Betsy Shebang - Column for 12/4

Method Actors vs. The Homeless

Bought copy of "Street Spirit" from homeless guy in Oakland and felt self-righteous until I felt guily that I'd bought it at a discount. All I had was a quarter. I figured there was no need to haggle over a token purchase.

In Rolling Stone or Esquire, the length of a story suggests its overall scope - the depth of its vision. In a homeless newspaper, the length of a story suggests the need for an editor. Sorry, folks. I'm trying to support my fellow man while still calling 'em like I sees 'em.

This story was about a film made about homeless people and - huh? - starring homeless people. Pretty damn impressive, I gotta say, to be able to work with someone all day long on a film and then say "Well, I guess I'll find you under the bridge tomorrow morning for scene 25...lucky for us, it's your shower scene...say, had dinner yet? Here's a quarter. Might I recommend...beer?" Arenít artists and bohemians all supposed to live together anyway? Such intense collaboration seemed unlikely to survive crossing the barrier that separates the housed from the homeless.

Turns out that the lead actor, proclaimed by the article to have experienced the brutality and injustice of homelessness and street life, used to have a home. He had a job and a place to stay. But, see, a project came up; it was this film, see, and he'd always wanted to be an actor. So when he couldn't find a job that would allow him to keep up the shooting schedule that kept him busy for twelve months, he just decided not to get a paying job. And, like a lot of people who decide not to work, he wound up living in his car. By coincidence, he was playing a homeless guy.

Homelessness is a problem. It's a trap that we lament even while we make it impossible to escape. This is awful and must be changed.

So what pissed me off was not that this actor lived in the street. If an actor wants to borrow a lifestyle from his character, fine. The only problem with method actors is that they have the nerve to portray terminal illness without dying.

What pissed me off was that the article praised this actor doofus for understanding the plight of the homeless when this guy was the ENEMY of the homeless and destitute. This actor CHOSE to become homeless, in pursuit of an unrelated dream; and good for him - we all have to make sacrifices in order to live the lives we feel are truly ours. Hid dedication to his craft and his dream are admirable. But this does not make him a spokesperson for the significant percentage of the population who sleep in tents by the railroad tracks because the rehab center shut its doors or the factory closed down.

Uh...I guess thatís my point. Short whiny column this week. Lucky you. Gotta run now; Iím ready for my own shower scene.


Copyright 2001 Betsy Shebang


Columns by Betsy Shebang