Pimping in a positive light

We have all heard the shows “Pimp my ride” or “Pimp my house”.  When I hear about them, I can’t help but think how such a negative and degrading process (pimping something/someone) is being presented as a positive.  Can pimping be a positive thing?

The other day I heard about a website that is trying to use the concept of “pimping” to promote a social cause.  I am talking about the website Pimp This Bum.

I heard about this project on my local radio– and the truth is, I am not sure what to think. According to the about page,

The homeless are invisible people. I am not a psychology expert so I won’t guess why, but people don’t like to discuss, or even recognize the homeless. People can remember the funny sign that one used to panhandle, but they never remember the face. We make a million assumptions about them as though they came off an assembly line, but they each have a different story. Some are lazy. Most are alcoholics. A lot of them will die on the streets, but there are those that can be reached and redeemed to be functioning members of society again.

The website follows one homeless man, Tim, and gives followers insight into his life through pictures and short videos.  These include interviews about his life, introductions to his friends, stories, and jokes.  I gives a face to homelessness in America, and, since it is a business (NGO maybe) there is even a place online to donate.

Here is what they said about finding their spokesperson/bum:

We first approached a group of homeless on February 1st underneath the Highway 6 overpass. Four men sitting against the wall, one holding the leash of a rottweiler. The fact that the man looked 80 and appeared to lack a good grip, didn’t bring us much comfort. My father and I had no idea what to expect, this being the first group we approached. We began to explain the details of our concept, when the tallest one, Tim stopped us and said ‘what are you going to call it, you know, the website?” I paused, and shot a look at my Father, unsure of how they would react. I said: “Pimp this bum dot com.” The four guys looked at each other for a moment, then erupted in laughter. Tim paused, smiled again, looked up at us and said: “I think I can do this.” We set up a meeting time for the following week, and headed home.

Of course I couldn’t not show an expert:

Anyways, I am posting this because I am not quite sure what to think.  On one hand, it seems that the project is improving this individuals life.  On the other hand, it seems very exploitative.  On a third hand, it is increasing awareness of homelessness in America. On the fourth hand, how does helping one solve a more systemic problem.  On a fifth hand, the idea of pimping anything to me just seems to degrading and I can’t really separate it from how victimizing prostitution is?.  I could keep going… but I won’t.  What do you think?

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5 comments

  1. I think that by now a lot of people have a mental disconnect between the origins of the word and the way it is used in pop culture such as for the other shows you mention. I do think the project seems more broad, from what it says on their homepage, than I got the impression from reading your post. (though maybe it is that narrow and they’re trying to play it up). I think an awareness project like this has a lot of potential, hopefully it pulls through that way.

  2. Hm. I’m not going to vote, because I’m not sure any of those choices really encompass how I feel about that website.

    My first reaction is very “who cares?” If this is what they want to do and what Tim wants to do, if this works out for all parties involved, fine.

    My second reaction is to disagree with you. I don’t think websites like this, videos or jokes or interviews or photographs, none of that really raises awareness about homelessness. It tells people that this guy here? He’s homeless. But what about that family and how being homeless will affect their children’s futures? What about that woman and how she became homeless? Does one person’s story ever really raise awareness about a state of being that is already highly stereotyped? I don’t think so. I think it takes alot more than one person. Moreover, having devoted years to soup kitchens and food pantries, I have hardened to most circumstances that lead to homelessness. So I may be a cold-hearted bitch, but no, I don’t think this raises awareness about the truer plights. I think it’s entertainment more than anything.

    My third reaction is again a shrugging attitude. I don’t generally believe in the victim mentality outside of violence (with a few exceptions, obviously everything is case dependent), so I do not tend to believe that this is a case of victimization or that it is a case of pimping a victim. And I don’t really think it’s exploitation or degradation if Tim is all for it. So okay, I can handle it, this is a choice everybody is making together and I don’t really think there’s anything inherently wrong with it as long as there is a certain level of integrity involved.

    My fourth reaction is more of dull acceptance.

    So that’s where I stand on it.

    And now that I just re-read what I wrote, I sound like an awful person to know, sigh. I’m really not as merciless as this makes it sound! Really!

  3. Clare
    Did you hear about the mobile home that was developed for the homeless? They cost $500 each. It provides them a home – it is draped or pulled over two push carts and gives them shelter at night.

    I understand that this provides with a shelter, but I am concerned that we address the symptom and not the cause. Shouldn’t we be finding solutions to keep them off the streets?

    However, I don’t know enough about what got them there, and why they stay there. It just caught my eye on the news.

  4. Wow, this is one of my favorite threads so far! The article and comments are all very intelligent and thought out. I would like to mention that it was not our focus to increase awareness of the homeless. . . this was more of a buzzphrase the media decided to attach to our product. Our company does internet marketing. We wanted to prove the power of the internet. We were going to take a struggling business and completely turn them around, but I wanted to dig deeper. I wanted more of a challenge. I wanted to REALLY help somebody change their situation.

    I also want to make it a point that I had zero background in helping the homeless, other than opening my wallet once in awhile. My history is with developmentally disabled. So, I would kindly ask the critics to see this in a more positive light. We aren’t profession homeless advocates using internet marketing to help the homeless, we are two guys very new to the homeless plight, who listened, learned, and did our best to guide this man off the street. Sure, we made mistakes along the way, and probably could have achieved the same results by other means, but we certainly didn’t sit at home criticizing how ‘others’ aren’t doing it right. . . we got out there and did it.

    Sarah – you make some great points. I have learned from many like yourself that when helping the homeless it is very easy to get jaded. I can’t imagine the number of failures you face before you get a success. Honestly, we were lucky to find Tim. He had it within him to change.

    Clare – I think the mobile home idea is great, but it very much depends on what ‘type’ of homeless person they give these to. Crack addicts, alcohol addicts, etc. . . would simply have a new place to abuse their substance of choice. For Tim, detox was absolutely the biggest hurdle for him. Detoxing on the street could easily kill him, so it wasn’t like he could ‘just stop drinking’.

    Again, I’m just a guy with an opinion, but I think the only true way to help ‘the homeless’ (Tim hates that phrase) is to take a personal inventory of each individual and guide them one step at a time. It worked for Tim, and we are moving forward with our organization under this method. Maybe not the best, but we aren’t too stubborn to change direction if we see a better way to help.

    Clare – Thanks again for such a great article!

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