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Homeless people used as mobile 4G hotspots at SXSW
March 12, 2012 3:14 PM   Subscribe

Homeless people are being used as mobile hotspots at SXSW, as part of a project called Homeless Hotspots. According to the official website, "Homeless Hotspots is a charitable innovation initiative by BBH New York. It attempts to modernize the Street Newspaper model employed to support homeless populations." Reactions online have been mixed. Some commentators are outraged, while others wonder whether the project is helpful or exploitative.
posted by asnider (73 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
this is about 2 weeks too early.
posted by facetious at 3:15 PM on March 12, 2012


Well it's better than literally setting them on fire.
posted by Flashman at 3:19 PM on March 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Homeless people have been enlisted to roam the streets wearing T-shirts that say “I am a 4G hotspot.” Passersby can pay what they wish to get online via the 4G-to-Wi-Fi device that the person is carrying.

The details are the problem for me, personally. The thing is, this could be great! The business model that needs constantly roaming individuals, and doesn't require any particular specialized skills (wearing a transmitter) could be a great fit and opportunity for homeless people to try and earn an income and increase their standard of living. To me, that would look like them being employees of the business, and identified as such on a t-shirt, with a wage.

Not a donation.

And certainly not a t-shirt that says that they are an object, not a person. It's the dehumanizing element, coupled with a lack of backup to ensure fair compensation for their labor, that strikes me as in poor taste.

Make them workers instead. Give them nametags with their names on it. Pay them server wage if you must, and let them take tips. In short, don't treat them as the commodity, empower them to sell the commodity instead.
posted by lazaruslong at 3:20 PM on March 12, 2012 [118 favorites]


Homeless people are being used as mobile hotspots viral marketing tools at SXSW, as part of a project called Homeless Hotspots.

FTFY
posted by swift at 3:20 PM on March 12, 2012 [22 favorites]


Some commentators are outraged, while ohers wonder...
Which is exactly what BBH New York wants, as they're an advertising firm.
posted by the jam at 3:21 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Guys, if we ignore SXSW, then they will just go away.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 3:24 PM on March 12, 2012 [32 favorites]


I would consider this DSG internet service

(Digital Soylent Green)

I don't know, it made sense when I thought of it, a bit less when I typed it, and probably will make no sense at all once I hit that "post comment" button...

posted by HuronBob at 3:30 PM on March 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


Tinfoil hat may interfere with reception.
posted by benzenedream at 3:37 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Have more confidence in yourself, Huron Bob, your low-key INTERNET IS PEOPLE!! joke was well worth it.
posted by Mooseli at 3:41 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


In the 21st century, even your moral outrage has been commodified.

I think it's time to wrap up.

We're done here.
posted by R. Schlock at 3:43 PM on March 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


Apart from the moral problems, the main technical problem is that a mobile hotspot should not actually be mobile.
posted by memebake at 3:49 PM on March 12, 2012 [23 favorites]


I confess, I saw this story linked elsewhere today, and the order of my thoughts was:
1. That is kind of awesome!
2. That is also pretty exploitative and sad.
3. I can't wait to see what MeFi has to say about this.

It's feels like it could have been a plot detail in a Stephenson or Gibson book, and there is something undeniably cool about the concept at a high level. But the execution is icky, particularly the donation bit.

On a positive note, I hope it does help to humanize the homeless people involved a bit. Often we as non-homeless people spend a lot of time blanking the homeless (if you live somewhere where they aggressively panhandle) out of fear of confrontation, and this is a nice opportunity to strike up a confrontation-risk-free conversation with someone homeless and help them out.
posted by Joh at 3:52 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]



Apart from the moral problems, the main technical problem is that a mobile hotspot should not actually be mobile.


This was my thought as well. But mostly I just think it's exploitative and full of ick.
posted by sweetkid at 3:54 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I definitely take issue with the "homeless people are being used as" language and the "I am a [thing]" construct. No one says that the homeless people selling Street Sense or similar are "being used as newspaper dispensers." It's stupid and dehumanizing.
posted by charmcityblues at 3:55 PM on March 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


"a mobile hotspot should not actually be mobile."


Yep, I was picturing a line of dudes with laptops following some homeless guy down the street.
posted by HuronBob at 3:55 PM on March 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


We had no bag for third base but Eddie spotted a passed-out wino under the bleachers. He was actually a pretty small guy too.
posted by jfuller at 4:02 PM on March 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


It would seem illegal to hire people to do this and not pay them minimum wage. Presumably these homeless people are interns.
posted by snofoam at 4:03 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Marketing is why we can't have anything nice.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:03 PM on March 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


I see the official site says that all the paypal donation money is going to the homeless person. Obviously the hotspot hardware itself cost some money to purchase. How is it being powered?

I'm tempted to donate straight to the homeless people involved through their paypal links, even though I'm nowhere near SXSW. This is another way to highlight the individual stories of homeless people and have regular people like me get involved. But maybe I'm all glass half-full today.
posted by Joh at 4:17 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


To me, using the homeless for this and not paying them a wage is flat out wrong.

AT&T always drops the ball with having adequate 3G coverage downtown during SXSW. What those brainiacs could have done is sent out a bunch of people that worked in their stores, hired temps, or even the homeless and briefed them on the service and whatnot, put them in orange t-shirts and let people access ATT's LTE network for free and get a taste of it. Verizon could dress their people in red/black and do the same thing. T-Mobile could have people in magenta with their HSPA+ network. They could have cards or fliers with QR codes that could get the people more info on their phone/tablet/etc. Of course all those people would get paid. Then again, there'd be no news stories about it because it is normal "street team buzz marketing" stuff. The telcos people would get new customers or upgrades, the staff is paid, attendees get access to the interwebs. The homeless get cash from people on the street that would give them something anyway.

But having homeless people as an experiment from the "labs" part of the ad agency that has given us those great Axe Body Spray ads? Trying to make is sound like it was like the homeless newspapers (except there's no editorial, just the ad). It is wrong.

And to do within hours after Austin's most famous homeless person, Leslie Cochran, dies. Go fuck yourself Bartle Bogle Hegarty douchebags.
posted by birdherder at 4:18 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Where's Charles Bukowski when you need him!?
posted by Fizz at 4:26 PM on March 12, 2012


I'm really confused as to why you'd want it on a person. Even if you're paying that person to sit still and do nothing so people can stay in touch with the hotspot, what's the point in adding the overhead of having to compensate a person?

I like the sentiment of giving the homeless a form of work (although I don't dig that they're not making real wages). But this seems like the technocratic equivalent of paying people to dig holes for no reason. A hotspot attached to a lamppost or garbage can makes more sense. If it's wired into the power grid, then it doesn't even need batteries.

I'd say it is definitely exploitive without a proper wage.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:30 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is it essential to know where the hotspot is? If not, it would be a lot less demeaning if people were just moving this equipment around (and being paid) instead of branding the human like a pole. I do like the idea of the informal data market developing though (obviously this is not informal, but imagine a future where communications are a crowd-sourced hive-mind optimized network).
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 4:33 PM on March 12, 2012


I can't tell at first glance if this is a joke, cynical but extremely clever marketing campaign fakery, something that is actually being proposed, or something that actually exists.

Regardless, it is hilarious and sad and is one of those little snapshots-from-the-collapse that (even if it doesn't exist) -- like the mythical vomitoria of ancient Rome -- highlight in HDR just how far civil society has declined.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:46 PM on March 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


I love that their first impulse was to allow them to collect donations, not pay them a wage such that they might escape homelessness. And that they'll defend their decision (you just wait and see) with the class warfare equivalent of White Man's Burden.

I'm feeling some vague connection between this and the tip jars employers give their register staff when said register staff ask for an actual raise above minimum wage (which is happening all over Vancouver and my hackles go up every time I see it).
posted by Slackermagee at 4:50 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's not like anybody looks up from their glowing rectangles at SXSW to notice the (ad? clever message? awareness-raising shirt? human being?) standing in front of them. Why I stopped going. Huge, eerily silent rooms full of interactive people, hardly any of them interacting. ('Cept when they all get wasted, natch.)
posted by Pathos Bill at 5:16 PM on March 12, 2012


I am like 5 different kinds of conflicted about this.

One detail that seems to be in confusion, at least in this thread, is the idea that they are taking tips or donations, rather than selling access. I read this as: you pay hotspot guy for a wireless password. So they are selling a product, and the homeless folks set/negotiate their own prices. That would be consistent with the Street Sheet model.

So back to my conflicts. I mean it is possible for a thing to benefit someone but still be exploitative. That's what I keep thinking. But I also wonder if the amount of distatesfulness this generates in people is because we've trained ourselves not to see homeless people, and we're just unconsciously upset that it's been shoved onto our field of vision--so we look for some reason to find this objectionable. It doesn't help that there are plenty of reasons available.

I mean the reality is, this is getting a whole bunch of sxsw'ers to see and seek out people they would otherwise be making considerable effort to ignore.

Yeah, conflicted.
posted by danny the boy at 5:17 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


lazaruslong: "Make them workers instead. Give them nametags with their names on it."

Well, they aren't waged employees, but they all have names, pictures and bios on the official website. I don't think this is as black and white as the headlines would suggest.
posted by danny the boy at 5:20 PM on March 12, 2012


This encourages techies to recognize the homeless and interact with them rather than just walk past. That's brilliant.
posted by zippy at 5:29 PM on March 12, 2012


For the "pay them a wage" crowd: Yes, you're absolutely right -- if someone is doing work, they should be fairly and legally compensated.

However ... and here's where the devil lives in the details.

Paying someone a wage makes them an employee (or a contractor). There are rules, such as collecting payroll and Social Security taxes. Submitting to labor laws. Taking on liability for his actions as a representative of your company.

Your homeless guy, does he have ID compliant with I-9 forms? Does he have a Social Security number? If he gets hit by a car, that's workman's comp. If he gets drunk and takes a swing at a "customer," that's on you. If you fire him, that's unemployment.

And that's all very important stuff, as anyone with any understanding of the history of U.S. labor will tell you. Workman's comp and unemployment are things I've taken advantage of in the past.

But, just don't forget it's real work and real risk for employers to "just pay someone a wage."

Perhaps not as much as for the employee selling his time and labor for the wage, that is. Right now, our imaginary homeless hotspot contractor could get rolled by a criminal and he likely has nowhere to turn to. But still, don't miss the point.

Be internally consistent. Don't hammer the "they should pay them a wage" point and forget how difficult it can be to run a wage-paying business in the first place.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:41 PM on March 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


Why not take this to its logical conclusion and also use the homeless as laptop rests, chairs, etc? No sense in actually helping them to learn a skill or trying to help them control their own destiny, after all! They could even whisper advertising as you sat on them.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 5:42 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


The people who work for this marketing firm should wear t-shirts that say 'I am an utter shit'. They would carry around a baseball bat, and anyone can stop them and pay a donation of their choice for use of the baseball bat on their skull.

That would be really awesome.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:48 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Many of the homeless people I've spoken with on the street will refuse an offering simply because I've taken the time to hang out with them. They tell me they feel invisible. Even if they are not panhandling, people will avert eye contact. Looking at this website, it doesn't even look like any face-to-face interaction is required to gain access to the hotspot. That alone seems to make the project ineffective.
posted by triceryclops at 6:01 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I definitely take issue with the "homeless people are being used as" language and the "I am a [thing]" construct. No one says that the homeless people selling Street Sense or similar are "being used as newspaper dispensers." It's stupid and dehumanizing.

I think a positive aspect of this versus selling Street Sense is that the people offering 4G hotspot access is actually providing a valuable service versus essentially relying on the charity of people to buy a not all that useful copy of Street Sense. OTOH it would definitely better if the 4G hotspot access was for a price and the people offering the service got a cut of that price.
posted by gyc at 6:18 PM on March 12, 2012


This could be a trend. Homeless people could be doing all the things that we saw done by dinosaurs on the Flintstones. "Eh, it's a living." basically, what i am saying is that this is dumb
posted by TwelveTwo at 6:25 PM on March 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yeah - instead of saying "here are some homeless unemployed people, lets give them a job", this firm is cynically saying "here are some homeless people, let's take advantage of the fact that they stand around with nothing to do all day and utilize them as a resource".

Sure it's not "easy" to pay someone as an employee / contractor. That just confirms that the people organizing this are lazy, exploitative cynics.
posted by Jimbob at 6:26 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm reminded of the Kramer-Newman plan to introduce homeless rickshaw pullers.

"They're always wandering around town. Why not strap something to them?"
posted by Trurl at 6:29 PM on March 12, 2012


Brings this comment to mind.
posted by mkb at 6:45 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sure it's not "easy" to pay someone as an employee / contractor. That just confirms that the people organizing this are lazy, exploitative cynics.

And if they're not lazy and exploitative, they may just be naive.

This is just another example of your archetypal Middle Class White Man using his powers of privilege to solve a problem by throwing money at it. To me this project demonstrates an inherent unawareness of the complexity of a social problem like homelessness. It's not just a financial problem. It's a social problem. It's a public health problem. And I think programs like this that get a lot of publicity (Invisible Children included) do a lot of damage to their cause by misrepresenting the root causes.
posted by triceryclops at 6:50 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Reminds me of a similarly exploitative thing that was happening in Portland awhile back:

"A slice of hot, fresh pizza dripping with cheese seemed like a good deal -- especially since all it required of him was holding a sign for about 40 minutes. The sign said: 'Pizza Schmizza paid me to hold this sign instead of asking for money.'"
posted by introcosm at 7:27 PM on March 12, 2012


I can't decide if this is a step-up or a step-down the career ladder from the guys who stand at intersections holding signs for mattress stores and gold exchanges. On the one hand, it's a job in the technology sector. On the other hand, less dancing.
posted by rh at 7:28 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


After you check out the Homeless Hotspots website, you might discover you won't hate this as much as the headline would suggest.

But you'd have to RTFA, and I recognize that that's asking way too much for most people.
posted by incessant at 7:52 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man's eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, "Do you see anything?" And he looked up, and said, I see men; for I behold them as trees, walking.
posted by phaedon at 8:02 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I did read it. It's great copywriting if you only skim it quickly.

Homeless Hotspots is a charitable innovation initiative by BBH New York. It attempts to modernize the Street Newspaper model employed to support homeless populations. As digital media proliferates, these newspapers face increased pressure. Our hope is to create a modern version of this successful model...

Ok. Are you actually trying to tell me that homeless newspapers are becoming harder to sell because people are only interested in supporting homelessness-journalism on their Kindles? And even if that were true, what exactly is the parallel between homeless people expressing their own voice through journalism and homeless people transporting an internet hotspot from place to place? And did a New-York-based ad agency just happen to find charity for the homeless the week of SXSW and decide that Austin, TX was most logical place to start?
posted by the jam at 8:24 PM on March 12, 2012


Homeless people get much-needed money; MeFi objects to how the homeless people get that much-needed money. I'm here in Austin and have seen these guys, and I think they'd be surprised at this "controversy". Believe me, I have no great love for SXSW (and probably won't come back again), but this seems so nitpicky.

They'd be begging for money anyway; only now, they're begging for money with something meaningful coming back to the money donator in return (and surely making more in the process). This is an improvement over the status quo; your feelings about marketing or SXSW or whatever other cool new thing to hate are irrelevant.
posted by downing street memo at 9:04 PM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ther was an interview with the organizer of this on Marketplace today on NPR. To hear him tell it the objective is less the money and more getting normal people totals to a homeless person under the auspices of a commercial transaction.
posted by GuyZero at 9:27 PM on March 12, 2012


Not all homeless people beg.
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:36 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Where's Charles Bukowski when you need him!?

Walking through the fire
posted by holdkris99 at 10:06 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Be internally consistent. Don't hammer the "they should pay them a wage" point and forget how difficult it can be to run a wage-paying business in the first place.

So, Cool Papa Bell, if a business can't handle participating in the social contract, then they should be allowed to just ignore what few laws and regulations are left to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our society (low-wage workers)?
posted by univac at 10:18 PM on March 12, 2012


What he is saying is blame society and government. To do good you must break the law. Ethical action will always be against the status quo, so long as we fear the repercussions of good deeds. It is the status quo that perpetuates these crimes. When society itself is immoral, any moral action is against society. So, pay them under the table, skirt regulations, avoid wages, give money freely, support the poor even if according to the law, you cannot afford it . . .
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:22 PM on March 12, 2012


I love the ideas of Street Newspapers, whether it's Street Sheet in SF, or Real Change in Seattle, or whatever the local one is called. It's a step forward on so many issues, from providing the homeless a voice, to providing income for security, to combating the horribly wrong stereotype of the lazy homeless. The fact that Real Change in Seattle is a very vocal advocate for homeless issues and policies is extra nice.

But this..

I've been wanting to attend SXSW for a while. I love festivals, and I'm a geek, so it seems like a natural match.

But more and more, SXSW seems like it's becoming something else. Most of the people at my current workplace going aren't the engineers and builders, they're the marketing people and biz dev guys. We need those guys, they're important, and a lot of them are smarter than engineers give them credit for.

But their dominance at SXSW changes the nature of the festival. Same with the startup and entrepreneur Bros. I love startup culture and the Valley. But it's kind of turning into something else.

And this homeless mobile hotspot project association with SXSW kind of gives it a negative association in my mind, regardless of whether it's right or not. It's marketing first and advocacy second.

Ugh.

Now, you give the homeless the ability to provide a distributed ad-hoc mesh network and you've got something more revolutionary. No passwords, no central gateways.. Completely distributed mobile unregistered access. When the DOJ is taking down websites and domains without court orders due to a future SOPA, PIPA or ACTA, and the only providers of a free and open Internet are the homeless. Now that's the future, and that's empowering.
posted by formless at 10:54 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know, Metafilter sure is full of a bunch of clueless posers lately. You're all having a really great wank going on about how abusive this is of homeless people. WTF do you know about being homeless, and homeless people? Judging by your poses, not a damn thing.

Job? Wages? Hourly compensation? Social security numbers? WTF?

Hey! Let's be fair and burden those damn homeless people with all the red tape that makes them stay homeless in the first place! Let's ram that legal shit right down their throats! Can't make us middle class folks look like dirt because we don't pay them wages!
posted by Goofyy at 10:57 PM on March 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


I can see why this weirds people out a little, but the people actually doing it seem positive about it, and I've seen positive comments about it from the homeless-advocacy spectrum:

GOOD: Critics of South by Southwest's Homeless Hotspots Haven't Met Jonathan Hill

Panhandling or Hotspot Vendor: Which is better? [via InvisiblePeople.TV]

I don't think this is a permanent magical solution, but it's certainly an interesting approach that could even work in regular non-SXSW urban contexts, certainly where public Wi-Fi is at a premium. People are talking about minimum wage, but as I understand it many of the newspaper-vendor concepts like Chicago's Streetwise are also essentially commission sales jobs. (Besides, nobody actually stated that they consistently make less than minimum, as far as I've seen. Certainly outside of an SXSW context that's a big possibility.)

I love that it creates a rationale for interaction. I love that it integrates homeless people into the economic life of the city. Expand it a bit and you can see a rationale for a subsidized locker, secure storage that many homeless lack.

The idea that it's degrading is just .. *shakes head*. Is it degrading to become a street vendor and cover a blanket in stripped books you liberated from a dumpster? Is it degrading to be a street computer fix-it guy (written up in the NYT a while back, I believe)? Crazy.
posted by dhartung at 11:14 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


It attempts to modernize the Street Newspaper model employed to support homeless populations.

If you feel like pissing off a homeless person who is selling those newspapers, just tell them that you like their Street Newspaper, but that you always read it online.

Then ask them if they provide free WiFi access.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:33 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is beyond anything thought up by Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris when they were writing Nathan Barley.
posted by DanCall at 2:12 AM on March 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Fuckin SX bullshit. I hate SXSW. I'm from Austin and I hate it because it's NOT for people from Austin. It's for every other asshole in the free world who thinks they're COOL.
posted by PuppyCat at 4:25 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is beyond anything thought up by Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris when they were writing Nathan Barley.

You know, when I checked BBC News this morning, the top three most popular stories were:

Man 'falls asleep on baby'
US city faces toilet paper crisis

And the homeless wifi controversy. It was like I'd woken up in The Day Today or Brass Eye.
posted by permafrost at 6:53 AM on March 13, 2012


In what way is this any more dehumanizing and exploitative than my job?
posted by Naberius at 7:01 AM on March 13, 2012


"a mobile hotspot should not actually be mobile."


Yep, I was picturing a line of dudes with laptops following some homeless guy down the street.


That would turn a marketing stunt into art.
posted by rdr at 7:40 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


In what way is this any more dehumanizing and exploitative than my job?

Do you work for an insanely profitable telco for nothing, no benefits or coverage or even food or shelter, nothing more than charitable donations from strangers nearby?

No?
posted by mhoye at 7:59 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anybody who wants to make a donation directly to Front Steps, the organization through which BBH sourced these folks, may do so here.
posted by thejoshu at 8:00 AM on March 13, 2012


Gives "What's the frequency, Kenneth?" a whole 'nother meaning.
posted by Kokopuff at 8:03 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Reactions online have been mixed. Some commentators are outraged, while others wonder whether the project is helpful or exploitative.

That doesn't seem "mixed."

"As if the homeless aren't dehumanized enough, they are now being used as Wi-Fi hotspots at South by Southwest," journalist Saleem Khan tweeted.

It's a better job than cleaning toilets. Or digging ditches, imo.

...

Wait a minute ... they are getting at least minimum wage, right? Or hopefully higher than minimum wage? The compensation seems to be vague. They're not doing it ONLY for donations, are they? That's fucked up.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:23 AM on March 13, 2012


That doesn't seem "mixed."

The CBC article includes links to some more positive commentary. I didn't want to include each and every link in the FPP but, you're right, it doesn't look particularly mixed based on how I crafted the post.
posted by asnider at 11:35 AM on March 13, 2012


I like Yglesias's take:
Think about all the companies involved in one way or another in SXSW who did absolutely nothing at all for Austin's homeless population. How much condemnation did they get? None. BBH's stunt here offends our sense of human dignity, but the real offense is that people were languishing in such poor conditions that they would find this to be an attractive job offer. The sin they're being punished for is less any harm they've done to homeless people than the way they broke decorum by shoving the reality of human misery amid material plenty into the faces of convention-goers. The polite thing to do is to let suffering take place offstage and unremarked-upon.
posted by Weebot at 1:36 PM on March 13, 2012


The polite thing to do is to let suffering take place offstage and unremarked-upon.

Reminds me of the Louis C.K. bit about the visiting friend at the Port Authority bus terminal in NYC (couldn't find a video, but it's described here.
posted by formless at 3:12 PM on March 13, 2012


Think about all the companies involved in one way or another in SXSW who did absolutely nothing at all for Austin's homeless population. How much condemnation did they get? None. BBH's stunt here offends our sense of human dignity, but the real offense is that people were languishing in such poor conditions that they would find this to be an attractive job offer. The sin they're being punished for is less any harm they've done to homeless people than the way they broke decorum by shoving the reality of human misery amid material plenty into the faces of convention-goers. The polite thing to do is to let suffering take place offstage and unremarked-upon.

Egregious, infuriating bullshit. This loathesome stunt wasn't devised to 'break decorum' or to 'expose the reality of human misery' -- screw you, Yglesias, whoever the hell you are, you collaborationist clod.

It was done to grab mindshare, it was done to move 'product', it was done out of the basest of motives, out of the same sort of impulse that made google just patent another goddamned way to push its giant advertising dick straight into the soft wet folds of our brains even more often.

These marketing shitheads don't care a tinker's fuck for social responsibility or the plight of the legions of homeless that society has failed and turned its back on. They care about making a stir, getting people talking about their clients, they know that even if it's not true that there's no such thing as bad publicity, the level of ethical judgement in society at large is at such a low ebb that it may as well be true.

They know that there are going to be people who are going to argue both sides of a manufactured controversy, and you can bet they brainstormed and workshopped and focusgrouped this idea until it sang like Maria goddamned Callas, making sure that there was a defensible take on this thing. A defensible take that -- even if their willing dupes out in dumbfuckconsumerland didn't push for them -- they could seed into the filthy pressrelease mediastream themselves.

They know that 'debate' about this -- and there are so many redmeaty directions those debates could take, about homelessness, about technology, about advertising, all shiny candy for the geek brigades that might be interested in SXSW in the first place -- will do nothing but create more exposure for themselves and their clients, and that was the purpose of the whole thing from the get-go.

You have to admire the horrifying, cynical cleverness of it, the sleight of hand redirection, and I hope the asshole who came up with it gets a big promotion, the love and respect of his peers, then gets hit by a fucking bus.

I don't wish that, really. Not any of those things. What I do I hope is that he or she languishes at a low-level, soul-destroying deskjob in the bowel of their ad agency for years until they realize that they've made poor choices for their life, and decides to dedicate the rest of it to working for charities and social change.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:45 PM on March 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


Sorry, I'm a bit ranty this morning.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:55 PM on March 13, 2012


Yglesias hits the nail on the head. For all the hand wringing over the social contract or social responsibility, whatever the fuck that means, there is a company that has made a difference. And it squicks out all well meaning folks who cannot accept an improvement unless it happens on their preferred terms.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:51 PM on March 13, 2012


Jesus was a homeless person.
posted by bukvich at 8:43 PM on March 14, 2012


With friends like these, the homeless don’t need enemies.
posted by Dasein at 11:35 AM on March 15, 2012


Tensions between different anti-homeless activist groups have always been high, mostly because there's no easy solution.

It brought them into contact with their fellow citizens as equals, paying them more than minimum wage, plus commissions, to provide conference-goers with a product they desired.

See that second clause there is the rub for me. As long as they are getting minimum wage for it (which $50 for 6 hours would be, and if they're not required to work more), it's a great plan. It's a job for a day (or a week or whatever). Where I would bristle is if this was a commission-only type deal.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:08 PM on March 15, 2012


Wouldn't that be anti-homelessness?

I hope so, at least!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:55 PM on March 15, 2012


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