Poor people are poor because they have bad attitudes. Huh?

Kayla Walker at Campus Progress has a great review of the book Scratch Beginnings, in which some privileged dude seeks to prove the American dream really is possible if people would just work hard enough. Well, yeah, no kidding it’s possible — for an educated white male who already lives a life of status and comfort.

Adam Shepard was sick of hearing the impoverished in America whine and complain. He was “frustrated with the materialistic individualism that seems to be shaping every thirteen-year-old to be the next teen diva,” Shepard wrote in the introduction to Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream. In a move that is reminiscent of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, Shepard boarded a train to Charleston, S.C., with nothing more than $25 in his pocket, the clothes on his back, a sleeping bag, and a tarp.

Shepard set out to disprove books like Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. He wanted to achieve the so-called American Dream—without using his college degree, friends, or exemplary credit history—proving that it is still possible in America to break one’s way out of poverty. Shepard gave himself just one year to break from poverty and homelessness. Completion of his project would be considered successful if Shepard was able to own a functioning automobile, be living in a furnished apartment, have $2,500, and have the prospects to go to school or start his own business.

Shepard later concludes that poor people could live the American dream if they’d just stop being so damn pessimistic. Hey, um, maybe they’re pessimistic because they and their families have been trying for generations to get ahead and they haven’t been able to make their hope turn into reality? Hey, maybe if society gave poor people a reason to be optimistic about the future that didn’t self-righteously blame them for their own predicaments, they’d see the future a little more brightly?

Hey, maybe you should admit that being an educated person who is able to dig your way out of a hole after a year of an arrogance soaked experiment which you went into with the least sympathetic presumptions I’ve ever heard does not qualify you to diagnose the causes of poverty in the U.S., when the people who are actually poor have done a pretty good job of diagnosing the roots of it themselves?

Kayla makes a great point as she acknowledges the obvious point that inequality is related to immobility, and it’s poverty itself that reinforces the conditions of poverty. Of course temporary, self-inflicted deprivation for a highly privileged person won’t render him socioeconomically immobile. Why are the reproductive, cyclical conditions of poverty so difficult for otherwise logical people to understand?

Ok, ok, I’m being hard on this Shepard guy, considering I haven’t even read his book. But God, even the very basic facts of his little experiment are dripping with so much privilege I really struggle to give him the benefit of the doubt.


Wall-E, Economics, Nationality, and Androgynous Love

https://i1.wp.com/images.rottentomatoes.com/images/features/wall_e/wall-e_3.jpgI wrote a pretty glowing review of Wall-E over at Pushback, but I had a few more thoughts to add about the film. And that’s really all these are, completely incoherent thoughts, so I apologize for the stream of conscious style babble.

I was a little bothered by a few complete absences or blind spots in the film, like any seemingly non-Americans carrying on the human race on the space station, and the impossible economics of the movie. Right, right, it’s a kids’ movie. I know. But like, didn’t those people lounging around for 800 years in space have to pay for their ride? So, where were the poor people? Did they all die amid that garbage dump? Was that just too harsh a reality to show us alongside the rusted up Wall-E’s scattering the trash filled landscape? If that wasn’t it, how was that space endeavor being funded?

Now back to the nationality weirdness. Everyone on the space station was apparently American. Where was everyone else? Did they die out like the poor people?

So like, were we supposed to notice these gaps and then think the portrayed dystopia was even more disastrous because survival was so selective, or were the writers just completely blind to class issues — make that, money — and massively ethnocentric? Perplexing.

And so as not to go bizarrely from praise worthy post to condemnatory post, I’ll add one more thing I loved about it: how fabulously ungendered Eve and Wall-E were! I know, they had vaguely feminine and vaguely masculine names, but the animators so easily could’ve given them masculine and feminine secondary sex characteristics. Eve could’ve been a pink robot or worn a bow. As it was, she didn’t do anything particularly feminine. She did hardcore work and even carried a weapon. Wall-E was the twitter pated character and a dreamer, even though he was also a traditional blue-collar worker. I can’t even remember if they referred to each other as him or her or she and he at all during the film. They were like this close to being completely unsexed characters, and therefore, so close to being potentially interpreted as a queer couple. For a kids’ movie, this couple felt kinda radical…

New MTV show to unspoil spoiled rich kids?

Latoya at Racialicious brings MTV’s latest “reality” tv endeavor to our attention:

Watching My Super Sweet 16 can give us a glimpse of “the good life.” Amidst the demanding divas and epic meltdowns that lead up to insanely over-the-top teenage birthday bashes, we get a look at the posh lives of wealthy families. And while we take that often envious look at how the other half lives, how many of us sit there wishing that these spoiled teens could be slapped with a serious dose of reality?

Wish no more, because they’re about to get Exiled! Fed up with their seemingly endless mooching, their parents have had enough of this Sweet 16 set and are ready to send them away to learn the lesson of a lifetime. They’ve arranged to place their children in remote parts of the world with host families who have never tasted anything close to the high society life.

A few years after tossing the parties that made them stars in their schools and fueled rivalries among the rich kids, you’re going to see some of the Sweet 16-ers you loved to hate the most — Ava, Sierra, Amanda, Bjorn, Marissa, Chelsi, Meleny and Alex — shipped away from their plush homes and easy lives and Exiled to foreign locations such as the jungles of the Amazon, the tundra of the Arctic Circle, the Andes mountains and remote islands in the South Pacific where they’ll have to live like local commoners with none of the amenities of their normally privileged lives.

So, here’s the thing, I’ve complained about a billion times about how MTV’s reality tv either shows the ridiculously fabulous and trivial lives of the wealthy or the “trashy” and drama filled lives of the lower-middle class (shows like True Life, Engaged and Underaged) with virtually no in between, where poverty and wealth are spectacles which really define the characters and plot.

This is something relatively new, of course. For a change, we’ll see these rich kids not getting everything they want. But I’m with Latoya in her first objection:

One, they are only gone for a week. A WEEK! How is a week going to undo a whole lifetime of obnoxious behavior?

This totally reminds me of those Spring Break trips college kids can do to find out how hard it is to be homeless, where they’ll live on the streets for that week. I’m sure it’s an eye-opening experience, but I don’t know why we should kid ourselves into thinking so short a trip to the “other side” will create anything close to actual empathy or down-to-earthness. I’ll be surprised if this Exiled show doesn’t embrace such a narrative…

Aside from all this, why do these awakenings have to take place in foreign countries with foreign families? Are we to believe there aren’t families in the U.S. these kids could live with to learn what its like not to have their usual amenities of privilege? Wouldn’t a week with the family who lives just on the other side of the tracks be an even greater shock to the system?

World Cup 2010: At whose cost?

Dave Zirin at The Nation reports that preparations for World Cup 2010 are likely to exacerbate violence and unrest in the host country, South Africa.

Cities such as Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg will be the nexus for thousands of foreign fans and dignitaries. Meanwhile, the building of five new mega-stadiums would, according to some South African politicians, “clear the slums by 2010.” Le Monde Diplomatique wrote in May about the World Cup preparations: “Construction–and corruption–is booming. But almost none of the building or the money can be accessed by the poor who live in shantytowns without proper water, sanitation or electricity.” Housing prices in the twenty-first century have gone up 92 percent, while wages have risen a mere 8 percent. As slums are cleared, tensions will surely rise.

Now, I like to think I’m a real soccer hooligan and the World Cup is like 100 times cooler than Christmas for me. And I was as excited as the next person at the chance to finally have an African nation as the host country. But how can this be justified? The people paying the price for this Cup by having their neighborhoods demolished won’t even see any of the benefits of the games. So they’re displaced for what exactly? Just so South Africa can do what it takes to host a soccer tournament?

Cheney, inbreeding, and poverty

Slate has an article (inspired by Dick Cheney’s recent linking of West Virginia to inbreeding) on the origins of the myth that inbreeding is a common or even accepted practice in WV.

They quote a historian who researched the topic specifically:

“In 1980, anthropologist Robert Tincher published a study titled “Night Comes to the Chromosomes: Inbreeding and Population Genetics in Southern Appalachia,” based on 140 years’ worth of marriage records. He concluded that “inbreeding levels in Appalachia … [are neither] unique [n]or particularly common to the region, when compared with those reported for populations elsewhere or at earlier periods in American history.”

So why the myth then? Slate attributes it mostly to the visibility of poverty in West Virginia, and a public desire to blame their poverty on some action, in this case, inbreeding.

Stereotypes about West Virginian breeding practices have long been linked to the state’s poverty. When Eleanor Roosevelt visited West Virginia mining towns in the 1930s, national newspapers ran pictures of rundown shacks and barefoot kids in rags, which left a lasting impression of the state as a backwater. West Virginians became the prototypical “hillbillies,” and incest served as a crude “scientific” explanation for their downtrodden social condition.

In more recent memory, the 2003 film Wrong Turn helped perpetuate the inbreeding stereotype. Set in West Virginia, it features cannibalistic mountain men, horribly disfigured from generations of incest. Then, in 2004, Abercrombie & Fitch released a T-shirt emblazoned with a map of the Appalachian state and the words “It’s all relative in West Virginia.” In February, a casting director for the upcoming thriller Shelter put out a call for extras with “unusual body shapes, [and] even physical abnormalities” to depict West Virginia mountain people.

Charming. The inbreeding hillbilly stereotype serves a purpose outside simply explaining poverty, as it simultaneously reduces sympathy people might otherwise feel for those in poverty. When we all accept some cultural myth that poverty is the result of something other than structural economic and political problems, in this case, a perverse activity the poor participate in, what point is there to reforms or even to charity?

Thrillers and horror movies love to exploit images of people with disabilities or working-class people to freak out the more “normal” protagonists who happen to stumble upon the lair of horror. These film narratives match the cultural narrative that led up to the offensive jokes of A&F and Dick Cheney: Low class status and abnormal physical appearance and ability are a reflection of low moral character.