With a record 46.7 million Americans living in poverty (9.4 million more than before the financial crisis), it is perhaps not entirely surprising that the need for ‘help’ is surging. However, as NYTimes reports, there is a spreading epidemic on social-media that smacks of anything but providing for the needy – and one man whose mailboxes have been increasingly filled with monetary requests, has a theory about it all – “I think online begging has become the new economy.”
“I woke up to four new people today asking me for money on four different donation platforms,” one friend said. “One was my ex-babysitter announcing her wedding and where I could send cash. No invitation to the wedding. Just cash.”
“I’m a believer in giving to real charities: medical research, school drives, the Red Cross, et cetera,” said Heidi Knodle, owner of a picture framing store in San Francisco. “I’m tired of people asking for a vacation, funds for a wedding or their college tuition.”
Of course, there are plenty of worthy causes and worthy donation recipients, as The New York Times’ Judith Newman explains,
A visit to GoFundMe or YouCaring yields site after site of people whose homes were wiped out by natural disasters. People with diseases I’d never heard of, with no insurance and staggering medical expenses. Kids trying to pay for their parents’ funerals. Parents with seriously ill children wanting a trip to Disney World, and sick animals owned by people who couldn’t afford the vet bills.
One man had set up a fund for a friend who needed to take a couple of months off while his wife died of brain cancer.
But then, there were others. Many, many others…
Education funds are great, but do I really want to pay for a friend to travel to Peru to become a shaman?
Should the woman who has lost a lot of weight (good for you!) ask her friends to pay for $2,500 worth of laser skin tightening? What about the girl seeking $600 for her “personal development journey”? (Not much to ask, but she was so beautiful, I didn’t understand why she didn’t develop herself into a model and make a whole lot more than that.)
Another woman was asking for help with the legal bills for her divorce, as her new husband had bolted to Israel. She was a little dramatic in her plea: “My life — the innocent, carefree life which I had known, and the blissful happy life of hopes and dreams shattered overnight. Instead of partaking of gourmet meals and donning my kalla/bridal trousseau, chaos and turmoil, sprinkled with vicious gossip became my daily food and clothing.”
The requests continued.
Sponsorship for a child’s figure skating lessons from a mother who, according to the friend who got daily reminders to donate, just renovated her kitchen.
Money for a power generator for a guy in Brooklyn who holds parties for artists, writers and musicians in a shack in his backyard, who said he is doing a project on “the history of shacks.”
A talented writer who was having a rough patch put up a “birthday plea” for $2,000 – no, make that $200,000. A guy who needs a new MacBook after someone spilled a drink on his. The woman who just asked for $20,000 for plastic surgery because she had children early and “struggles with body image issues.”
Or take the recent page of Larry Paciotti, a.k.a. the famous pornographic film director/drag queen Chi Chi LaRue, who was asking for $40,000 to extend his stay in rehab at Betty Ford. One non-funder on his funding page called the request “a gross abuse of fame … Larry has plenty of personal resources available to secure this funding on his own.”
And that, of course, is at the heart of the backlash: the sneaking suspicion that someone of considerable (or at least ample) means and/or connections is asking for help.
Here’s the question I can’t stop asking myself: Has social media made our craving for attention and validation overwhelm all other considerations? There is nothing new about asking your friends for help (remember rent parties?), but that help was confined to a small group of people you actually knew.
Now, no such boundaries exist. Your 4,000 Facebook friends should know if you can’t pay for your rent — or your plastic surgery. And who knows? They may just pay up.
There was a time when there were needs, and there were wants, and we knew the difference. Now?
Now I’m not so sure.
Welcome to the new normal… where the Free Stuff Army has now morphed with the cult of narcissism into “The Begging Economy” where everyone expects that a required standard of living – because it’s fair and deserved – should be paid for by someone else… and never ever paid back… and if you disagree, you are an extremist, racist bigot oppressing the minorities and under-privileged who deem the latest iPhone and Caramel Vanilla 3-pump extra-hot fuzzychino to be their forefathers’ given right.