There’s hope for every homeless person in America. So long as he’s extraordinary.

You might've heard about the homeless man in OH with a "golden voice" whose fortunes changed overnight after a video of him speaking was posted online (see below). The next day, offers of lucrative voice-over work in commercials and other major projects flooded in.

I'm certainly very happy to see a person who's been down on their luck be shown a modicum of concern by the surrounding world, but I find the extremeness of the case emblematic of what's wrong with American media discussions of poverty. As I wrote on Facebook when I shared this article, "The problem is that this heart-warming case isn't really very inspiring when you think about it. A homeless person shouldn't have to have some extraordinary talent in order to have a shot at survival. Are the many thousands of people (many with families) who lack a 'golden voice' undeserving of a second chance?"

I'm reminded at this juncture of Will Smith's film "The Pursuit of Happiness", which was a profoundly flawed and in some respects downright reactionary treatment of the subject. Yes, its tear-jerking portrayal of the struggles of a man to provide for himself and his son in a hostile world might inspire some reflection about the harshness of life for America's poor on the viewer's part, but that bit of consciousness-raising is quickly undone by how the movie sidesteps the freakish atypicality of this real-life case (i.e., landing an internship with a top brokerage firm and then beating the odds and stiff competition to snag a job as an investment banker, all while homeless), how it–bizarrely in a film with its ostensible message of compassion and understanding–doesn't so much as hint at how many equally deserving and hardworking people (and families) are out there who never get a chance to pull themselves out of poverty, much less achieve the American Dream. Given the resources available to and the challenges bedeviling most people in a comparable position, that film's deus ex machina happy ending was only barely less improbable a conclusion than the hero finding, say, Alladin's lamp.

But that's what passes for socially conscious film making at the big studios. As with so many of Hollywood's pseudo-sympathetic treatments of poverty–Don't get me started on Leonardo DeCaprio's agonizingly schmaltzy, maddening stupid and sociologically upside-down "Titanic."–"The Pursuit of Happiness" ultimately whitewashes these social problems more than it throws light on them.

Silky-voiced homeless man copes with sudden fame

A homeless man from Ohio who quickly became a celebrity thanks to his smooth announcing voice indicates it's been challenging dealing with the rush of fame.

[...]

He became famous practically overnight after The Columbus Dispatch posted a web video of him earlier this week. Williams had found himself on the streets in Columbus after his life was ruined by substance abuse, but he says he has been sober for more than two years.

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