Helping out the homeless is a near-guaranteed route to YouTube fame. Jeremy Wilson looks into the charitable show-offs taking advantage of the homeless.
A new genre of internet star is on the rise. From YouTube to Vine, an army of tech-savvy fame whores are forging a career for themselves as the next generation of entertainers. Some give monologues to the camera, some set up chat shows and some perform skits. But whoever they are, and whatever their individual stylings, their goal is simple: to rack up hits and salve their intergalactic egos.
Last year, YouTube superstar Vitaly Zdorovetskiy stumbled across a video format that has proved irresistible to every attention-seeking YouTuber desperate for a viral hit: he gave a homeless guy a makeover. Like LOLCATS before them, homeless people have hit a sweet spot that no Huffington Post blogger or local TV news producer can resist.
A heartwarming story about helping a hobo is as surefire an internet, and then mainstream, hit as clips of dogs welcoming home service personnel.
New dogs, old tricks
There’s nothing new about whoring out the homeless. Ted Williams, otherwise known as “the man with the golden voice”, found himself on the Dr Phil/Jimmy Fallon/movie deal conveyor belt after an enterprising YouTuber paid him a dollar to film him doing radio host impressions. But YouTubers looking for their own Ted Williams have a tricky task: homeless people with a marketable gimmick are hard to find.
That’s why the format pioneered by Zdorovetskiy is so alluring. Any old down-on-their-luck person will do.
There’s nothing new about whoring out the homeless.
Aside from driving pageviews, helping out the needy on camera caters to a very modern pathology: that of extravagantly advertising one’s personal virtue. Again, there’s nothing new with competitive do-gooding – from the widow’s mite to Sean Penn – there’s never been a shortage of charitable show-offs.
For the narcissistic, desperate for a slice of online fame, cynically exploiting viewers’ emotions and squeezing out the audience’s praise for their good deeds is almost as delicious as the ad revenue.
But, of course, while audiences are being exploited, it’s the homeless that are being taken advantage of most egregiously by shameless new media micro-celebrities looking to pimp them out. Subjected to a lifetime of rejection and hardship, the victims of these stunts are forced into one final indignity: being commoditised by an attention seeker.
Here are some of the most nauseating hobo-chic videos made by these internet stars.
The Russian-American comedian was the first big name to cash in the homeless with his video “Extreme Homeless Man Makeover” in which he makes a person called Martin’s dreams come true with a day that culminated in Martin being blindfolded and spoon-fed Nutella.
The video went viral and soon people were selflessly offering to help Martin out by offering to fix his teeth – in exchange for a plug on Vitaly’s follow-up video, of course.
Not one to give up on a good thing, Vitaly has continued posting a series of Vines in which he “helps the homeless”.
It’s got to the point where YouTube stars are not even bothering to use real homeless people.
“We found this homeless man who does great Breaking Bad impressions and brought him lunch in exchange for a performance,” the video description proclaims modestly. A heartwarming tale, except the homeless guy is a professional actor called Miles Allen.
Roman Atwood runs a YouTube “prank” channel with an inexplicably high number of views. In this video he cleverly leverages the help-a-hobo theme to give his Christmas special that viral edge.
“Feed the homeless, you feed your own happiness,” proclaims the description to, “Beautiful reactions from Homeless getting Free Food.”
They say charity is a selfish act, but it’s never been so obvious as here.
Not happy with making money by filming a homeless man’s dancing moustache, the people behind “whatever” came back to film part two. They gave him $3,000, the majority of which they crowd-funded and some “limited edition whatever T-shirts”. Which must have come in handy.
With higher aspirations than the one-hit wonder, GiveBackFilms is an entire channel dedicated giving-money-to-the-poor type stunts.
It’s a lucrative business: in two months they’ve racked up nearly two million hits.
Is your self-promotional magic channel not doing too well? You could do some practice and up your magic game… or you could draft in some homeless people to boost your view count.
The undisputed winner of our hobo-whoring hall of shame is the monstrous Dennis Roady, who pretended to be a homeless veteran on Veterans Day to cash in other people’s generosity. He then distributed the ill-gotten gains of his begging to others in need.