Saturday, December 02, 2006

Boo, Oprah! Big Boo!

Yesterday afternoon, I sat down in the late afternoon and turned on Oprah. Ordinarily, she doesn't interest me much but it seemed like the thing to do.

Her show was about a documentary done by a few guys in Los Angeles who wondered what would happen if a homeless person was given $100,000.00. Would he "rise to the occasion" (yes, that phrase was used) or would he prove the belief of dominant culture that he was an irresponsible jerk who should never be trusted with opportunity?

The guy they picked, Ted Rodrigue, as the subject of the documentary apparently fit the latter category. Or at least that is how it would appear, unexamined.

What the producers failed to do was explore the actual content of Ted's perspectives. Why, he was asked, when he was offered that amount of money, did he not build? Why didn't he accept the job offers that were put before him? Why didn't he "rise to the occasion"?

He gave several clues. He admitted that he was irresponsible with some of the money because he bought friends. He gave a lot of the money away to others. He admitted that he irresponsibly bought a 34K truck when a 5K truck would have been just as good. He admitted that he could have chosen differently. He also told about his own personality characteristics and the things he believed led him to the streets at the beginning.

No one caught many of his most revealing statements though ~ or if they did, they glossed over it because it didn't support the agenda they were promoting. No one offered to counsel him within the context of who he is. No one counseled him that perhaps he could have started a home-based business with that money. Buy a used computer and set up an eBay business. He could have invested it to give himself a small income that would allow him to live with some dignity. No one counseled him to be absolutely certain that he doesn't follow an agenda other than his own, to discover who he is and make decisions within that framework. In fact, no one counseled him at all. They put a briefcase filled with money in a dumpster they knew he would check. Clearly, they used him. They set him up to fail.

He talked about his inability to "fit" into the culture of work. I would daresay that is true for many of us. Many are somehow able to tolerate it until their insides corrode like acid on a piece of paper. He couldn't. Just couldn't. He gave many clues as to why. All of them were valid, in my opinion. Again, no one explored. They judged. And, sure enough, they successfully perpetuated the typical view of homeless people, that they are childlike, irresponsible and unable to make decisions on their own behalf. Apparently, curing ignorance is of less value than accusing stupidity.

Big boo, Oprah! You had the chance to explore Ted's mindset and give us all an opportunity to gain some insight into those who wander the sidelines of this society, those who are forced into that position by an unrelenting, judgemental worldview that allows only one narrow path. You failed miserably. Who knew you were such a toadie? I'm disappointed. It seems the New Age Queen is little more than a shill after all.



The template is broken on Blogger this morning. Hence, no pictures and no links. When that is fixed, I do want to offer some links and a few pictures.


Peace everyone...



liv said...

I totally agree with you. I like that Oprah does spend a lot of her money on causes to help people, but the notion of a show to 'set up' a person really grates at me. It reminds me of a time that she did a show about hoarders--those whose homes are filthy and full of stuff. She had a psychiatrist on to explain the disorder all the while berating a woman for the condition of her home. I was thinking, "Lady, if it's a disorder, and you have a medical doctor to testify about it, give this poor woman a break." Sheesh. And then O's constant need to do shows about other shows. You've been on TV too long if you can't even generate your own material.

jen said...

thank you for writing this. this really angers me - choosing to reinforce a stereotype that so many will eat up as "see, told you, this is why" instead of choosing to examine the system.

this angers me.

Gobody said...

A very interesting story; I agree with you that Oprah should have explored his mind set to understand why a person would do such a thing to himself. Self-destructive tendencies are well known since the beginning of psychology though, and I doubt that Oprah in her limited time (and most probably limited knowledge) would have explored it sufficiently. Did you ever read anything by Paul Auster? He is talking about these kinds of people all the time. Try “the moon palace” for a starter.

I am not here agreeing with the stereotyping, by the way, I am just saying that self-destructiveness is latent in everyone. In some, it is quite strong, for their own reason. This shouldn’t be basis to judge anyone though.

Thailand Gal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thailand Gal said...

Liv, that is probably what most of these shows do. They really can't risk the element of unpredictability they're designed to indicate. I'm sure it's all very scripted and pre-planned. Having grown up in Los Angeles, I heard my fair share of stories about the entertainment industry. :)


Jen, it angers me, too. Balanced with your post of this morning, the genesis is rather clear. Still, Lily-white America can't be offended by the implication that perhaps their systems don't work. Blame the bloody victim. The more things change, the more they stay the same. :)


Gobody, with all due respect, I disagree that *all* homeless people are self-destructive. In fact, some of them may be just trying to survive in an environment that doesn't allow too much diversity of choice for a large measure of the population. Having been a low-income person the majority of my adult life (with the exception, really, of my married years), I can confirm that choices are limited. Sure, I could have sold my soul to the devil and become someone I'm not. That would have been rewarded with security. But how long can anyone do that? Eventually, it crumbles. Some people drink and take drugs to make their lives bearable. In the absence of hope, there is at least momentary relief. Some do it because they are addicts. Judging the character of an Other is easy absolution. It is nice to be able to turn our heads from what we as a society have created and blame the victim for his own circumstances.

It is what Bonhoeffer called "easy grace" as opposed to "costly grace". Cheap grace is the kind that lets us skip all that gnarly repentance stuff.


Peace all :)


meno said...

I didn't see the show. But i'd have to agree with you.
Why would they think that someone who has shown no skill in managing his life, suddenly develop that skill when given a bunch of money.
They're lucky he didn't kill himself with partying and then his family would have sued them.
How about some real help for the man?

Anvilcloud said...

I'm sure that what you say is true. I didn't see that part of the show. In fact, the whole show didn't interest me much. In fairness, they showed other people from other walks of life who had booted it when presented with money. That included someone who had made it big in fashion retail, fallen pretty well as far as she could, and was now endeavouring to rise again. On the whole I like Oprah and respect her, but she drives me crazy sometimes. She too, like the rest of us, has feet of clay.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I didn't see the show, but it seems like an exercise in arrogance to use someone whose life has in many ways failed him (perhaps) as a guinea pig. It reminds me of the recent gruesome episode of someone paying homeless people to physically fight each other, and filming it.

It's difficult enough to find gracious ways to help those less fortunate without taking away their dignity. It sounds as if the dignity of Mr. Rodrigue was of no concern; they blithely assumed he had none or he wouldn't be in such a situation in the first place. They prejudged. We're not supposed to do that because we all live in glass houses of one kind or another.

Oprah may be losing her famous compassion if she endorsed this behavior on her show. Or else she's run out of material. Of course, if called on it, she will apologize and act humble for a few minutes, and we'll love her again.

Show biz should never be confused with -- I think they call it -- "life."

Thailand Gal said...

Meno, well... yep. That's really the point. The exploitation of the guy really ticked me off. If they'd counseled him and then given him the money, the show might have been worthwhile.


Anvil, there are some things I still respect about Oprah. She did such a beautiful job after Katrina, providing people with the essentials they'd need to get their lives back, even buying a whole street of houses. The woman is generous to a fault. It just seems her judgement is a little off sometimes.


Susan, good points... all. I recall the show you mention. Bum-fights or somesuch. The sad thing is that there were some sick people who found it amusing. (perplexed).


Thank you, all :)



Lucia said...

I saw this show too, as I was exhausted and just off the plane. I agree that it was a lightweight treatment. For me, the most striking thing he said was when he was bicycling and talking about how he could do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. That I totally get. I long for that. So, he's giving when he has money, and he doesn't want to give up his freedom. Both of those things, honestly, make sense to me. I often wonder what keeps any of us from going off our trajectories and not becoming homeless, irresponsible and free. I'm just not sure.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a huge Oprah fan, she often annoys the poo out of me. I did happen to see this one though, and in fairness to her I think she did it as a counter-balance to the one she did on the guy who was homeless and then ended up a millionaire (the story has been made into a film starring Will Smith), which celebrates the guy's desire to improve life for his family.

With this recent one, the thing that really struck me was that the guy seemed so completely sad...the part where he was talking about how his heart had grown too hard to be part of regular society, I thought he was going to break down. The look in his eyes was often hopeless. For me, people need to regain their hope, to regain their dignity, to truly see their potential and do what their heart desires.

Anyway, I think Oprah, coming from her background and having fought and worked her way to the top, finds it totally incomprehensible how someone else could not do the same.

It's a shame because these sorts of "social experiments" are so shallow...they cannot really delve into the depths of the human soul and discover what needs to be discovered...time does not allow for a meaningful and authentic process.

Stephen Newton said...

Good post, TG. A similar thing happened on a murder case I investigated where a young girl was raped and murdered by a man who was later found guilty. It made the national news, including a CNN interview with the distraught mother. When she was arrested in a nearby town weeks later and charged with prostitution and possession of crack cocaine, the media ignored it because it didn't fit their nice story about the grieving mother and the victimized daughter. The back story revealed that the mother had sold her daughter to the killer for sex in a trade for drugs. It explained why the survelliance video (that haelped apprehend and convict the killer) revealed that the little girl seemed to know the man and did not struggle when they walked out of camera range. When I queried the journalists as to why they didn't follow through with the story and show that the mother was an accessory, I was told that witnesses were not credible enough to change public opinion. In the meantime, good people contributed thousands of dollars to a releif fund for the crack-using mother. Your story about Oprah and the homeless man fitting the stereo type only convinces me that what we see daily on the news and media support preconceived notions about reality even more than I thought.

Gobody said...

Chani, with all due respect, self-destructiveness is a tendency in every human being. We all have to fight it day in and day out, and we lose more than we would like to admit. It’s not only those who are at the bottom of the society who are struggling to fit in, also those who are considered “well off” are struggling to cope with the demands western culture exerts on us. But we still have a choice in all of that; we can still find something little to go by and be happy. If you think that someone who have lost a $100,00 chance to get a better life is not self-destructive than I have to disagree with you.

I would like to put this into perspective though; I don’t consider any experience inherently bad. Everything serves a purpose. What is bad is to live an experience that you strongly disagree with it. If someone finds being homeless something that frees him from any constrains to be who he is, and he is happy with that, I would say that he is more successful than me. Success is how much satisfaction you earn from where you are now.

And I am not turning my head away from anything, I respect people’s desire to be who they are, and try to help those who seek help in the ways I can.

Bob said...

that "experiment" is wrong in so many ways. From a true scientific viewpoint - there is no control, there is no repetition, the sample (1 person) is not statistically representative of the target group, etc. etc. etc. It made a blanket assertion to be (supposedly) tested: that homeless people are only homeless due to conditions outside of their control and that given a second chance (a suitcase full of money) they will be fine. I totally agree with you, it was designed to fail. These people set up the test to get the results they expected.

From a human standpoint, it is more than rude, it is judgmental. There are as many reasons for homelessness as there are homeless people. If nothing else, this test and it's result only prove that you can't just throw money at the problem and expect to fix it. These people need help, to figure out what caused the problem in the first place so that any help they receive will truly help them.

And - the experiment was unnecessary. All they had to do was to look into the statistics on lottery winners. I don't know the numbers, but I think a majority of them have gone through their winnings within 5 years. People don't change just because there is a surfeit of money.

To me this experiment only proves one thing: money isn't the answer.