Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On the Spectacular Return of the Homeless Shopping Spree

I'm a big fan of Opie and Anthony, the morning radio guys appearing on XM/Sirius Satellite radio on channel 202, known as "The Virus". As Howard Stern's closing time on regular radio descended into talking more about himself (I always compare it to the end of Lenny Bruce's career where he would read the transcripts of his court appearances, neglecting to make them funny), O&A filled the hole with rampant funny. With Jim Norton's savage and unfiltered wit as part of the mix, the show is a guaranteed laugh for me, with equal parts news commentary, strong interviews, and the sage knowledge that a well-placed joke about bodily fluids will ALWAYS be funny.

Aside from the ever-mentioned bit that got them thrown off WNEW back in the day (look it up yourself; that bus has left the depot and they've been thrown under it enough), one of their classic recurring bits has been the Homeless Shopping Spree. The concept is simple - gather up a number of homeless people, give them a sizable amount of money each, bus them to the most upscale mall the show can find, and set them loose. Stores would lose their fudge as these unkempt forgotten men tottered towards the Ralph Lauren polo shirts. Some would pull their gates down, keeping other people from shopping, not to mention trapping people inside, rather than let these indigent inebriates sully their cookware. Bear in mind, these men were being chaperoned at all times, not only by staff of the radio show but often scores of fans and Friends Of The Show (who would usually contribute to the homeless shoppers' billfolds), so there was no chance of anything really unpleasant happening. But inevitably, security would arrive, and these propertied gentlemen, some sporting HUNDREDS of dollars to spend, would be ushered out of the establishment in a blaze of hypocrisy.

They'd be accused of exploiting the homeless, exposing them to ridicule, and endless other claims. But these well-meaning busybodies never grasped that no one was laughing at the homeless. Like Borat and Bruno, it's "candid camera comedy" - the humor is not in the homeless people, but in the reaction of those around them. The comedy was not in these homeless guys getting enough money to buy warm coats and clothing for the wonter but in the reaction of the shop-workers who would stop short of lighting firebreaks to keep them out of their stores.

It's a gag you're heard before - some smart-ass invites ACTUAL homeless people to a buffet benefit for the homeless, and the partygoers all act frightened and uptight. The Homeless are a group that most people want to help, but not actually interact with, preferably not see at all. The stores and people at those malls likely donate sizable sums to help the poor, they just assumed that the money would be spent...elsewhere. Some "elsewhere" far from their golf courses and Neiman-Marcus locations.

In protecting their wares, these stores make themselves look like rich, entitled Sissy-headed Ninny-hammers. And that "Not in my Back Yard" mindset is then broadcast nationally. A smart store would find out the event was happening, and (after making sure that indeed the event was being well controlled; that's only fair) offer the stars of the day sizable discounts in their establishment. Instead, like the targets of Michael Moore's ambush interviews, they come off looking like the villains. Which is, of course, what makes the whole thing hilarious.

The Homeless Shopping Spree is returning this year. Considering the level of skittishness XM (and the entire radio industry) has right now, it's possible there will be a great deal more "advance notice" given to the mall in question. Indeed, it'll likely be just as entertaining to hear about the malls who decline to participate - I hope those phone calls are recorded and played on air as part of the build-up.

Althought this year, considering the ever-mentioned "state of the economy", more stores might come to the realization that it doesn't matter how smelly the person who has the money is, as long as their money is going in the store's coffers. The whole thing might just backfire into another form of comedy, as malls and Big Box Stores actually jockey for the right to have a busload of homeless spend money in their establishments.

Merry Fuckin' Christmas.

1 comment:

  1. I worked at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills in the 80s and we had a regular who came in every couple of weeks to look at silverware. She was an old African-American woman, with missing teeth, kind of a Moms Mabley character without the humor. She wasn't smelly, but she was pretty shabby. My manager was freaked out by her, but I hated standing around anyway, so I usually chatted her up, showed her the berry spoons and the ice tea spoons, and all that stuff. I probably rolled my eyes, but since I hated everyone, anyway, what difference did it make if I showed the merch to her or to some bleached blonde from the Valley? At least she didn't treat me like dirt under her worn down heels.
    Clock wipe--I left the store, went back east to get married, and sure enough--Moms came in with her big hulking son while I was gone. I wasn't there, so I missed selling her and her NFL first round draft pick kid $10,000 worth of sterling silver. True story.