5 BS Myths About Being Poor You Believe Thanks To The Media
Poor people, right? Visit the "news of the weird" section of a major media site and you'll find a gauntlet of undesirables engaging in such wacky antics as getting into drunk fistfights at McDonald's and whatnot. And, in basically all of these cases, what you're reading barely qualifies as news. It's Internet rubbernecking and -- as far as most news outlets are concerned -- anyone below the poverty line is fair game as a source of national amusement (and it's not unlike similar stunts the news pulls on Asian people and the youths).
Don't believe us? Then how else do you explain the following stories ...
"Poor People Are Living Like Kings On Food Stamps!"
Even if you're a staunch conservative, you're probably on board with SNAP, or food stamps as we used to call them back in the day. After all, nobody wants American kids starving to death because their parents can't get their financial act together, right?
Unless those scheming lowlifes abuse the goodwill of tax-paying citizens by using food stamps to buy drugs or steak and lobster or accrue a balance worth several thousand dollars in their accounts, as evidenced by photographs of receipts harmlessly posted by cashiers who secretly want to be investigative reporters. According to this overarching narrative, broke people should exist on ramen, Cheez Whiz, and errant cockroaches, as God intended.
"They're the lobsters of the land!"
Keep in mind that anyone -- even the completely boneheaded, as we'll see -- can mock up a fake receipt. Case in point: One viral Facebook post purporting to show the receipt of someone with a food stamp balance of $15,464.00. Right off the bat, anyone who's ever balanced a checkbook knows that no one ever has a balance ending in ".00" unless they're either a wizard or suffering from a highly specific form of OCD.
That's no more than 1 percent of the population, according to the
Hogwarts Institute of Mental Health.
Second, the receipt is labeled as the grammatically offensive "Foodstamplable EBT balance," which is inconsistent with the rest of the receipt and everything anyone has ever typed. It also exploits a hilarious credulity regarding how much benefits recipients are even capable of receiving. As the Washington Post points out, it's theoretically possible to carry a food stamp balance of over $15,000 in Michigan, where the story comes from and where benefits roll over from month to month -- for a family of nine, who have zero income and never use their benefits. If anything, we should praise this family that apparently lives for the year on one bottle of lemonade and one bag of BBQ chips.
The steak and lobster thing is real, though -- in the "shit's about to get real" sense. The offender was arrested, showing that the system works after all, but not for buying steak and lobster -- that's completely legal. If you think it shouldn't be, take that up with your lawmakers, but first consider that maybe your hypothetical shopper scrimped all month so they could have a nice dinner at the end of it because it's all that keeps them from offing themselves, because poor people are -- get this -- people.
"Also, poor kids can't watch the FUN Sesame Street reruns. Not on the taxpayer's dime."
But no, the shopper in question was arrested because he didn't have himself in mind when he bought the steak and lobster (and Mountain Dew -- everyone always forgets the Mountain Dew, like that isn't the most morally objectionable part of the list). He turned around and sold it to other people at a profit, which is a crime. Consider this, though: If you find yourself so broke that you've resorted to selling black market Mountain Dew, you're not exactly winning in the first place.
"Poor People Only Eat Junk!"
Speaking of sticking our noses in poor people's refrigerators, the economic crisis has spurred tons of articles purporting to teach readers how to eat healthy on $1 a day. It's also been the catalyst for celebrity challenges like the Food Bank NYC Challenge and the Live Below the Line challenge, ostensibly to raise awareness about how difficult it is to live in poverty, but in some cases, in true Gwyneth Paltrow fashion, also to say "I'm better than you at everything, including being poor." After all, everyone knows that the reason people are starving and suffering with obesity-related diseases in alarming numbers is that they're too stupid to figure out how to not die.
"Just tell them how many calories are in that stuff. That'll change everything!"
For one thing, it turns out poor people are a lot more nutritionally competent than the news gives them credit for. For example, the idea that poor people drink more soda is a myth. So why can't everyone eat like alternate-dimension Gwyneth Paltrow? It probably has something to do with the fact that Gwyneth (and many of those writers) can afford to take a week off to devote herself entirely to the task, not to mention her football-team-sized household staff. One story shows a dude spending hours creating a complicated spreadsheet to balance this game of financial Tetris. You just don't have time for that at the end of a double shift at the dildo factory. Also, all of the above assumes your neighborhood isn't in a food desert that lacks easy access to fruits, vegetables, and other foodstuffs that aren't shilled by literal clowns.
For another thing? Gwyneth failed. She lasted only four days, and it's no wonder, looking at the shit she bought:
Hopefully those lime-and-garlic smoothies cleansed her colon of all the shit she was full of.
She apparently intended to live entirely on burritos, which, to be fair, is not a bad way to live, but it does get a little stale after four days, literally. She's not the only one, either. Ben Affleck could bring himself to commit to only one day on the Live Below the Line challenge, and the lady from that ABC piece up there was eating only 1,200 calories daily and lost 10 pounds after a month of eating two meals a day "focusing on whole-grain foods." Maybe that works for her, but a mother who isn't keen on stunting anyone's growth might have a problem with it. It might actually be better in this case to just break down and hit the drive-through.
But then you have the problem that ...
"You Won't Believe Why These Roommates Tried To Kill Each Other!"
If you take the headlines at face value, you'd start to believe that moving in with someone is akin to walking into a war zone where the Home for the Violently Psychotic Brigade happens to be fighting. Any little squabble can lead to violence: an argument over dishes, having loud sex, listening to The Eagles (we kinda have to sympathize with those last two), and even a pork chop. The message is clear: Don't live with anyone unless you're prepared for them to snap one day and you'll find yourself on the wrong end of the kitchen knife that you bought, goddammit. If you can't afford thousands of dollars a month for a dingy one-bedroom, haha, good luck with that!
Until the glorious future comes and we all live in pods.
Except in all of these cases, we're talking about people who were embroiled in a long-running feud and/or suffering from severe drug or mental health problems. The guy who stabbed his roommate over "dirty dishes" had a long history of being an aggressive jerk to literally everyone, which we're thinking had a lot more to do with his outburst than the chore chart. The guy who shot his roommate over a "pork chop" was already planning to shoot the guy, but premeditated murder just isn't as sexy as ham. One stabber said that their deadly fight began when he was ordered to pick up the victim's dirty underwear. You'd go crazy too after enough of that -- and after the dirty underwear guy attacks you, of course, which is what the suspect says happened. He even described the victim as "a good friend, but struggled with a drug problem." Point is, you're probably going to get plenty of advance warning before you get served with a lethal eviction.
Note to self: Read all notes to self.
"This Guy Got A DUI In A Wheelchair! It's National News!"
Google "Rascal DUI" and you'll enter a universe of people who are getting arrested for driving drunk in motorized wheelchairs. Apparently, whenever NBC has a slow day, they call around to various local police stations and ask if anyone's been found swerving down the aisles of a Kroger or asleep at the wheel on an exit ramp lately. The crowning jewel of the unlawful scooting beat is probably the man who actually stole the wheelchair of a friend after a disagreement before drunkenly taking off, which is honestly one of the more hilarious ways to win an argument.
They see me rollin', they hatin'. Patrolling and tryin' to catch me ridin' dirty.
On the surface, the justification for these stories seems to be, hey, did you know you can get a DUI on a motorized wheelchair? Well, did you know you can get a DUI on a bicycle or a freaking horse? Why don't we ever see those people's mugshots? Because drinking-age people who ride bikes or horses tend to be environmentally conscious yuppies and Taylor Swift, not the elderly and/or infirm, who are clearly more in need of being brought down a peg. Also, take a look at where these stories are coming from to really get the picture. Georgia. North Australia (where the fear lives). Florida, obviously. No Beverly Hills. Kroger, not Whole Foods. Not a single oil tycoon cruising the Upper West Side with a glass of Scotch older than he is.
In every one of these stories, some kind of problem is revealed in the person being arrested, usually buried way down at the bottom so you can get your giggle first. The guy in the Kroger was suffering from a bad interaction with his anxiety medication. The guy who stole his friend's wheelchair has a long history of alcoholism. Another had some kind of open wound at the time of his arrest. The guy on the highway was trying to get to his friend's house nine miles away. He apparently had no other way to get there. Not to mention, they're all, you know, using a wheelchair for one reason or another. This isn't just kicking people while they're down -- it's curb-stomping them with steel-toed boots while they literally can't walk.
"Black Friday Is The Fucking Purge!"
There's a special time of year in this country where everyone stays home and locks their doors, glued to the TV and praying to their chosen god (probably also the TV). No, it's not a government-sanctioned day of reckoning -- it's Black Friday, which, as we all know, is a maelstrom of housewife thuggery and savings that won't last. Every year, we get stories warning unwitting consumers of the chaos that awaits them at their local doorbuster. There's even a death count website.
There's even a "Black Friday" porno. It's ... loosely related.
Occasionally we'll hear of new, exciting trends in shopper rage, such as sneaker violence, which involves people getting clubbed in the mad dash for the latest Nikes. Yes, it's time for Michael Jordan to speak out against sneaker violence and not, say, the horrific violence that happens at sporting events all the fucking time. You're way more likely to get hurt in one of the many riots that occur after someone's favorite team loses or on the road on Super Bowl Sunday than you are during Black Friday, which has so far netted seven deaths in its entire history, according to that death counter.
For all we know, it's the statistically safest day of the year.
But, for some reason, we don't treat sporting events with the same "violence breaks out" shock that we reserve for people who have to get up early and inconvenience themselves in all kinds of ways to get a big-screen TV from Walmart. In other words: The media is picking and choosing which events to associate with violence, ignoring the drunk person who plows through an elderly person after the Broncos lose because it's somehow less of a Grand Guignol than people stabbing each other over shoes.
The same principle applies to McDonald's. Considering all of the assaults that happen every night in bars, clubs, and right out on the street, why is it national news when it happens in the realm of Grimace? Like this woman who punched through a drive-through window because they were out of Chicken McNuggets. Or this one who pulled an employee through the window by her hair. Or this guy who got thrown through the front window of a Subway. It goes on and on and on and on and on.
All these stories cause us to ignore the true monster that walks among us.
Think about it -- if you read about a horrible, violent assault in your neighborhood police blotter, there's no chance you'd start giggling unless you were Patrick Bateman. But take that selfsame assault and surround it with Big Macs and Arch Deluxes and giant posters of Mayor McCheese, and it ends up on CNN. Because, at the end of the day, it's not about news -- stories like these don't serve to educate and inform. It's about turning people who've had a bad day (or even a bad decade) into human cartoons.
And when 46 million Americans are turned into caricatures on the regular, it's just that much easier for the rest of the population to not give a shit. Keep that in mind the next time some homeless guy strolls into the Golden Arches with his pants around his ankles, only to end up on the front page of The Daily Mail.
Manna is a former welfare mom who gets pretty angry about all this, primarily on Twitter.
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