Funny and Terrible Campaign Song Videos

Despite the fact that we’re over a year away from the 2016 elections, things are already heating up. We’ve got former First Lady, former senator, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, current senator Bernie Sanders, and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley on the Democratic side, along with a few other hopeful, but unlikely candidates that will probably throw their hats in the ring later. And on the Republican side, we have… a clusterfuck that includes more than a dozen declared and likely-but-undeclared candidates, each one more terrifying than the last.

So, the time between now and November 2016 promises to be a time of nail-biting anguish and heated Facebook debates. However, there is at least one thing we can all agree on — there will plenty of funny and terrible YouTube videos to come out of the journey to the White House. To kick off the parade of the absurd, here are two campaign song videos that struck me as absurd and hilarious.

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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.