One day, while trying to do a horrible amount of dishes, I was listening to the radio. We always listen to the radio while doing the dishes, but never stay with the same radio station because we like to switch whenever we get bored of the shitty songs some popstars release in the air to punish our ears.
So this particular day, there was a lady talking about the dazzling amount of families being expelled of their own house because of financial problems. A guy took the word, a locksmith, and said something like ‘When I enter houses like these, it is remarkable to see how almost all of them have a flatscreen in their living room despite not having the money to pay for it. If only they would spend smarter, they wouldn’t be in this position in the first place’.
I mean, think about it.
Why is it that we (yes, you and I too probably) feel like someone in financial trouble loses credibility when turns out that this person has a flatscreen? Or a smartphone? Or nice clothes? We buy these things without even blinking twice, but we have the money of course. So we argue. They don’t, so they cannot possibly buy something as luxurous as these multimedia devices. Having an iPhone (or just a common smartphone) is a luxury and thus not for poor people. When we see someone begging for money but looking nice, wearing decent clothes and having a fast smartphone, we tend to ‘tsk’ and walk away. But when we see a woman begging in the streets and obviously haven’t had a shower and fresh clothes in a few days, we tend to pity her and even give money.
If we look at this common feeling closely, it is not difficult to see the flaws of our consumer society. We want our ‘poors’ to look poor. We have this biased conception of the ‘good poor’. If you don’t fit that conception, you are not poor. Someone that looks like everybody and spends like everybody cannot possibly be poor. If you are poor, then act poor, seems to be the new slogan. We judge people only by these outer appearances. But paradoxically this society also dictates us to buy, to spend and to have certain things to be able to live a good life.
I think that when you are poor, you feel the pressure of keeping up at this pace even more. You feel like you have to buy these things to be like everybody else. And actually, we also want people to do so. That most of the people are susceptible for such notions of consumption and thus have a flatscreen TV is not spending unwise.
It’s just being human.
Note: when googling to build my argument I found this article by Dartagnan in the Daily Kos. The author talks more in depth about the same issue and goes further by explaining how it would be difficult for someone acting ‘like a good poor’ to find a job.