be part of our regular grocery trip and end up hungry for three days. I don’t know about you, but researching caloric density wasn’t high on my priority list when my life was falling apart.

Also, sometimes we do it knowing that it’s going to fuck up the budget. Because we just spent the week filling out 50 applications. And we got three “don’t call us, we’ll call yous” from our recent job interviews. And the car popped a tire, and a new one is just plain out of reach because no money’s coming in, which means we have no way to get around efficiently, because public transportation sucks and city planning isn’t done with pedestrians in mind. And we had to tell our kid that they couldn’t go on their class field trip because we can’t pay for it. And we just got shamed by our other kid’s teacher for not contributing to the class supply of Clorox wipes that are so vital to our children’s education. And dammit, we just need some goddamn limes! (Maybe the limes were for a margarita? I know that I had poor days when I REALLY needed a margarita. You can’t buy those on SNAP.) Poor people are generally not unrelenting bargain shopping machines. They are human beings who crave treats now and then (and deserve them!) SNAP doesn’t include treats when figuring out what they’re going give you, so mostly you go without. But every now and then, you say fuck it, I need some limes.

Then there are the people who have no transportation and no nearby shopping, other than the lime store-and-expensive-produce store. (In actual poor person terms, this is usually more like a 7-11, but whatever — if you live next to an expensive lime and produce store and can’t get anyplace else, you will spend too much on limes and expensive produce, because that’s what’s available to feed yourself with. If you live near a 7-11 and can’t get anyplace else, you will spend too much on overpriced literally everything they sell, because 7-11 prices suck, but you still have to eat.)

Oh, and then there are the people who don’t have cabinets or freezers or stoves or any appliances, really, other than maybe microwave access, because they live in a car or under a bridge or maybe in a cheap motel room if they’re a very, very lucky homeless person. They are also going to eat lots of overpriced limes (or junk) because limes can be eaten raw (and junk can be eaten out of the bag/box/7-11 microwave) and they can’t store and prepare food. This is actually why you’re allowed to buy all sorts of things, including both expensive limes and overpriced 7-11 cheetos — because everybody’s situation is different, and even if we all had mad SNAP skillz like Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon, we can’t always use them, because we live under bridges or just far away from any real grocery stores.

And pretty much everyone hates shopping with SNAP and wants to quit after four days. Because it’s not enough. Because you get shamed just for having SNAP. Because you get shamed for buying limes, for whatever reason. Because being poor just completely bites the big one, and no one in their right mind wants to stay that way.

In other words, I think Gwyneth’s purchases and SNAP endurance are (sort of) representative of plenty of SNAP recipients. Those who are new to SNAP shopping (or any shopping, sometimes) and are still learning. Those who just aren’t as accomplished at SNAP shopping as Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon is. Those who live in food deserts and only have access to overpriced foods. Those who are homeless. And yes, those who sometimes say fuck it, I know it will blow my budget, but I really need some limes. And a lonely jalapeno. For those people, it is impossible to live on SNAP – for some of them it’s only impossible in the moment, or while they learn, but for others, it’s always impossible. And the whole point of the food stamp challenge is to point out this impossibility! So that those people don’t wind up with even less to work with! And Gwyneth demonstrated this neatly, more or less.

So shut up, haters. Shove your mad SNAP shopping skillz where the sun don’t shine, Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon. Leave Gwyneth alone. She did OK. Maybe not outstanding, but OK. And as most of us that have been there know, some days when you’re poor, the best thing you can hope for is to do OK that day.

This Fashion Moment Brought To You By The TSA

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The picture you’re looking at is the teenaged daughter of Boing Boing founder Mark Frauenfelder. In the outfit that she was wearing when a TSA official barked at her to cover up.  Frauenfelder explains:

 

            “[S]he was at the station where the TSA checks IDs,” he wrote. “She said the officer was ‘glaring’ at her and mumbling. She said, ‘Excuse me?’ and he said, ‘You’re only 15, COVER YOURSELF!’ in a hostile tone.”

 

Frauenfelder went to a TSA supervisor, and the incident is now being investigated. He also tweeted and blogged about the scene. The story is now all over the internet. I came across it on Wonkett.com, but you can find the same story, quotes, and picture on HuffPo, or FoxNation, or any one of a dozen local news station websites. And of course, you can find it on Boing Boing.

 

I had two simultaneous reactions when reading this story. One was “what a jerk” (the TSA agent, I mean) combined with sympathy for the teenage girl. I can certainly understand her shock and anger – I have that reaction too when someone makes a completely inappropriate and unaccountably rude remark to my face in public.

 

The other reaction was, “this is news?” After having lived more than twice as many years as  Mark Frauenfelder’s daughter has at this point, I’m less surprised that she encountered an asshole TSA agent and more surprised that the story has gained so much traction. Most of us who don’t have internet famous parents end up having to just blow these types of uncomfortable moments off when they arise and move on to the next thing – we have neither the time and resources nor the clout to make a public issue of it.

 

Thanks to a bad bout of insomnia, I spent a little time reading the various pieces that have been written about this incident, and scanning the comments sections below. Honestly, if I hadn’t done that, I think my “really, this is newsworthy?” reaction would have been the one that I went with. But internet commenters have convinced me otherwise. If I thought we lived in a generally fair society where assholes who feel entitled to comment on the bodies of young women apropos of nothing were the exception, I’d think this was being blown out of proportion. However, it clearly ISN’T being blown out of proportion, because it seems that large chunks of the society in question completely fail to see what’s wrong with this picture.

 

There are two themes that I saw over and over again in the various comments sections (aside from the obvious trolls and the troubling rape jokes in reference to a 15 year old child that I’m trying to beliee are just another type of troll, for the sake of my sanity.) The first is:

 

But he’s entitled to his opinion!

 

This, at least, is something that I expected to see, it’s just a pet peeve of mine. Here’s the thing. Yes, he’s entitled to his opinion. If we were discussing tossing him in jail over his opinion, even expressed in a creepy, assholish way, I’d be the first to protest. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and to the expression of it.

 

What you aren’t entitled to is a captive audience that’s dependent on your good graces to make their plane on time. Nor are you entitled to keep a job if you are incapable of keeping your blowhole closed about your opinion during working hours. Note that I’m not suggesting he be fired – I have no idea what the TSA’s process is – if they have one – for officials who are caught insulting travelers with their unsolicited opinions. I am trying to point out, though, that in almost any job, mouthing off to the customers is against the rules, and disciplinary action usually follows. This is because it is a JOB. This is not a repression of anyone’s first amendment rights. The man is perfectly free to bitch about teen fashion on his own time.

 

For what it’s worth, it’s perfectly within Mark Frauenfelder’s first amendment rights to blog about his daughter’s experience, too. And the fact that a lot of people now think that the anonymous TSA agent is an asshole is ALSO not an infringement of said agents first amendment rights. Frauenfelder’s first amendment rights mean that he can call the guy publicly on being such an asshole. And my first amendment rights mean that I can publicly agree. Anonymous TSA agent is perfectly free to respond as he wishes, or not.

 

See how that works? Everyone’s right to have an opinion remains intact. Moving on.

 

The second type of comment I saw a lot of bothered me a lot more, I guess because I wasn’t really expecting it. It went something like this:

 

Well, it’s a good thing somebody said something. She probably did look like a skank/slut/tramp.      She probably wasn’t wearing a bra/took the over shirt off/had visible panty lines. Her father        should discipline her for being rude to the TSA agent and wearing [insert whatever here], not       indulge her by trashing the guy over the internet.

 

Whew. Just typing that was difficult. There is a lot of hate out there directed at a 15 year old child who was verbally attacked by an adult authority figure and the father who’s supporting his daughter. And this just BAFFLED me at first. I couldn’t figure it out. Her outfit more or less Standard Teen, there’s nothing shocking about it. There’s nothing at all to suggest that she was wearing something else entirely at the time (something that many commenters suggested anyhow.) And the speculation on her underwear (clearly not visible in that picture, or anywhere else on the internet, that I’m aware of) is, if possible, even creepier than the original TSA guy’s comment.

 

After I got past the WTF, I realized that the attitude that leads to these sorts of comments, and to the original incident, for that matter, is this weird perception that women’s bodies (particularly young and attractive women’s bodies) somehow belong to the public and are up for debate. And that women who dare to say “screw you, I’ll wear what I want” (or who have well-known blogger parents to say it for them) are somehow derelict in their duty to follow whatever rules the public thinks that they should follow.

 

Clearly that’s an impossible expectation – a women trying to follow all of the vastly different (and contradictory) societal expectations for female dress and appearance that exist in American society alone would drive someone crazy in about ten minutes. Males are not immune to stupid appearance related expectations either. But this is one they typically don’t deal with – can you imagine a male being told to coer up, not because he was out of compliance with some health or dress code, or a “no shirt, no service” rule, but because he’s “too young”? The implication here is that her female flesh is attractive, and she’s too young for an adult to be attracted to, so she should cover up (rather than him controlling himself and his thoughts).

 

This just doesn’t happen to young men – a fifteen year old boy with his shirt off, however attractive, is usually a non-event. But a fully clothed teen girl showing half an inch of belly is somehow an affront to decency. The only way I can explain it is the apparent belief that women’s bodies are for public consumption. And that’s a problem. And it’s a problem that probably needs to be talked about, which makes it newsworthy. So I guess I’m glad that if it had to happen, it happened to the daughter of someone who can get the word out (that sentence keeps coming out wrong. I’m not glad it happened to her. I’m glad they made it news.). I’m sure it’s happened countless times to people with less connections and less name recognition. Maybe it will be a little easier for one of them to be heard next time.

You Tube’s $100 Homeless Experiment — Staged?

Homeless-experiment

$100 Homeless Experiment

I was waiting for this.

I thought about it when I was writing my original blog post about the homeless man who, when handed a $100 bill while begging for food money near a freeway, bought sandwiches for some of the other homeless people in the area. I hoped it wouldn’t happen, but I knew that if I ventured an opinion on the subject at all, that within a week I’d be looking at a claim, or even proof, that the viral video was faked. And here we are.

Just today, the website Vocativ posted the account of an eyewitness who claims that — based on his sighting of the homeless man, Thomas, in the car with Lin and his cameraman at the liquor store — the video had to be staged; it couldn’t possibly have been a legitimate “candid camera” moment. They eyewitness, a 26 year old nursing student named Taugan Tan Kadalim , had this to say:

“Bro, he drove Thomas to the liquor store,” he says. “While I think the guy is homeless, it is clear that from what I saw every part of that scene was staged.”

Kadalim texted his brother the day that the video was filmed, to let him know that he’d spotted Lin apparently recording a new viral video. According to Vocativ, the time and date stamps match up with the information on the video, suggesting that Kadalim really did spot Lin and his cameraman that day. So far, staff at the liquor store in question have not responded to a request for comment, and neither has Lin — though Lin is on record prior to this revelation insisting that none of the video was staged. However, Kadalim’s account of what he witnessed raises serious doubts — just how trustworthy is a You Tube prankster anyway?

Whatever the real story is may not even matter at this point. Any way you slice it, there’s a layer of awful here. Let’s give Lin the benefit of the doubt for a moment and assume his video is 100% real. That leaves us no choice but to believe that Kadalim either made up his eyewitness account or unintentionally misremembered what happened. If that’s true, we have to ask ourselves why? Is there enough automatic prejudice against the homeless that someone would make up a story just to discredit the idea that a homeless man would do a good thing? Or enough unintentional prejudice that a well-meaning eyewitness would simply fail to realize or acknowledge what he’d seen, replacing what really happened with a narrative that allows him to dismiss the possibility that a homeless man could simply be kind and generous? Frankly, neither of those options seem impossible… there is prejudice against the homeless. Real or not, it was only a matter of time before someone called the video fake simply out of classism.

The other possibility is just as bad — Lin made it up. He created a homeless strawman in order to draw in donations (which are, at the moment, above $100,000.) If that’s true, not only is it disgustingly exploitative (so far, no one seems to question that Thomas is an actual homeless man) it’s also damaging to the rest of the homeless population out there.

It may seem strange to talk about damaging the reputation of the homeless, but it should be talked about. The homeless have lousy PR. That (along with their inability to buy a lobbyist or two) is part of the reason why the problem of homelessness is allowed to run rampant. In my last post, I talked about assumptions. It’s assumed that the homeless are lazy. Or addicts. Or crazy. Or just plain con artists. And while most of these assumptions are generally false (in that, while they may be true of some individuals, they’re not true of the group as a whole) the homeless have no real voice to defend themselves with. They aren’t united, except loosely in small areas — certainly they aren’t united as a national group, despite the fact that homelessness is a national problem. There are few powerful voices speaking in support or defense of the homeless, and even fewer who truly understand what life on the street is like.

So, when something like this happens, there are few credible, respectable voices to speak out in defense of the homeless. There’s no #NotAllHomeless hashtag to demonstrate that not all homeless make fake viral videos for donations. There’s no one to point out that, if the video was faked but Thomas is a real homeless man, he was certainly in no position to refuse to do what Lin asked while Lin was waving $100 bills around. There’s no one to point out that if the video wasn’t faked, then Kadalim and the popular news sources and blogs that will run with the fake story are damaging the credibility of not just one man, but a whole group of people who are in desperate need of what little credibility they have, if they’re ever going to get any help.

Some will say that it doesn’t matter if the video was faked or not — that it represents a truth that exists, even if it wasn’t, at that place and that time, a literal truth. While I do agree that there is truth in this video — even if it was faked — I disagree that it doesn’t matter either way. Honestly, I think that it would be better if the video had never been made at all, true or false.

My points from my previous post stand, no matter what further information emerges regarding this video. Homeless people exist, and they are people, just like anyone else. Not altogether good, or altogether bad, just people. It’s not at all far fetched to think that they would take care of each other when one comes into a small windfall — this is common, and easily observable without the help of You Tube, for anyone who cares to look. But a homeless person shouldn’t have to perform a selfless act on camera to deserve help, food, clothing, shelter, or healthcare. And if it turns out that that selfless act was staged, it still doesn’t mean that the homeless population doesn’t deserve help, food, clothing, shelter, or healthcare. They deserve those things just for being people. And until our society starts finding ways to meet those needs that all humans have, and all humans deserve to have met, it’s not fair to judge them positively or negatively based on one guy being at the right (or wrong, depending on your point of view) place at the right time.

Homeless Man Shocks Internet by Being a Nice, Normal Person

Homeless-experiment

$100 Homeless Experiment

So, this story has been popping up in my Facebook feed over and over for the last few days.

YouTuber Josh Paler Lin – better-known for his hilarious pranks – was feeling the holiday spirit and decided to give a homeless man in California $100 to see what he would do with it.

He followed the man, Thomas, with a camera to see how he spent the money. His first stop was a liquor store, but not for the reasons some might think: He bought bread and then headed over to a park, where Lin filmed him distributing the food to other homeless people

Thomas explained that he simply wanted to use the money to help others in his situation. Lin gave him another $100 and has even started a crowdfunding campaign to help buy Thomas clothes, food and get him on the road to a job. He’s already surpassed his $10,00 goal and raised over $60,000.

It’s been really bugging me, and I wasn’t sure why. It’s a feel-good story, right? Homeless man gets a decent chunk of change, for a homeless person. More homeless people get some food. Then the original guy ends up getting some substantial help. And everyone learns about the value of giving. It’s a Christmas miracle! And so on. Seems like it should be heartwarming, not irritating.

I think I know what’s bothering me, though. First of all, most of the headlines on this story are like the one that I linked. It’s Astonishing! Surprising! Shocking! that this guy gets a little windfall and shares it with other people like him. As if that’s just unheard of. It’s downright offensive. People without homes aren’t all that different from people with homes — they’re capable of sharing. In my own experience, poor people are often very generous. To some extent, it aids in survival — you share what you have and the next time, when it’s someone else that gets a little extra, they’ll share with you. Also, having nothing, or next to nothing, can help you empathize with someone else who has nothing. I mean, if you’ve ever been really hungry, you know that “starving because you’re too poor to eat” hungry is different from “trying out a new fad diet” hungry, so when you see that, you know what the person is going through. Homeless people have communities of their own, and they tend to take care of each other like neighbors anywhere. Maybe better than neighbors in some places, because they don’t have walls or fences to distance themselves from the next person’s struggles.

This shouldn’t be news. Heck, there’s a story from Mother Teresa that’s been floating around for years about how she gave some rice to a poor family, and the mother immediately divided it up and brought half of it to her neighbors, even though that meant that her own family still wouldn’t have enough (it’s near the top of this page if you’ve never seen it.) I totally disagree with most of what Mother Teresa was trying to say in that story (she outright says that she didn’t just bring the family more rice because she wanted them to “experience the joy of loving and sharing” in the form of hunger pains, which I think is straight-up psycho) I do agree that this is how things tend to work in poor communities. You can’t take really good care of each other when no one really has anything, but if most people do what they can for the people around them, you can keep your neighbors from dying, and that’s what happens a lot of the time. It’s not even difficult to see it happen. There’s no reason to be shocked that a homeless guy would share. Even if he’d bought alcohol or drugs with the money, those probably would have ended up getting shared as well — you see that too.

Speaking of which, homeless people aren’t all junkies and alcoholics. There is no good reason for this to still be a prevalent belief. There are over a million homeless children in this country. Thousands of homeless veterans. Tons of people who used to have good jobs before the bottom dropped out on the economy and who were just never able to get back on track. Who knows how many people who are physically or mentally disabled. It’s inexcusable to just assume that every homeless person you see is there because they just decided it would be more fun to smoke crack than work. (Also, off topic, but there are studies like this one that suggest that when homeless people are addicts, the addiction is more likely to have started after the homelessness, rather than the other way around, which means it’s likely a coping mechanism when it does happen. You might want to be high if you were sleeping underneath a bridge too. And that means that helping homeless addicts not be homeless might do more to fix the addiction than judging them for being addicts.)

At any rate, my first problem with the story is fact that it’s being framed as some shocking thing because the homeless man was nice to other people and wasn’t a junkie. The assumptions about homeless people inherent in that framing are gross.

Secondly, it’s exploitative. This poor homeless guy is standing by a freeway with a sign, trying to get food, which you know has to suck. You-Tube Guy gives him $100 and the homeless guy tries to give it back, a few times. You-Tube Guy keeps telling him to take it, and he finally does. Regardless of what happens after that, You-Tube Guy is being a dick when he decides to follow him secretly and record what he does. If you want to give, give. If not, don’t. But turning some unsuspecting guy who’s begging for food into a social experiment seems unethical at best. And You-Tube Guy not some random guy who happens to have a camera and spontaneously decided to make a video; making viral videos is what he does. He went into this planning to secretly film this dude spending $100, share the video, and make ad money off watching what a homeless guy does when you give him money. That’s also gross. I appreciate that he gave the guy more money after seeing what he did, and that he set up the crowdfunding thing, but that doesn’t erase the fact that his original plan here was to secretly exploit this homeless, hungry person’s reaction to a windfall to make a profit. That’s icky.

Third — I’m glad the nice homeless dude is getting donations, really. I hope that it changes his life for the better. But I’m bothered by the idea that a lot of people are probably going to donate to this one person because he fits their criteria of “deserving”, while ignoring the millions of other people on the street who are also deserving, but don’t happen to be getting You-Tube pranked right now. People deserve food and shelter and clothing because they’re people, not because they happened to be at the right place at the right time for someone with a camera to see them doing something noteworthy. No one deserves homelessness.

This particular feel-good story just does not leave me feeling very good at all.