by Lauren Lightningstorm on September 20, 2013

I’m not sure I still understand the value of “learning what it’s like to live in poverty.” Though viewed as a radical act by some (read: “drastic”), it isn’t a particularly revolutionary activity. Considering that the people in this story aren’t really doing that, though, maybe it’s a moot point. Though you can definitely learn a lot from living in a black South African squatter camp for a month, even a very thoughtful tourist is still a tourist. And there’s a wide gulf between kicking the tires of poverty and seeing how she handles on the open road, and actually living poor.

As noble as these people’s intentions may be, there are plenty who are slumming it for the sake for the cheap thrill or, worse yet, as a money-making real estate venture — and that should make us all check the back of the closet for the pitchforks and torches.

Not that this sort of thing is a new phenomenon. From Marie Antoinette to a “SNAP food challenge,” people who should know better have been playing poor and drawing attention to poor people themselves for a long time.

As someone who’s experienced poverty and homelessness and public assistance (and not as a neato way to make your kids shut up and show more gratitude), I don’t think there’s anything desirous about being poor. In fact, as workers, I (and many who read this) are regularly subject to the general economic uncertainty that comes with trying not to drown in the maelstrom of capitalism. Perhaps we should stop making poverty into a precious fascination, stop flogging ourselves for the thin slice of “more” we think we’ve got, and instead work to fight the real enemies that crush the working people everyday: the banks, the cops, the church, the state.

Or, at the very least, we should stop treating poverty play-acting like it’s a thing worth paying attention to.

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Lauren Lightningstorm is a cook and temp worker who lives in Iowa City, Iowa. She enjoys painting her nails and smashing capitalism.

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