Should Bums Be the Butt of Jokes?


Screenshot of part of a video played at Justin Timberlake and Jessica Beil’s wedding. (Courtesy of YouTube)

Like many Fordham students, I unexpectedly found myself with a lot of free time during the week of Halloween. With its extreme weather conditions, Hurricane Sandy left me with limited options for entertainment. So I decided to pass the time in the most quintessential college way possible: watching television.

Flipping through channels, I stumbled upon one of my favorite childhood TV shows, Drake and Josh. Giving in to my inner child, I decided to keep the station on. Five minutes in, I was struck by a certain dialogue in the show.

The show’s star, Drake, was rambling about his stepsister’s notorious pranks: “She gave my cellphone number to three hobos! Now, every other time my phone rings…it’s a hobo!”

Then the phone rings, and Drake answers it: “Hello?”

“Can I come over to your house?”

“No! Leave me alone, hobo!” Drake shouts in disgust.

And the audience erupts in laughter.

Normally, this kind of mindless, juvenile banter would’ve gone in one ear and out the other. However, this dialogue reminded me of a recent controversy involving an ill-humored video that was presented to Justin Timberlake as a wedding gift. One of Timberlake’s buddies thought it would be hilarious to arrange for several homeless people to congratulate the pop star on his nuptials.

Hilarious? Not only are the homeless in desperate need of one of humanity’s basic necessities, but should they constantly be the butts of jokes, too?

It’s appalling to see how quickly most people discredit the struggles of the homeless. They are given the stereotype of “lazy bum” and are often accused of using what little money they have for cigarettes and booze.

Yet, more often than not, the homeless didn’t choose this so-called “lifestyle”; they are just the victims of this tough economy. So why is it okay to victimize these people further by making fun of their monetary situations? After all, most people are appalled when someone utters “that’s retarded!” or hear a punch-line aimed at the mentally challenged. So what makes these homeless jokes more acceptable? Aren’t these jokes targeting hobos equally distasteful?

Disgusted, I turned off the TV. What kind of example is being set if homeless jokes are popping up on television networks aimed at children? Are we telling today’s children that it is perfectly fine to make fun of those without homes? Jokes like the one featured in Drake and Josh send the wrong message.

While Timberlake has acknowledged that his friend went too far with the video, there needs to be more of an effort to stop joking about innocent people just trying to scramble up enough money to survive. Timberlake’s persistent apologies are a step in the right direction, but it’s nowhere near enough. Even when they aren’t the butt of jokes, there is still an apparent disrespect for the homeless; after all, we live in a world where dressing up as a hobo for Halloween is socially accepted.

What’s even scarier than the Halloween costumes is the fact that some people aren’t even subtle with their disrespect. All too often you see a kind person offer change to a homeless person, and someone else tries to talk them out of it: “don’t give them your hard-earned money! How do you know they aren’t just going to take your money to the nearest liquor shop?”

And all of this is said right in front of the face of the homeless person.

Even though you can’t differentiate between who is legitimately struggling and who is just trying to scam you for your money, is it that hard to bite your tongue and just give them the benefit of the doubt?

Still not convinced? Keep this in mind: because of Hurricane Sandy, many are experiencing homelessness for the first time. Many well-to-do families no longer have a roof over their heads as a result of this natural disaster. These supposed “bums” could be your neighbors, classmates or friends.

Not so funny now, is it?