Friday, September 7, 2007

Gimme a Handout

At work today, my boss was faced with a dilemma. A recent acquaintance e-mailed him with a convoluted sob story about her divorce, childcare issues, lack of state assistance, blah, blah, blah...The bottom line--could he loan her $1,250? Being a soft touch, he was about to send her $500. Conflicted, he asked the three of us in the office for our opinions. The general consensus: Are you out of your freaking mind?!!!

It's not that we don't have compassion, but these days it seems like everyone's got their hand out. In fact, if you scroll through the postings on Craigslist, you see the number of postings dedicated to trolling for cash has become epidemic.

Like this chick "Niki" who is looking for "Financial support for my new book." Her ad is brief: "I need someone support me financially so I can finish my book ( and I will pay u back when my book is published, hopefully soon, cause it's almost there)."

OK--just a couple problems here:

1. Why should anyone support you while you write a book? I'm sure loads of people would like to be able to write a book or songs or poems or take photographs or paint pictures without worrying about the ugly realities of life, like having to pay the rent. All the writers I know support themselves. And last time I checked the age of the artistic benefactor went out with the Medicis.

2. "I'll pay u back when my book is published"--well, what are the odds of that happening? If Niki actually had a publishing deal, most likely she'd have an advance and wouldn't need to be begging on Craigslist for support.

3. In her brief ad, Niki has failed to convince me she has any talent as a writer. Using "u" instead of "you" and "cause" instead of "because" doesn't give me much confidence that a she's competent communicator.

Niki posted this ad TWICE--the first one is titled "Writer seeking financial support" with the post reading "so I can finish my book." Well that's certainly succinct! She even provides links to her YouTube video (did she make a video begging for money?) and her blog. And no, I'm not posting the links here--surf through Craigslist if you want to check them out.

But Niki isn't the only starving artist seeking a benefactor--another Craigslist post titled "Vocalist/Lyricist/Model/Dancer/Choreographer" reads:

"I am seeking an angel investor to help fund my demo, website, & new pictures.

I am extremely hard-working, driven to succeed, passionate, reliable, & confident in my abilities. Also, it doesn't hurt that I'm young, & very marketable as well. I've had small successes, but I need financial assistance to take my career to the next level. I'd provide receipts/proof for all expenses, if needed.

I'd appreciate any help offered. Thank you very much for your time. Take care."

An angel investor, huh? I know L.A. is known as the City of Angels, but come on now... If you're that "hard working," how about you EARN the money to fund your demo, website and new pictures?

If funding the dreams of creative endeavors isn't your cup of tea, then you've got plenty to choose from in the hard luck category. Like this post titled "Need Financial Help ASAP. Please!" which reads:

"Due to a family illness I am short of cash and I need $1500 ASAP to pay the bills. I'm an honest, hardworking guy. I work for an international company and can pay you back in payments within a couple of months with interest. Just name it. There must be someone out there that can spare it. Please call 818-555-5555 or 818-555-5555 and leave a message. I'll call you back. Thank you!"

Or this post titled "please read":

"this is not a scam, my family needs your help. my husband was layed off work and is having difficulty finding a job. our rent ate the rest of our money. our children are in need of alot of things. if you could find it in your heart to donate it is appreciated. i set up a pay pal acct for this purpose. please send donations to at paypal. thank you"

Wow--she set up a PayPal account for "donations." Can you believe? And then there's another one titled "i need $1200 today," and inside it says "to pay my rent's past due one month.... I MUST PAY TODAY!!!!" Oh wait--it's Niki again!

That's just in the last two days. This is nothing new--the trend of Internet panhandling aka "cyberbegging" started with Karyn Bosnak who started a website to collect PayPal donations to pay off her $20,000 credit card debt. The media spotlight on her venture--along with the more recent "Save Screech's House" t-shirt campaign, only causes the further proliferation of e-beggars. Whether it's funds for a new car or money for college tuition, there's no end to the personal causes asking for cash. I've even seen pitches to raise money for plastic surgery. Donate money for my boob job!

What causes this? On the one hand, you feel bad that there are people whose support system is so lacking that Craigslist is the only place they can think to turn to. On the other hand, some of these sob stories may just be a big con job. But overall, I think there's a certain level of entitlement. And the anonymity of the internet gives people a feeling of protection. Imagine if Niki had to set up a little table on the sidewalk with her typewriter on it and a cardboard sign reading "PLEASE HELP!" Wouldn't be so easy to ask for support then, would it?

I guess these people see examples like Dustin Diamond and Karyn Bosnak and think--hey, it worked for them? Why not me? There are even sites that assist cyberbeggars in setting up their web page. And maybe there are people out there who are swayed by the sob story. Maybe Niki will find her benefactor and finish her book. But for me, whenever I see these postings, my reaction is, "Get a job!"


  1. Okay, I get what you're saying. But as someone who has just joined the cyberbegging craze, I'm not sure it's all as clear-cut as you say. Sure, there are plenty of sob stories and shady people, but what if someone could actually PROVE their talent? Specifically, I'm talking about the whole "please support me while I write" thing. No, this Niki person didn't go about it the right way, but what's wrong with asking for someone to fund a literary dream? Isn't that essentially what a GRANT is? Only they're very difficult to come by these days, so sometimes people have to be creative.

    I guess what I'm saying is, some of us truly possess talent and just need a break and we don't need people criticizing us.

    Kamichi Jackson

  2. There are millions of people with dreams. In fact, the ability to dream of a better life, to create and be creative is what makes us human. Some of us manage to be creative and follow our dream without expecting others to pay our way. While I understand that you believe YOUR dream and YOUR talent is so much more important than mine or anyone else's (as you should given we are all the center of our own universe), I am not about to fund it when I have dreams and talent of my own...