Meet Peter Hayward [image source: his (now-deletd) LJ].
He’s a young blogger from Brisbane with big dreams of being a writer for TV. Up on his website he has ideas for webcomics, scripts for plays [n.b. potentially triggering] and TV shows, links to his Youtube videos and stories. He has a penchant in his blog of doing stunts for publicity. One such stunt involved spending only one dollar on food each day for twenty-eight days. Another stunt was taking photos of rotting meat over a period of some days (I still don’t understand what he’s trying to do there).
His latest stunt? Living on the streets of Melbourne for the month of February. For the experience.
His first stop in his scouring on the net for advice on his latest big idea is a livejournal community called melbournemaniac [Warning: some melbournemaniac links suggest violent action.]. The title of this initial post is “Peter’s Homeless Adventure”. Yes, apparently, being homeless is an adventure. The folk at the community take this as kindly as you would expect and he is roundly mocked, criticised and questioned.
He apologises for using the word “adventure”, and after a right royal shellacking at both melbournemaniac and brisneyland, adds a charity contingent to his month of self-imposed destitution. A hundred dollars for every day he’s homeless is his aim! How noble.
Despite the very clear reasons given to him why what he’s doing is utterly atrocious, he goes ahead and does it anyway. He doesn’t care that resources for the homeless are scarce, that he’s putting a strain on an already overburdened system or that if something goes very badly wrong, he will be receiving services from the public system that he might not have otherwise needed (Police, Emergency, etc).
Actually starting his month-long escapade does nothing to dispel the idea that what he’s doing is harmless. In fact, I would say that it bolsters his preconceptions and reinforces his lack of awareness of his already glaringly shocking privilege.
Things start out reasonably quiet. He wanders around Melbourne, watches free entertainment, eats chips, gets bored, gets rained on. Pretty much what you’d expect if a rich white kid spends time pretending to be homeless. As time goes on, however, shit starts getting real.
He lies, you see.
If he were consistent in his lies for the purpose of the social experiment, it would be somewhat understandable in the twisted logic of Privileged People That Must Save the Oppressed. But no, no no. He’s choosy about who he lies to. He doesn’t disclose his actual living situation to anybody that might help him by giving him change.
He doesn’t tell the woman that was actually homeless and was giving him advice and candy.
He doesn’t tell the girl that risks her job at the donut shop to give him a bag of donuts after closing time.
He doesn’t tell the homeless people he ends up talking to.
He doesn’t tell the lovely Laughing Club women who invite him to lunch and pay roughly twenty dollars for his meal. (Though one seems to know something is up).
He also doesn’t tell the kindly older couple from the UK who see him sleeping in the rain and invite him to their house for breakfast. And offer the use of their shower. And wash his clothes. And then pay for his clothes to be dried at the local laundromat. And then give him a pop-out umbrella for the bad weather, some fruit for the road, and then *fifty dollars* to tide him over. Oh, and the offer of a lift and some nice clothes when he finally gets to looking for work in March. (Did I mention his Dad is going to fly down from Brisbane in March to pay for him to stay in a hotel until Peter can find a job?)
I tell you who he DOES tell, though.
He DOES tell a pretty young girl in a park that he thinks is cute.
And he DOES tell MX Magazine, who organise to do an interview with him while he’s homeless, in which he spreads his message of tolerance by saying that:
“I think the idea that am stealing people’s money, that I am taking money that would otherwise go to other people, is bollocks.”
The most depressing thing is that he’s partly right. See, Peter Hayward is reasonably clean, recently shaven, white, male, reasonably well-dressed, neurotypical, not abused or suffering from the fallout of an abusive situation and not addicted to either a legal or illegal substance. Would any of these people be so ready to help people in their 40s or 50s? Dirtier looking people? People who aren’t white? Women? People who are distressed in any way?
He clearly doesn’t need help, so there is no sense of danger about him. People, as a result, feel comfortable giving money to him. Their fight or flight mechanism is not triggered, so they do not hesitate to help him out.
Probably the most sickening thing for me in this whole debacle is the cheersquad at his blog, which includes his mother, who is not afraid to cast damaging aspersions on the homeless, refer to those of different races as “coloured” and use her apparent career as a social worker (I’m guessing that’s what she is from her comments) to give weight to her prejudices.
There are a lot of people at that journal making big excuses for this guy, but in the end, for me, it comes down to this: he is doing this for himself. The homeless were clearly a chastened afterthought. Looking through is other work, it is abundantly clear that he doesn’t have the depth of understanding nor the empathy to comprehend the full tragedy of this particular issue. Or any issue, really. It must be through his lens, through his perspective. It is the only way he can understand it, and what he doesn’t realise is that by using that perspective, he understands nothing. Homelessness is about losing everything, about fighting barriers that society has put up either due to circumstance or the way you were born. If you carry your privilege around you like a blanket, how can you truly experience the cruelty of a life without a home?
Categories: ethics & philosophy, social justice, Sociology
There isn’t an emoticon for ‘infinite contempt.’ We’ve got his sort here in the US too. They’re becoming a damn menace with their TV shows and their book deals and whatall and they are inevitably young white men either in uni or just graduated. They are some of the most privileged people in the world so naturally we are just slavering at the opportunity to pay to watch them fuck off for months on end with a film crew following behind!
Eh, it counts as a cardiovascular workout, dunnit? I think my pulse hit 195 there.
I remember a guy in the US who did something like this a while back too — and went around using it to claim that the homeless didn’t really have it so bad, because, you know, a physically and mentally able white male in his mid-twenties, who always had his parents to fall back on if something went wrong was in EXACTLY THE SAME situation as the majority of homeless people.
I think there are some similarites between this and the whole Evelyn Evelyn debacle, insofar as both are about a privileged person posing as a non-privileged person for the entertainment of the privileged.
[ETA: I noticed that the link to the MelbourneManiac LJ community suggests violent action against Hayward, both in the main post and the comments — perhaps it needs a trigger warning?]
He strikes me as yet another half-arsed copycat of John Howard Griffin who never understood the honesty, openmindedness and genuine risktaking that Griffin brought to Black Like Me in 1959, and who has never appreciated the significance of the fact that Griffin’s undertaking was commissioned by an African-American owned/operated magazine dedicated to highlighting racial inequalities, or the ethical stance whereby Griffin undertook never to lie to anyone about who he was or what he was doing if he was asked directly.
And even with all the good things about Griffin engaging with the community he was writing about before and after the story was written, and his subsequent dedicated civil rights activism, it’s still a shocking indictment that it took a white man in medical blackface to write about the racist bigotry and abuse in the segregated South for other white people to pay attention and take it seriously. That Griffin could do this and garner international acclaim whereas a Black writer who tried to tell the same story would have been dismissed by White America was, at the root and despite its impact and importance and despite Griffin’s own best efforts, yet another example of authentic voices of people of colour being sidelined.
Hayward’s project is just self-congratulatory crap.
…I followed the “scripts for plays” link, to his high school “absurdist” play Because Women Have Rights Too. Be warned on that one, too. It starts out sorta mansplainy, then just turns into something that feels like violent wish-fulfilment. I’m sure it wasn’t intended to feel like that, but, blimey.
Hey, Napalmnacey! *waves cheerfully*
I’m not sure I have anything substantive to add to your post, alas, beyond: that guy sucks.
Also; I don’t know Melbourne at all. What areas should I avoid?
The CBD, the inner suburbs in all directions, the Western suburbs, the Bayside suburbs, the Northern, South and Eastern suburbs, and the outer suburbs (all of them) as well as any nearby satellite towns – have I covered everything?
(Speaking as a resident of Melbourne)
If I come upon you, Mr Hayward, I’ll enjoy giving you the stinkeye with extreme prejudice.
F*ck, f*ck, f*ck. I live in the U.S.; it’s the same.
There’s a homeless Vietnam war vet who lives in a tent by the highway intersection nearest my bank – the ramps have sections with trees and about half an acre of space. In the last two weeks, we have had almost 60″ of snow. When he and the other homeless couple that also live there have enough money, they pool their resources for a motel room, often giving up any hope of eating that day, or the day after, but it’s better than being outside in subzero temperatures.
How do I know this? I talk to him. I shake his hand, I’ve gotten to know him a little. He’s a nice person, as are the homeless couple, they’ve just been hit by hard times, and there aren’t very many resources for the homeless way out here in the suburbs.
It’s not an effing game. These people aren’t doing this for fun, or for art, or to make a half-hearted point, they’e doing it to survive, and they get precious little to survive on, and they’re still incredibly friendly.
In Fell’s Point in Baltimore, a big after-dark tourist area, there are signs everywhere saying not to give the homeless people any money. I’ve walked out of a baseball game where people were paying $10 for a hot dog, and watched people walk by the homeless without a second glance. I witnessed parents herding their kids away from a homeless man in DC, who was really, really hoping they’d give the chips they didn’t want to him, instead of the pigeons – not asking, mind you, just looking hopeful (I shared my bagel with him, since I didn’t have any cash).
This is a *very* sore point with me. All these people, even the woman who was a little angry and appeared schizophrenic and probably scared the tourists, are people. They’ve been dumped by society, and they can’t get the help they need from the resources grudgingly paid for by taxpayers, and then society turns around and says we shouldn’t encourage their begging because it disturbs the tourists. I think they should be right there in front of the tourists, visible and loud, so that the taxpayers can see the result of the government’s tax cuts that reduce social services to benefit the middle classes.
And playing homeless drag is *not* cool.
This is lovely. You’ve highlighted so many problematic aspects of this vile little “experiment.” It continues to amaze me that appropriation in the name of art wins approbations, television shows, record contracts, and book deals, instead of what it deserves, which is, as kaninchenzero says, contempt.
Thanks, everyone. Sorry about the lack of trigger warnings – it was very late when I wrote this so I wasn’t really with it. Plus it’s such a huge clusterfuck to condense down into one post.
Lauredhel – you read it huh? I was like this – D: D: D: – for aaaaaages. I just sat there and thought, “No. No. Seriously? NO.”
If I had been his teacher/lecturer, I would have taken him and his friends aside and had a Very Serious Discussion. Maybe a recommendation to see the school psych. Cause that stuff is WAY fucked up.
I’ve been homeless, though not for very long, and with much less of a chasm under me than many; but despite those caveats, I can’t help avoid feeling a personal edge to my irritation at stunts like this. And yes, pretending to be homeless, he is conning people by pretending to be homeless and using their charity, to say nothing of the poor girl who risked her job for him. And – despite Napalmnacey’s points about who gets help and who doesn’t – he’s insulting everyone who’s really living the life he’s playing at.
Thankyou for this post.
Fancy seeing you here! And ugh, what a renaissance man of offensiveness. Could you maybe put a trigger warning next to the link for his scripts? I didn’t read far enough through to make any kind of well informed judgment, but they’re certainly potentially very triggering for domestic and other violence.
Betty, I’ve added the trigger warning to the link (napalmnacey wasn’t able to edit it herself). Sorry for the delay in doing this – I thought it had already been done the first time it was mentioned.
So sorry, Betty. Oh, and hi! 🙂
No worries on my account, just wanted to make sure no one tripped over it.
It gets better. Trigger warnings UP THE WAZOO. Like, the first thing you see in the video:
Someone finds a clip of his stand-up. His stand-up features rape jokes. Argument ensues in comments.
This guy’s a real peach.
[edited to embed video *WARNINGS* ~L]
I couldn’t agree more. He seems to have no insight into the reality that many homeless people have severe mental illness including hallucinations and genuine fear whilst living homeless or the challenges of trying to find work whilst homeless, unwashed, mentally ill, substance addicted, etc. I’ve tried to raise this issue that he is coming from a platform of privelege to start with but his defenders are too busy cheering on his rape jokes.
*I know a little bit about mental illness as I have a sibling with severe schizophrenia and the other is deceased (suicide) so I have genuine empathy for those homeless due to an inability to find stable accomodation and medication as needed.