September 30, 2003

Homeless, literally

Last night on the evening news, I watched a story about a homeless guy. It was presented as one of those "it could happen to you" scenarios where the successful professional is reduced to poverty. Implied was the fact that it was our economy at the root of his troubles.

Well, not quite. As the tale was told, it became apparent that someone was spinning this story as hard as they could. I'm going to tell you the story, without the editing and innuendo and camera work designed to elicit emotional response.

This homeless guy is a freelance writer. He's an older man, and a few years ago his business started to fall off. His solution at the time was to give up his apartment in Los Angeles (I want to say Laguna Beach, but I'm not positive), and spend the summer living at local camp grounds. His truck is full of camping equipment.

He's still not getting the amount of work he used to, so he's still living out of his truck. He has a cell phone. He uses public library computers to do his writing. He's not hungry, in fact in one shot they show a couple of cardboard boxes full of food in his truck. We're told that we should feel sorry for him because he doesn't have health care insurance, and that his ex-wife and kids don't want to see him because they're embarrassed about him being homeless.

This bugs me in so many ways. First of all, this man gave up his home voluntarily, he made a conscious decision to move out to reduce expenses. Second, he hasn't tried to get another job (as far as the story was told), he's just plugging away at the same job he had. Granted, the job market isn't the best, but an experienced writer can get work. While I admire his determination to work on his terms, don't paint him as some kind of victim when he doesn't succeed. Third, a lot of people don't have health care. I'm a lot more sympathetic to children or folks who were put out of work by factory closings than I am by him. How much does that cell phone cost every month? Add that to whatever he'd earn working part time at McDonalds and see if maybe that just wouldn't cover it, if it's that important to him. I don't think it is, I think we were supposed to think "universal health care would be a good thing" instead.

This guy isn't tragic. He's not a victim. He's made choices with consequences. Nothing was shown that would keep him from making changes in his life if he wanted to. We used to admire people like him because of their integrity, their refusal to change to meet society's standards. But in today's world, since he doesn't fit the "norm" as defined by whoever crafted this story, he's held up as an example of failure.

I intentionally used the word "crafted" about this story, because it was obviously slanted to lead viewers towards certain conclusions. I just hope it bothered more people than just me when they watched it.

Posted by: Ted at 07:47 AM | category: Square Pegs
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1 Good post - you should send it in letter form to the media outlet that ran the story.

These people have to know that we are smart enough to see the strings.

Posted by: The Meatriarchy at September 30, 2003 03:53 PM (c+KYb)

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