Last year, Michigan congressman Pete Hoekstra made a small but noticeable impact in the world of internet memes. Basically, he Twittered some offhand comment that compared the plight of Iranians struggling for freedom and spreading their message via Twitter to, I don’t know, a bunch of old Republicans bitching about something.
Hoekstra’s ridiculousness was not lost on a world of sarcastic internet trollers with too much time on their hands, and Hoekstra is a Meme was born (though, sadly, seems to have been long abandoned). Frankly, I was delighted when I first discovered this site.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m white, or because I’ve got a job and a house and food, and I unconsciously strain under the weight of this embarrassment of riches, but sometimes it really rubs me the wrong way when I hear about people doing symbolic fasting (note: I’m not referring to ritual fasting as practiced by adherents to a religious or spiritual tradition, i.e. Ramadan) or participating in scenarios that “recreate” what it “feels like” to be homeless, impoverished, persecuted, etc;
Of course on one hand, I see that these sorts of things do require some kind of sacrifice on the part of the participant; the person is somehow stepping beyond his comfort level and doing something he’s likely not done before. That’s nice. I guess.
But on the other hand, what does that really accomplish? Sleeping outdoors in a shelter fashioned out of cardboard might be reminiscent of what a homeless person might experience, but the last time I saw an event that was supposed to “raise awareness” of homelessness in this way, there were prizes for the best shelter. Oh, and free food. And t-shirts. And a fucking band.
Well, shit! If the homeless get Best Buy gift cards, free Qdoba and live entertainment then sign me the fuck up!
Though the prizes and incentives to “experience” these sorts of things is downright asinine, my real “issue” with these seemingly one-dimensional acts is not with their inauthenticity, it’s with their incredibly short lifespan. After fasting for a day, or sleeping outside for a night, or slapping some dark makeup on your face and walking around the Woolworth’s, you eventually go back to eating (at the banquet planned by the organizers of the fast, no?). You’ll sleep the next night (in your comfy bed in your climate-controlled home in your warm pajamas). You’ll wash that crap off of your face (and the next time you go to Wal-Mart you’ll shift uncomfortably when a young Black man in a colorful baseball cap seems to get a little too close to the merchandise: did he just put something in his pocket? Ohmygod, I think he just put something in his pocket!).
That warm, fuzzy, I-did-something-really-great feeling might last a bit longer for some people. A few days? A week? But it eventually fades. I mean, it’ll be a bitchin’ conversation add-on at some social gathering in the future, of course: “Man, when I camped out for Habitat for Humanity…” But what, if any, long-term effects exist from these grand shows of mock (read: condescending) solidarity?
I don’t propose a better solution to the world’s massive problems, and I certainly don’t condone the might-as-well-do-nothing-because-things-are-just-hopeless-anyway approach. I just think there’s gotta be a better, more sustainable, way to make a difference.
What do you think?