When Miley Cyrus — or rather, her homeless pal Jesse — gave a surprise acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards last month, much of the conversation centered around whether or not the debonair young man "looked homeless." The whole incident personified a voyeuristic, intrusive strain of curiosity directed at homeless people that makes a slew of assumptions based on appearance and stereotypes.
Unfortunately, a new video posted by Elite Daily won't help much with these nasty tropes. The video plays on white privilege to glamorize homelessness and addiction, all while glossing over the experiences of the majority of Americans without stable housing.
Image Credit (all): Elite Daily via YouTube
The "star" is a 26-year-old man named Joe, who looks, sounds and appears to live like your typical frat bro, with one big exception. Tall, white and well-dressed, Joe blithely tells the interviewer that he sleeps with several women a week in order to gain shelter.
"Since there's 8 million people in this city, if you're not getting laid, you're a fucking asshole," he says in the film. "It's not like I forgot how to get pussy just because I became homeless."
His blatant misogyny objectifies women, which the interviewer seems all too happy to laugh about. But beneath Joe's blustering arrogance lies a chilling reality: If Joe wasn't a somewhat put-together white man, would this behavior be laughed at, let alone featured on a viral site targeting young twenty-somethings with time to debate the merits of the man-bun?
Not likely. For the majority of America's homeless, there is nothing glamorous about Joe's behavior. It's just called life.
Indeed, trading sex or engaging in sex work for basic needs — things like food, shelter, clothing and even bathing — is common for people living on the streets, especially for LGBT youth and people of color, who are disproportionately affected by housing instability. For younger homeless populations, their very first sexual encounters are often marked by a strong will to survive at any cost, even with the very real threat of being assaulted.
If the video is to be taken at face value, Joe doesn't view his experiences as a survival tactic so much as sexual conquest. He sees women as "opportunities that he can capitalize on"; part of his game is taking advantage of them, quite possibly while they're inebriated. How does he away with it? Again, all roads point to his image, his age and even his whiteness.
According to the video, Joe is a "clean-cut" millennial from Boston kicked out of his home when his mom found his drug stash. Although he claims he's able to make $150 a day panhandling, he's unable to save any money, thanks to another issue the video minimizes to the point of absurdity: substance abuse.
Throughout the footage, Joe is trapped in a cycle that, unfortunately, most homeless people find themselves in as they acclimate to living with their backs against the wind.
"If I would just not do drugs or drink for a week, I could go get a fucking house. But how could you be homeless and not do drugs or drink? I feel like the misery would overwhelm me," Joe says, noting that he gets up each day at 6 a.m. to buy and drink two cans of Four Loko. It's that or wake up to police officers, if he's not off the sidewalks and roaming the streets instead.
The sheer absurdity of Joe's story quickly made it a viral hit, as media outlets jumped at the chance to report on the "one-night stand homeless man." The institutionalized double standard is on full parade, whether it's New York magazine's headline "Homeless Bro Uses NYC Women for Sex and Shelter" or lifestyle blog Madame Noire christening him a "cardboard all-star." This coverage both demeans the women he may be manipulating and highlights a stark contrast in how we talk about race and sexuality.
If Joe were a poor, queer teen of color, there's virtually no chance he'd star in this video. Instead, he'd be just one of thousands of invisible people on the streets, overlooked and far from elected officials' thoughts.
At the same time, nobody deserves the built-in mockery of Elite Daily's asinine coverage.
What Joe and many other homeless people like him really need is for those who are better off to start giving a damn and stop focusing on what the experience "should" look or feel like. Ultimately, there is nothing cool or even particularly new about Joe's experience. That the video was made at all reveals much more than anything Joe ever could say.