This video actually made me feel sad, not good. Even after being briefly homeless myself several times in the last couple of years, I still have people who know me personally who keep posting shit on their FB feeds about homeless people and people on welfare being "lazy" or worthless or not pulling their weight in society. And gods forbid one of them turn down a dubious job offer! Then it's *proof* that they're lazy and worthless, even though no one asked *why* they might turn it down. I can come up with a dozen legitimate reasons not to accept some street rando's "offer" of construction work right off the top of my head. But no, they must be lazy and worthless and not contributing to society.
Homeless and poor people are artists, accountants, students, technicians, people in the medical field, parents, mechanics, people with degrees and experiences. Everyone thinks it's "so amazing!" that someone who looks like this man could possibly know how to play an instrument, especially one that isn't a guitar. Why shouldn't he? I do. I played for 10 years. I also played flute and percussion and I can sing. And yet, I spent nights in my car because I had nowhere else to sleep, and even more nights in friends' spare rooms and couches because I still had nowhere else to sleep.
It's not like someone who lost his home because his company downsized or because his medical bills got larger than his income could cart around a piano on the street to play for spare change. What else do people who look like him know how to do that you have no idea because you don't see them as people with pasts, but as worthless, lazy bags of bones that you try to avoid eye contact with so that you don't have to feel guilty about not dropping them a buck or two?
How much you wanna bet that most of the people giving him money for playing wouldn't have done so if he had just been sitting there on the curb? Because he might just go and buy liquor with it? Because he's not "earning" it? I used to only give money to street performers too, because I thought people had to earn the money I was giving them and that, for some inexplicable reason, a performer who "earned" his money would buy food with it whereas someone who didn't "earn" my money would just go buy drugs. This is the same man who, earlier this day, was sleeping on a park bench somewhere that no one would have given a quarter to, but now that he's performing a skill, suddenly it's "amazing" and we should "support" him.
Look, this guy is pretty good at the piano, but this video is just making me angrier and angrier because of the implications behind why this video went viral. If he had been a guy with a hipster beard and carefully gelled Bed Head hairstyle wearing skinny jeans and a hundred dollar flannel shirt playing in some cafe in Portland, no one would have watched this video except his buddies. He's good, but he's not, like, "OMG why hasn't he been signed?!?" good. I work in entertainment, I've seen some legends, I know what "OMG why hasn't he been signed?!?" sounds like.
This video went viral because people are so fucking surprised that this decent talent could possibly come from a man who looks like this, who doesn't have a home, and is starving to death. Like a fucking freak show. And that pisses me off. "If he has that kind of talent, why is he living on the streets?" Because even people with marketable skills can't make a living off them, let alone just playing the piano. Because even talented people have drug or medical problems. Because our economy sucks and our culture sucks and people suck.
So here's this guy, with no home and not enough to eat, who just happens to gain access to an instrument that he happens to play, and suddenly we're all "wow, this is amazing!" like it's a fucking miracle that he can do anything but drool on the sidewalk. He's a human goddamn being and it's a fucking shame that no one pays attention to him until he does something "normal" like it's revolutionary when the truth of the matter is that this IS normal. Homeless people are people, with talents, skills, knowledge, and experiences just like everyone else. It's more luck of the draw than anything you did to separate you from people like him.
I'm not intending to disparage his skill. As I said, he's pretty good. I'm pointing out what's wrong with our culture that is only really impressed with his skill because he's homeless. It's dehumanizing. He's not being praised for playing the piano, he's being praised for being a Homeless Man Who Plays The Piano Well. It's like saying "you're pretty good ... for a girl" or "you look great ... for your age", only it's actually worse because women and old people often rank higher in importance than the homeless (unless you're an old homeless woman, or worse, an old, disabled, homeless trans person of color which is, as far as I can tell, is the worst thing you could possibly be - even our feral animals are treated better than they are).My rant is also not about the people who took the video. Actually, the kid who took the video has started an Indegogo campaign to create a series of videos he calls Humanizing The Homeless, because he wants to do more to help as many people as he can. He seems to realize the seriousness of the situation, and the overwhelmingness of the problem. I think that's admirable and I hope he succeeds. No, I'm upset about our *society* that requires a video project like this in the first place before they can see homeless people as human beings. And still, people only help those individuals who manage to get humanized for them. Most of the people in my FB feed who are complaining about "lazy welfare cheats" are perfectly capable of humanizing certain individuals while denigrating the entire class of person at the same time. Take me for example - because they know me as a person, they're willing to help me out, but they see me as some sort of exception. "All homeless people are lazy drug addicts who just don't want to be helped, except for you, Joreth, you're a decent, hardworking person who just fell on some hard times, but everyone else, they're The Homeless." They all have to prove their humanity first, before people will treat them with dignity and compassion. I've proven my dignity and my humanity to my FB friends, and this guy proved his with his viral video, but everyone else - nah, they're not human, they're Homeless.
There have been some followup videos
of this guy. All because his video went viral, a local news team has been basically sponsoring him. They paid for some new clothes, a new haircut, and have facilitated reconnecting him with his son and getting him into rehab. People have been paying him to come play at their events and he even played the national anthem at an NFL game. He's even being called a "prodigy". As I said, he's pretty good, I'm not suggesting otherwise. But he's actually not any better than me. I've played music at least as complex as the songs he's wowing everyone over, and I also hear a lot of mistakes. He's not *bad
*, not even mediocre. He's pretty good, and he knows way more instruments than I do (he studied music in college, I learned). But the hype is all because everyone is astonished that a *homeless man
* can play well at all.
So, that's wonderful that he's getting help and having experiences that he never dreamed possible. Every video and news story on him barely mentions his drug problem, and when they do, it's only in the context of getting better. "I want to help him clean up his act." "See how his progress goes with rehab." That's fucking phenomenal. I don't think people really understand how important it is that his drug problem is being dismissed over his viral video. I *want
* people to accept him and encourage him in getting help, don't get me wrong. The problem I'm having is that this is *not how we treat homeless people
*, unless they perform for us. What about all the other drug addicts on the street? How often do they get spat on? How often do they get kicked while they sit on the sidewalk with their legs splayed out? How often do people refuse to give them money because "they're just gonna spend it on drugs or alcohol"? This guy hadn't been through rehab yet, hadn't gotten the help he needs for his problem, but everyone's paying him to play anyway. What if he spends all that money on drugs? What if, once his son had found him again, he spent his next gig's paycheck on some bender and dies?
I don't think that's justification for not paying him for performing, but I think it's hypocritical to give this guy special treatment because of a fluke YouTube video while not helping any of the other millions of drug addicts, people with mental illnesses, people with medical issues, and people with just shitty economic luck. Yes, congrats to this dude, and I genuinely, sincerely, hope this is a turning point for him and he gets a decent quality of life that everyone deserves just for being human. But what about everyone else? When you see the next bearded, dirty old white man on the street, are you going to stop and ask yourself, "I wonder what special skill or knowledge this guy has that makes him unique, and can I help him use that skill or knowledge to improve his quality of life?" When you see the fat, old black woman talking to herself and pushing her shopping cart full of trash, are you going to stop and say to yourself, "she is a special, individual human being. I wonder what makes her unique? I wonder who she is and what her story is? I wonder if she has any loved ones wondering where she is or what happened to her? Can I do anything to help her get the medication she needs to stop talking to herself and to hold down a job?" And when you sanctimonously offer someone a job that they're not qualified for or that they don't believe is real or that they have some legitimate hurdle that makes it impossible for them to accept that job, are you going to sit and talk to them about their situation, and *ask them
* what would make their life better, rather than swooping in on your White Knight complex and getting pissed off that they don't fall at your feet and praise you for it? Are you going to spend your time and look them in the eye and listen to their story and really *see
Or are you going to step over them, avert your eyes when they slowly walk past your car window at a traffic light, clutch your purse or wallet, and only think they deserve money if they're "working for it", earing it in a way that impresses you, in a socially approved way, so that you can feel good about yourself by thinking that this situation could never happen to you because you're a productive member of society, unlike these lazy, crazy, sick people? And then feel shocked and amazed at how wonderful humanity is when some other viral video comes across your Reddit feed that forces you to see the humanity in that individual while you ignore the humanity in all the other individuals not lucky enough to be recorded like a sideshow performer when they do show you their humanity?