Monday, February 18, 2008

TMZ vs. the Homeless

I may have been too condescending in my recent praise of the Hollywood tabloid show TMZ, which just minutes ago performed a valuable public service (not so unlike the one performed by my old boss, John Stossel, on his special Freeloaders) by pointing out that panhandlers are often well-compensated con artists, preying upon the arrogant liberal/Christian presumption that the rest of us are meant to be quasi-holy benefactors to the downtrodden.

They profiled a few Hollywood “homeless” people such as one making some $30-40,000 a year — and, pivotally, having a house (not to mention a therapist), which raises questions about how exactly one defines “homeless.” Apparently, the functional definition is “any scuzzy-looking guy shameless enough to mooch money off of strangers.” By that definition, we have homeless aplenty and, given the constant drumbeat of anticapitalist and pro-welfare sentiment in this society, will probably be developing more of them, and more mainstreamed ones, in the future.

But even raw videotape can’t compete with the sanctimonious glow some people feel playing out the ancient, revered tableau of alms-giver and pure-hearted recipient.


Laura said...

Both TMZ and Stossel are way behind the times. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduced the trope of the “homeless con artist” in the 1891 Sherlock Holmes story “The Man with the Twisted Lip”. In the Holmes story, a former undercover journalist discovers that he can generate a higher income as a professional beggar. The story, in my reading, is not a critique of charity toward the homeless but an argument that writing should be a better-paid profession.

Funny said...

Give me a break. There are con artists everywhere But when you start using that as an excuse not to help people who really have a host of complicated problems that lead to their sleeping on a sidewalk at night (and we’ve all seen this on Xmas eve, among disabled women in their sixties who clearly are not con artsts, in the coldest of temperatures), you’re just trying to make yourself feel better for simply not giving a shit.

And that’s a worse display of lack of personal responsibility than anything else you can find: Able-bodied, healthy people telling others that the reason they won’t bgive to the homeless is because they MIGHT be con artists.

And that’s what this is about, right? Lots of people would rather tell themselves fairy tales so they don’t have to feel bad for people who have had tough lives. Especially because they don’t want to believe that they could one day end up the same way – that is a very scary proposition (but true).

The ironic thing is that, by having to focus on con artists in order to make yourself feel better about not helping the homeless, you are NOT TAKING PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY!!!

Besides con artists, some people are on the street because of mental problems (a lot of them, actually) which are diseases like any other, only you can’t just give them medicine. There are also addicts, true. But do you want to penalize people who already have problems by always making the assumption that they are addicts or con artists?

If you are that weak and incapable of living with yourself, then you are the one who is rejecting personal responsibility.

Everyone: If you don’t give to homeless people, don’t lie to yourself and say it’s because some are con artists or on crack. Because you also know that some aren’t. If you want to give to some and not others, because some look sick or have problems, then give to some. But if you don’t give to ANYONE, then tell yourself the truth: You just don’t feel like it.

And if your reason to not give is because they MIGHT be con artists, then, uh…tell me which charities or down-on-their-luck people you HAVE given to lately?

By the way, as for Christians, many of them don’t help the homeless, because they can be just as lazy as anyone else.

Funny said...

“But even raw videotape can’t compete with the sanctimonious glow some people feel playing out the ancient….”

Nah, I don’t think people get a sanctimonious glow over giving a guy a buck in the street – they do it because they treat people the way THEY would like to be treated if they ended up in such dire straits. For you to try to attribute some selfish motive to giving means that you maybe want to be off the hook for not doing it. It IS possible for people to do something nice because it’s the right thing to do in society.

As for panhandling con artists, they are disgusting.

But since you’re praising TMZ, would you also praise the numerous investigative reports showing the horrible conditiosn some people (including innocent children) are forced to live in? Or the times sick people are forced out of hospitals before they are treated properly? Or so many other issues? Or do you feel exonerated because a report on selfish con artists makes people feel good for being selfish on other fronts?

Todd Seavey said...

I think the record will show I have been fully exonerated.

Wow said...

Feel free to respond to any of the other points made, unless you prefer to remain in the dark and deceiving yourself with fantasies like so many others do.

There are con artists on Wall Street, so maybe no one should invest – good logic eh?

Todd Seavey said...

We know the stock market enables people to shift money depending on rates of return. By contrast, “Wow/Funny,” do let us know how you spot the “homeless” who are “deserving” of your money.

Xine said...

Remember the NYT in-depth report on the homeless some years ago, in which the whole point was to counter conservative charges that the homeless were con artists and to find the “truly” deserving among the scams? The reporter couldn’t find a *single* “I’m sincerely down on my luck because of forces beyond my control” figure during his research in nyc. What was hilarious, though, was his dismayed but ingenious conclusion: these scam artists must be in a pathetic, desperate place to pull this con in the first place, so give them your money anyway.

Wow said...

Awww Todd, you are (willingly?) confusing several issues. Your question implies just what I feared – that you are using the fact that some people are con artists to avoid giving to ANYONE because you can’t ‘prove’ some people really need it so you’d rather worry about accidentally giving to those who are staging an elaborate con, then taking a chance.

You live in NYC. You must see scores of people begging. Do you really believe that THIS many people actually living in nice homes like the ones that TMZ shows ya, and they’re lying on teh sidewalk anyway? Please tell us.

You are normally maligned (unfairly) for sticking to the facts and logic in the face of emotion, and this is one case in which you are doing the opposite – trying to protect your feelings and the feeilngs of others who are so ashamed and scared that they aren’t helping some people who need it, that you’d rather focus on rare cases in which someone actually has a nice house and earns 30-40K on panhandling!!! Do you really think this is the norm, Todd? Hell, we should all leave our homes and do that then.

I think you can find people to give money to based on common sense, starting with the fact that some of them are in the street talking to themselves, sleeping in a train station on THANKSGIVING, missing limbs (I guess they must be hiding them somewhere), pushing giant carts full of their belongings, etc.

And did I ever use ther term deserving? Sounds like your propaganda.

I think you can use common sense. You see a guy with no legs, you can pretty much assume he didn’t use secret special mystery powder to hide them. You see a woman and a kid in the train station on Xmas, it’s not because they told their family they’d rather spend it there than home.


Wow said...

Sorry, some of my writing got garbled. I meant this:

You live in NYC. You must see scores of people begging.

Do you really believe that those scores of people ARE actually living in nice homes like the ones that TMZ shows you?

And again, it only takes a little common sense to see that some can use even a little help. The ones begging on Xmas eve. The ones who are so mentally ill that they soil themselves. People missing limbs. If they have it so easy, then start panhandling and chop your legs off.

Downon Luck said...

Xine, do you remember the NY Times’ scores and scores of weekly “Times Neediest Cases Fund” articles that report IN GREAT DETAIL exactly how someone got into their poor living conditions, and how you can donate to help them? Some of them lost jobs because of illness, etc, etc, even reading one story, you can see how many people fall between the cracks.

So since you are suspicious of panhandlers, Xine, and you theoretically would donate to people who definitely needed it, I must ask you….how much money have you sent to the Times Neediest Cases fund? It’s all well documented. Just curious if you’ve donated at least the eight dollars in quarters you save by not helping the street people.