Upstate Girls Project + Slate + Facebook = Internet Rage
July 21, 2014 6:17 PM   Subscribe

Ms. Kenneally told Op-Talk that she was devastated by the response. After the Slate article’s publication, she said, she was soon fielding calls from Kayla and others. She was concerned for her subjects: young, vulnerable people who were reading comments on Facebook calling them “trash.” She added that social media had changed these subjects’ lives: “These guys live on Facebook like they used to live on their front porch.”

I don't know if people forget that the people they are calling "trash" can see their comments, or if they simply don't care. Either way it's a profoundly shitty thing to do; I also think that the interconnected nature of media now has complicated the ethics of these kinds of projects in more immediate ways than was the case for classic works like the dust bowl photographs or Jacob Riis' work.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:30 PM on July 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

top notch work by Slate there - although the article now says "The photo 'Tony and Kayla' has been removed', it is still the headline image on their facebook post of the story.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 6:31 PM on July 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

From the first link: "Slate’s editor-in-chief, Julia Turner, told Op-Talk that some of the harshest backlash took the publication by surprise: “Commenters had varied responses to the piece. ... Others posted ad hominem comments about some of Kenneally’s subjects. That was something we didn’t anticipate.”

I'm tempted to think Turner is being disingenuous here. Slate was probably counting on the ad hominem comments as clickbait.
posted by orrnyereg at 6:33 PM on July 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

Sometimes the comments are worth reading: "Article should be called "Slate, and their bourgeois readers, judge poor people."

That was from the FB link. People also point out that the smoking really shouldn't be judged, since $1,800 over the course of a year isn't going to much matter. When I was poor I smoked. For $2 I could buy a pack of cigarettes and it gave me something to do all day. The math was more in my favor back then, but the result is the same. Even at thirty cents a cigarette there not a lot else one can do with time that is that cheap.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:52 PM on July 21, 2014 [12 favorites]

It's hard enough being poor. Being poor and having an Internet presence is like some new level of Hell.
posted by magstheaxe at 7:02 PM on July 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

The Slate piece was pure poverty porn vouyerism, and for them to pretend to be shocked, shocked!, that people responded like they did is disingenuous to say the least.
posted by dejah420 at 7:04 PM on July 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

People also point out that the smoking really shouldn't be judged, since $1,800 over the course of a year isn't going to much matter.

One of the photos shows a mother smoking while holding a toddler - exposing the child to second hand smoke is surely judge-worthy.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:05 PM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

People also point out that the smoking really shouldn't be judged, since $1,800 over the course of a year isn't going to much matter.

But yes, I don't understand why privileged people think that poor people should not be allowed a single iota of joy or pleasure in their lives.

Recreation is not a luxury. It is a necessity.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:07 PM on July 21, 2014 [27 favorites]

Social media has changed a lot of things in unexpected ways. I follow a fair number of black women on Twitter who are activists or just funny and interesting (as a way of educating myself, which it does) and recently one of them remarked that she really didn't like random white folks (which would include me) retweeting her stuff or that of other black women. I asked why, respectfully, and she said because when white people retweet black people, then their white followers (or the followers of their followers) come over and throw shit at the black Twitterers and harass them.

I was astounded; it had just never occured to me that people do shit like that. And enough random people follow me that I can't possibly say they wouldn't do that; I don't know a lot of them at all. I had been all "yay I'll be an ally and retweet this amazing person's comments" but from their side, it didn't feel that way. It felt like I was exposing them to more bullshit they didn't need.

Racism: fucking nasty stuff that ruins everything.
posted by emjaybee at 7:15 PM on July 21, 2014 [40 favorites] is loading slow for me, but there's some good pictures in there. I guess I'm not surprised that people are being awful about them, but it sure does suck.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:22 PM on July 21, 2014

I don't know if people forget that the people they are calling "trash" can see their comments, or if they simply don't care.

Another possibility is that the commenters don't really see the people they're calling trash as people. Based on the way some threads right here on metafilter have gone, I also don't feel like it's stretch to say that a lot of people think poor people can be "you should just"-ed out of poverty. And, of course, there's the righteous "Well, they're doing [thing] wrong, so obviously they should be judged for it by total strangers!"

Because total strangers typing comments on an internet site have literally no other options besides being judgey about people they don't know and will never meet.
posted by rtha at 7:23 PM on July 21, 2014 [15 favorites]

It never fails to amaze me that people can look at the effects of intergenerational poverty and a total failure of social support systems and come away saying smoking is bad and feeling smug.
posted by MeghanC at 7:28 PM on July 21, 2014 [53 favorites]

Living in a moldy roach filled house is also a health hazard, exposing children to car exhaust that is forced on city dwellers is a health hazard. Being poor means you are bombarded with health hazards that no one cares are destroying you until one of them actually makes you feel good, or yes helps feel better in the moment to be a better parent while living through horrible shit.
posted by xarnop at 7:30 PM on July 21, 2014 [46 favorites]

Ms. Kenneally said she regretted handing over so much control to Slate

I don't want to blame the victim here, but at the same time all people would benefit by educating themselves about the inherent dangers of leaving yourself open to a predator like Slate.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:30 PM on July 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Being poor means you are bombarded with health hazards that no one cares are destroying you until one of them actually makes you feel good, or yes helps feel better in the moment to be a better parent while living through horrible shit.

That is an excellent point.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:38 PM on July 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I kind of wonder about the ethics of a project like this. Like Diane Arbus, it seems like almost pure voyeurism. It's been done before. I get the idea that it is important to document poverty, but taken out of context the photos are simply gratuitous, especially without any accompanying in-depth narrative. What greater insights to we get into their lives? There needs to be more background for each and every photo (which is itself just a point in time). I don't understand this project.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:40 PM on July 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

The comments criticizing food choices strike a special chord with me.

The average SNAP (food stamp) benefit per person per meal is $1.50.

Among Troy's least expensive foods are fried chicken and Coke. Consider how easy these items are attained at corner stores relative to other, more nutritious options. Then consider what it would take to get to the nearest grocery store when you don't have a car. Or you can't afford to fix the car. A bus in Troy costs $3 round trip, and there are no subsidies offered for low-income riders.

Poor Americans don't make dumb food choices. They make decent choices among limited, terrible options. I welcome the Internet's drive-by life advice squad to imagine what life would be like if enjoying fresh produce meant living well beyond one's means.
posted by Avarith at 7:41 PM on July 21, 2014 [38 favorites]

There needs to be more background for each and every photo (which is itself just a point in time). I don't understand this project.

Okay, I am going to modify my comment - the website (it took a while to load) is really interesting and has a ton of context. The way that Slate (in the link above) presented the photos needs more context.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:45 PM on July 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Kandice, seen here dressed for Halloween, really wanted to fall in love. After a few romances, she became pregnant and gave birth in January 2014.

That sounds smug as fuck. Slate shouldn't be at all surprised at the terrible Facebook comments when they themselves invited it.
posted by supermassive at 8:14 PM on July 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

The photographer grew up in the town and had an early life similar to the women she photographs, as well as spending years with them. This is not poverty porn, it's good photo-journalism.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:14 PM on July 21, 2014 [10 favorites]

The comments were harsh. Many expressed outrage that Kayla would smoke while holding her baby.

They ought to say that in person in my neighborhood. Every mother -- and there an explosion of them -- pushes a stroller with a cigarette in her hand -- and you ought to see all those workers at my local hospital smoking outside, too...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:19 PM on July 21, 2014

If you think about Slate's masthead, the editorial team inhabits an entirely different planet than the subjects of these photos.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:19 PM on July 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think the photojournalist's work stands on its own but its hard to argue against Slate cherry picking as many sensationalist pictures as possible for their article. The first five or six set off my middle class sensibility alarms (smoking and children, coffee and children, overweight child and Doritos, etc) and I grew up in relative poverty.
posted by saucy_knave at 8:22 PM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is not poverty porn, it's good photo-journalism.

Why is it so hard to tell the difference?
posted by fieldtrip at 8:23 PM on July 21, 2014

This is not poverty porn, it's good photo-journalism.

I agree, but Slate's presentation shifted that, which was shitty and/or unthinking of them.

Why is it so hard to tell the difference?

That has not been my experience.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:25 PM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

It sounds like a lot of people are shocked by the behavior of young people on welfare raising children. Many are shocked because they also believe that forcing or encouraging young people to have children would be good for their character and that everyone involved would be humbled and be willing to work hard for their food. In that case, the shocked are simply in denial about their self-righteous plans for others.
posted by Brian B. at 8:28 PM on July 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

I don't know if there is any point in trying to determine why the Internet produces assholes and assholish comments. I have no control over how other people perceive the photos, but I do have control over how I express my opinions. Like I indicated upthread, I would rather try to understand the story behind the photos instead of passing judgement, either on the people in the photos, or the people making comments about them.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:35 PM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know if there is any point in trying to determine why the Internet produces assholes and assholish comments.

Because it doesn't. Assholes have always existed. The internet just lets everyone see them.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:45 PM on July 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

It does look like poverty tourism to me - and I think it is because there aren't any normal photogenic photos of anyone. Even in the NYT Lens Blog the first photo is Kayla holding her son with one hand and a cigarette in the opposite hand a foot from her son's face. The second photo shows Kayla and James and a child watching a movie - James happens to be holding/resting a long knife/dagger on his chest. Each photo is like this, there isn't a sweet, "normal" photo in the lot.
posted by fieldtrip at 8:52 PM on July 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

The photos remind me what the Bill Moyers Frontline documentary Two Families. The documentary tracks the slow, steady decline of two families from about 1990 to 2010. It is a bitter pill, notably the children of one of the families, who struggle as late-20-something adults working minimum wage jobs supporting expanding, broken families while living in squalid conditions. Yet they still describe themselves as "middle class."
posted by KokuRyu at 8:55 PM on July 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I shudder to think how the internet would react to Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
posted by bq at 8:55 PM on July 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

I got into it with someone over their nitpicking the smoking thing in another thread that was largely about poor people, and I think my takeaway has ultimately been that it's the easiest thing to point at and go "well clearly they shouldn't be smoking" as if you, Einstein, are the first person to point out that smoking is bad for you. It's one of those there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I sorts of human reactions maybe, a need to find something to differentiate me from them. Everyone knows that smoking is dangerous, yet people, perfectly sane, reasonable, not-even-poor people still do it, even knowing that it's bad for them. I'd wager that smoking is more of a common habit, percentagewise, among the poor, so it's especially low hanging fruit there.
posted by axiom at 9:36 PM on July 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

This 2010 New Yorker piece about the photos and poems does make me wonder how much the photographer is directing the photo shoots. She's not an invisible fly on the wall--I would like to see the "goofing around moments" mentioned in the New Yorker by poet Susan Somers-Willet.
Women of Troy on Vimeo
posted by Ideefixe at 9:46 PM on July 21, 2014

Many of the pics have at least one feature that overtly courts the judgmental disgust/aversion thing--the doritos, kids with coffee and cigs, or even just a certain kind of "inadequately apologetic for my sorry self" kind of expression. To me, it scans in a Harmony Korine kind of way--exploitative, but not entirely unsympathetically so, and definitely on the porn-y side (morally speaking). The awful Facebook bozos are, to be sure, awful Facebook bozos, but they're not totally inventing the grotesquerie in the pics. The people who are very piously seeing only tragic poverty are kind of more frustrating...

In the NYTimes thing, the photog says: “These guys live on Facebook like they used to live on their front porch.”

Am I totally hearing it wrong, or is this an exceptionally "othering" little simile?
posted by batfish at 9:52 PM on July 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

we don't get to talk shit about people's moms.

This makes no sense. I'm not going to come down either way on whether the folks here are being judged unkindly or whatever, but just because someone is a mother doesn't put them above reproach.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:11 PM on July 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

Yeah, but that's my mom you're talking about, so fuck off? Like, look, I was raised by a chain smoker and I have plenty of complicated feelings about that and she did many other horrible things as well, many of which were just as damaging as secondhand smoke but everyone ignored, and/but fuck off, we don't get to talk shit about people's moms.

I apologise for offending you - that wasn't my intent. 'Judge-worthy' was not a great way to characterise that. I'm not saying that mothers who smoke in the presence of their kids are bad people, just that it's bad thing to do for the kid. I think it's OK to criticise bad (ie anti-social and damaging) behaviours; pointing them out is how we, as a society, work to encourage better behaviours. See, for example, anti-drink driving laws.

But the smoking thing is a massive derail. As you say - there are plenty of parental behaviours which are bad or worse than smoking, and often no one seems to care that much about those. Of the issues that the family in the photo easy are dealing with, smoking is surely one of the least of them. It's also extremely problematic to demonise poor people for engaging in one of the few pleasures that they can afford.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:13 PM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Batfish, if it helps, I interpreted that as sort of a generational thing--the photographer is in her fifties and has a child who's now about eighteen, so about the same age as many of her subjects. I assume she used "these guys" referring to the demographic of, say, 14 - 24 year olds, not necessarily specifically the people she's photographing.

there isn't a sweet, "normal" photo in the lot

The Slate set seems to go out of its way to pick out some of the least middle-class normal pics. The last link (to the NYT showcase) does better, and includes scenes of apparent domestic tranquility, a really gorgeous photo of a young mother nursing her infant, a family resting together, a family saying prayers together, a wedding...

I would also submit that "normal" for many poor people, especially very young poor families, can look pretty different than normal for middle-class people. Certainly not everyone wanders around with large knives, but I've known plenty of guys in that late-teens/early-twenties demographic who did.
posted by MeghanC at 10:22 PM on July 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

I find this comment particularly apt. Last month Slate did a feature on a photo project of mine, (with the same writer - Jordan Teicher - used on Upstate Girls), and I was surprised that many readers seemed to conflate the Slate article with the project itself, (commentors on a Huffington Post article about it even more so).

People respond so quickly on the internet, without RTFA, without clicking on links to get further context that their commentary is often not helpful or insightful in any way.

One other thing I will add - to be fair to Teicher and others I’ve dealt with - from what I’ve experienced these young writers and bloggers are under intense pressure to produce articles that are as ‘click-baity’ as possible; I don’t know what the solution is - clickbaity/upworthy headlines seem to be ‘faddish’ - perhaps in years to come we’ll exit out of the other side of this as folks become more sophisticated in their internet usage??
posted by jettloe at 10:27 PM on July 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Let me just say that, whatever the merits of the project, upstate has plenty of heartbreaking poverty. That part is surely not invented.
posted by newdaddy at 10:28 PM on July 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I used to live in Troy because I went to school there.

There was, at the time, a big gulf between the native Trojans and the students who were paying big money to go to Rensselaer or Russell Sage. We drove down the same streets, shopped at the same stores, never, ever crossed the thick bright line. Even the "locals" I befriended were educated professionals and entrepreneurs, or erstwhile faculty brats who came back upon adulthood to buy a staggeringly cheap Victorian gem and set themselves up as a landlord to next generation of undergrads.

As a city, Troy could be breathtakingly lovely -- especially when the autumn sun gilded the downtown and made the Hudson sparkle. The people I knew in Troy really wanted to "bring it back," without somehow engaging in the poverty that crept across rundown streets.

I shared an Ivy-covered brownstone with five other students. Our cellar was lined with cobbles. The two cheapest rents were in the bedrooms that had been the help's quarters (back of the second floor, rooms 9x9), then three more of us in spacious sunny bedrooms on the second and third floors, and a flush doctoral student paying $400/mo for the privilege of having the master suite on the top floor to himself.

Two houses down, two single-mom families living together. On the corner, people hustling for anything they could. In our house, a collective 36 years of higher education -- and counting.

Troy sort of broke my heart a little. These pictures break it a little more. There is no reason why Troy has to be this way, right down the river from the state capital and swimming in highly educated professionals.
posted by sobell at 10:54 PM on July 21, 2014 [12 favorites]

Batfish, you and I saw very different photos: Many of the pics have at least one feature that overtly courts the judgmental disgust/aversion thing--the doritos, kids with coffee and cigs, or even just a certain kind of "inadequately apologetic for my sorry self" kind of expression.

Like, I loved the one of the kids playing at the cigarettes with the note "Destiny and Deanna Pretending to Smoke, 2008. When the girls’ mother came home from work at the Hess convenience store, the girls would often pamper her by bringing her soda, taking her shoes off, and running to the kitchen to light her a cigarette from the stove."

It's a tender moment of two loving kids with a hardworking mom, playing the way I've seen my kids play at doing grown-up things. The one of Dana at the end is almost physically painful for me to look up, her numb restrained gaze while the baby is cradled against her, both of them swathed in blankets, on a sort of jarring diagonal - it's a really powerful shot in context.

The photos selected by Slate include some hard painful moments, and people's faces at rest. They're not staged portraits, but intense moments curated from difficult lives. Looking at the collection in full on her website, there is a much wider variety of moments, including 'positive', but in all of them, she neither obscures nor highlights the messy poverty of their environment. The people dominate each scene, framed by that environment. That's an artistic choice that balances well, I think - the stories are about these people, set within their domestic environments.

Slate's Photo Blog has been a mixed bunch for me, but really worthwhile as column leading me through an artform I'm not familiar with. They've had issues with framing in other stories - there was a recent feature about transport in a village in Burkina Faso that I thought was shallow and slightly troubling as poverty-porn adjacent, but it's partly the limits of the column. They have set it at less than 10 big images and a couple of hundred words write-up, focusing on the photographer. With a complicated project like Troy, they miss stuff unless you click through the links and go further.
posted by viggorlijah at 11:12 PM on July 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you'd like to experience more Troy-enabled jarring contrasts, check out the Troy, NY tumblr. The tumblr's author/photographer frames a lot of the shots in a context that is definitely more in line with the student/bourgeois professional experience in the 12180.
posted by sobell at 11:22 PM on July 21, 2014

Good photos.

As an aside, I've taken a few photos of my cat lately and noticed that even after a thorough tidy-up, my middle-class residence somehow becomes a complete shit heap in the background of every shot.

I think it's because we're so accustomed to sit coms and ads and short-cut visual metaphors. But all you've got to do is leave an empty wine bottle, a pizza box and a couple of screwed up napkins next to your couch and right away your place will look like a crack house on camera.
posted by colie at 12:57 AM on July 22, 2014 [19 favorites]

Dependency by fact, history, social research and common sense builds ad fosters mutual resentment(s) between the two parties. Parents and children, employees and employers, citizens a goverments and those depending on the welfare of the State and those paying/providing it. A few on each side can view themself and the"others" with generosity, empathy and humility. Berating, belittling and judging those who do judge is no more useful than those judging the poor. Not judging is not the same as endorsing nor is it informing or changing anything. it only alienates and crystallizes the views of thosewho do judge and belittle. Fwiw. I think Slate knew what they were doing and the photojournalist was either naive or aware that the photos, in this context, would be controversial.
posted by rmhsinc at 3:41 AM on July 22, 2014

there was a recent feature about transport in a village in Burkina Faso that I thought was shallow and slightly troubling as poverty-porn adjacent

I honestly did not get the poverty-porn vibe from this series of photos. They look like pretty normal people after a day of work. I think that the choice of what pictures to include in the Troy piece was sensationalizing (intentionally or not), but I don't see that kind of choice at work in the selection of photos in the Burkina Faso piece. In other words, it doesn't look like these photos were chosen to emphasize their poverty or difference.

So, I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you, but I don't see it. What is it that seems poverty-porn about it? What kind of context do you think the photos needed? More emphasis on the subjects in the text?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:30 AM on July 22, 2014

In the case of harm prevention, judging and shaming can have it's place as a tool to shift human behavior. Inspiring and educating are better tools in the first line of social change, but when those efforts fail it's understandable that people resort to other methods. However I don't think that seeing where judging can be valuable means that you can't differentiate between situations where it's in fact an inappropriate understanding of behavior that is useful and makes sense in a particular situation or circumstance.

Judgement that somethings are harmful is perfectly fine, but as a fan of harm reduction, all choices are made weighing cost/benefits that may involve factors beyond the understanding of those doing the judging (and sometimes even beyond the understanding of facts of the person doing the behavior and judging themselves for it but still finding themselves drawn to the behavior).

The more research we do about the benefits of nicotine and coffee (and speed and opiates) and other "shameful" drugs for certain types of brain functioning and stress and pain reduction, the more it makes total sense that people in extreme crisis would see them as the best and most needed option to accomplish the goal of pain reduction (which should be a human right) and functioning abilities on the job or with duties at home. Exhaustion and fatigue make cooking and cleaning after a hard days work beyond that capacity of many people without adding further physical damage to their bodies (how about running a marathon after running that marathon... did you know that much physical activity increases the risk of disease for intensive athletes, much less people who are worked to exhaustion with no respite ever and have no choice in the matter?)

People start losing the will to live when they aren't allowed to even have a glimpse of anything pleasurable ever, and for many clnging to drugs or easy but tasty fatty/salty/sugary foods is the only way to make happy feelings happen or keep themselves going on. This is a choice FOR survival not against it as people waging the "war on drugs" claim. The effects of poverty conditions themselvse are so unspeakably damaging to human health and brain functioning that it is a ridiculous error of judgement to think these arepeople who are "harming themselves"- these are people that we, as a society, are HARMING by relegating them to unlivable wages and housing conditions and access to needed social services for home repairs, cleaning services, quality child care, time off from work when needed, recreation activities and more.

We are injuring these people with the mentality that poverty is a problem of people making bad choices rather than a system CHOICE society is making to leave people in this conditions and then kick them while they scramble in agony and pain for some shred of comfort or joy within the options we've permitted. Pharmaceuticals have a lot more long term side effects than people realize as well but they are socially acceptable more due to mass marketing and the spin of demonizing illegal drug use than because it's any safer to have morphine for a surgery than to take for PTSD or the physical pain of living through damaging your body with exhaustive labor and no rest or healing. These people are going to be worked to death anyway and NO ONE CARES, to suddenly care when it turns out they are getting to feel good or might be making choices that shorten their lives (to many THIS IS A FINE TRADE OFF! and why shouldn't it be?).

To claim the moralizing is about child welfare is absolutely false. You want to talk about child welfare let's talk about houses that are dangerous for children and poor people can' afford to repair, let's talk about the effects of living next to dangerous criminals who are given less prison time than people who are repeatedly imprisoned for people peaceful drug users, let's talk about how drug use in pregnancy is actually not as harmful as poverty itself to the health and brain development of the fetus, let's talk about the job conditions we expose our poor too, the chemicals they are forced to be exposed in maintenance and repair duties, as cleaners and painters, and builders and factory workers-- how does that effect their cells, how does that effect their children since we know toxic exposures can effect the health of people's children and grandchildren? Let's talk about the effects of stressful jobs on mental well being and cognition, the effects of housing instability and food insecurity on CHILDREN'S well being.

These children are being harmed every day, and no one gives a shit while their parents are watching their children go through it, watching dreams die and health conditions form, and behavioral problems develop, knowing their kids need more and powerless to do anything about it. If smoking helps these parents get through one more day of finding a smile when your insides are broken, of making it work when you're just ready to collapse into the abyss because everything is hell, the idea of judging them for having that smoke as "not caring about their children" has nothing to do with caring for that child.

That parent has worked themselves to the ground because they love that child more than you will ever know, and none of the people moralizing about having a smoke plan to lift so much as a fucking finger for those actual children. You want to know what love for your child's welfare is like, try surviving in poverty and doing everything you can for them when your insides are breaking. There are so many true heroes, amazing, powerful, wonderful human beings, who would give their children the moon if they could, who are broken and shattered from what this world has done to them. What people stand around and watch happening to them. And commenting on how smoking is really unhealthy, don't you know?

Judgement is a useful tool. When it's combined with ignorance, lack of education, and a desire for superiority and other, it's a weapon of hate and destruction directed at often innocent and vulnerable people who are making different choices because they are facing different things and morality is not a fixed set of behaviors but a fluctuating response to situational variables weighing the harms and benefits involved in each specific circumstance. To me harm reduction matches this reality, that what is good in good conditions, may not work the same in other conditions or for specific people dealing with their own internal or external variables. It's fine to have general guidelines that promote health, but we need to have flexibility around the use of behaviors and coping mechanism that work best for the person that provide comfort and energy to keep going in the moment and factor that into considerations about future harms.

If someone is lying on the street with their leg cut off chugging alcohol, the "moral" question is not "why did that guy drink so much whiskey at once" but "where is the f-ing ambulance and why is society standing around commenting on his drinking rather than getting him the medical care and healing conditions he needs?

Take away all the cleaning services, yard workers, home repair workers, and money for shopping from the wealthy and I guarantee you their neighborhoods will start to look a lot more like poorer neighborhoods because this isn't about a lack of character it's a lack of resources to the very goods and services that the poor are often the ones providing to society.
posted by xarnop at 6:22 AM on July 22, 2014 [22 favorites]

Re the Facebook commenters: self-righteousness is a hell of a drug.
posted by GrammarMoses at 6:36 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Rule #1 of Comment Club is you do not read the comments. Rule #2 of Comment Club is YOU DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS.
posted by jonp72 at 6:45 AM on July 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't have a problem with poor folks smoking. But keep it out of your kids' face and no I won't fuck off. You don't need a college degree or money to know that poor people who do that are in fact ass holes. My parents did it and they were assholes too. We lived in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Colorado. So what, get the fucking thing out of my face.
posted by aydeejones at 8:09 AM on July 22, 2014

Annnnnnd the judgment migrates here! Lovely!
posted by agregoli at 8:10 AM on July 22, 2014

Yes it does. Being poor doesn't absolve you of basic common sense. I will qualify, it's acting like an asshole and being proud of it. Being broke doesn't break your brain's ability to realize how stupid it is to directly poison your child's respiratory system.
posted by aydeejones at 8:14 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

And I'll bet the most adamant soft bigotry of low expectations folks haven't actually lived in anything close to poverty because the vehemence is so precious and gloved. Attacking smoking is a dick move unless you attack it everywhere. Rich and poor alike are being jerks if they deliberately fog their kids. Anatolé France doesn't enter this one.
posted by aydeejones at 8:17 AM on July 22, 2014

Being poor doesn't absolve you of basic common sense. I will qualify, it's acting like an asshole and being proud of it. Being broke doesn't break your brain's ability to realize how stupid it is to directly poison your child's respiratory system.

Quitting smoking is harder than quitting heroin, or so they say.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:29 AM on July 22, 2014

Also I'm a pretty big harm reduction advocate. I control the things I can. I had the money to buy a radon abatement system when I owned a house so I did. If I was still smoking at the time and couldn't afford the abatement for my kids future (exposure to carcinogens and radiation being cumulative and worse for kids) I wouldn't throw my hands up and start smoking in their faces or in the house. I know exactly what apathy and nihilism and depression and poverty and terror feel like. That doesn't make second hand smoke somehow this tiny extra perk. If you live in an apartment you might get it from your neighbors. That doesn't mean "hot box your own place because whoohoo!" Smoking is a pretty touchy one. I don't begrudge most vices, but being all "wevs" about a massive and simple respiratory health thing you can control is a pretty raunchy vice.
posted by aydeejones at 8:33 AM on July 22, 2014

I have put thousands into quitting and still use nicotine daily. Agreed
posted by aydeejones at 8:33 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think children who have been harmed by their parents disabilities and coping behaviors/mentalities in adversity have my sympathy and understanding- however once someone gets numb to the level of hazards and risks they live with on a daily basis, their risk assessment can be very poor, and they are taught to have low caution for risk by society and employers and the communities they join who tolerate a lot of health hazards and encourage each other to toughen up and accept it because that's life.

As someone who has worked in harm reduction with homeless populations, taking precautions about drug use is exactly what harm reduction teaches people that they can't get from anti-tolerance policies. A lot of people feel so guilty and ashamed of their habits they don't see that they can be responsible users by minimizing the level of harm of their habits, shifting to habits that might cause less harm when they feel able, and seeking healing for the root of their traumas and help to overcome the harms of the situation they're in. This often requires outside intervention because poverty can block access to the abundant resources accessible to those with money and because stress and trauma does cloud thinking and judgement. It can be necessary having financial assistance, increases minimum wages, free healing services such as housing, trauma therapy, relaxation and stress management services, exercise classes and more available for free or very low cost (like 5 dollars a session) for low income people to heal.

Harm reduction DOES actually ask individuals to be as responsible as possible about their coping mechanisms and to acknowledge the harms involved and that if possible, other solutions might be better if they get to a point in their lives they can make that work and still manage their pain and emotions on a day to day basis. It asks a lot of individuals to grow and learn about themselves, but it also calls communities to grow and learn about the actual science behind what the people they are judging are going through. Making judgements without accurate information can also cause a lot of damage in the world.

Right now, people are driving with kids in their cars every day and no one shames parents for this, we assume it's necessary because we CHOOSE to ignore the need for city planning, for walkable distances to essential places, for functional bus systems. We accept the risks to the fetus of maternal pharmaceutical use if there is a condition she needs treatment for. The fact that we consider the trauma of poverty itself unworthy of relief from (through direct financial aid to begin with, not to mention the forms of relief they find for themselves) is a value judgement that serves a class structure that depletes and abuses the poor for the benefit of everyone else and successfully blames them for it all along the way.

The down side of being numb to pain and risk is that it very much does affect parental decisions and value systems negatively. It's likely a huge force in very unhealthy systems of thinking about accepting unhealthy conditions and making long term choices that aren't healthy when better options are possible. Working to uproot that involves starting with helping ease those terrible conditions to begin with-- as we do that work, asking people to make better choices once better healthy living options are actually accessible can come along with it.
posted by xarnop at 8:37 AM on July 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

And clearly I'm too invested and will bow out but to be clear my judgment was about directly streaming smoke into your kids lungs, not smoking itself. I know it's hard to get out of your apartment if drunk scary people are hooting and hollering at you for example. But I see a lot of misplaced pride in smokers in general when it comes to apathy and that is changing.
posted by aydeejones at 8:37 AM on July 22, 2014

@sobell : I too went to school there, and this brings back a lot of conflicting memories. The longer I was there, the more depressing the entire situation became. The students just weren't that nice to the locals (and I think you know that there was a very particular name that they were called).

Going back to the capital region after 10 years or so, you'll hear about how much Troy has improved. Indeed, the core feels nicer and more gentrified than before (farmer's markets, antique stores, etc). Unfortunately, the gap is still there between the locals and the visitors. It looked bigger than ever.
posted by montag2k at 8:48 AM on July 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also went to college in Troy. It amazes me how unaware I was of what the rest of the city was like while I was comfortably living "up on the hill." I am trying to give my younger self a pass for being buried in engineering classes, or just being a child, but it's pretty painful to see what was happening right down the street, and still is.
posted by blurker at 8:55 AM on July 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Harm reduction for example would allow doctors to hand out pamphlets about BOTH the harms of smoking and risk management approaches for parents who are smokers which includes recommending parents attempt to smoke out doors or at least at a distance from their children (this can be very hard for parents with toddlers who want to be help or play close to their parents), to change clothes and wash hands and face after every smoke or if possible shower. Some doctors do offer this information to patients and this is an example of harm reduction in action-- it is also something many may not realize is part of what gave them the strong ethic to protect children from second hand smoke which a lot of effort has gone into educating the public about. And it's been relatively recent that doctors themselves begin educating parents about this when meeting with parents for births and check ups. A lot of people don't realize how much benefit these efforts offer and that requires education and allows parents an option they can be proud of looking out for their children rather than simply shame no matter what they do. Despite efforts, smoking was still pretty normal even 20 years ago around kids and in homes, especially in areas where less public education efforts took place (like say among the poor who often have less access to, trust in, or interest in education campaigns about health to begin with).

Focusing on zero tolerance and shame often detracts from encouraging responsible decision making around use and getting help when needed and also is part of systemic actions like police aggression, pathologizing, and othering the behaviors and coping mechanisms of the poor that make them even more resistant to efforts to "help" coming from those above who fail to see the need to alleviate poverty and income inequality itself as a first line of action.

Paternalistic behavior modification programs for the poor often emphasize the choices of poor people as the solution out when many of the people designing and running the programs have never lived through such conditions and don't know what they're talking about, and another portion of service people have been through it but are perpetuating all the messages about poverty being about personal choices with an even more evangelical belief this is the light and the way.

The best education for public health is often straight forward and not shame based at all, initiatives to simply let people know what is or isn't healthy and what measures they can take to find healthier alternatives or get support if they need it, while encouraging people to be understanding if they are struggling with it and that many need help to change behaviors and to get support and healing with the issues the behaviors were treating. This also works better when those alternatives are made accessible to low income people and there is a functional safety net so people have more healthy ways to cope on the table.
posted by xarnop at 9:53 AM on July 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

Hmm, I guess its wonderful to fling fighty insults towards people down on their luck, not appreciated to advocate kindness. Got it.
posted by agregoli at 10:51 AM on July 22, 2014

The Gummo-industrial complex chugs on.
posted by meadowlark lime at 8:10 AM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

This was an excellent and really affecting post. Thanks very much.
posted by OmieWise at 11:39 AM on July 28, 2014

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