$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.