I highly recommend checking out this project. It is important—though perhaps not important in the way it is intended to be important.
Let’s start with the obvious. Cataloging the stories of 99% of the country is a little silly. Ninety-nine percent is an awfully broad swath of people. We might as well title the gallery “We are pretty much everybody” or just “We are America.”1 It’s a collection of people writing their diverse struggles on paper, photographing it, and sharing it with the internet.
But this is a critically important move. As a nation, we are afflicted with a prosperity mythology. It goes something like this:
Riches come to good people. The poor got what they got because they were lazy or just insufficiently clever. Sure, there are exceptions—but as a general rule, people like us don’t have financial problems. Well, maybe we have some problems now—but they’re not the sort of thing we talk about. It’s embarassing.
This story is reinforced constantly. Our media is full of stories by the comfortably affluent, about the comfortably affluent, for the comfortably affluent. Look at the movies in the theater this week (or any week). How many of the main characters struggle to pay their mortgages? How many are unemployed? How many consider the cost of the coffee they’re drinking when they hang out with their eccentric and interesting friends? The 99% gallery turns that on its head.
A series of pictures about people writing about their every-day problems on paper should be boring. The stories are neither unique or particularly interesting. Some of the stories are people who are doing pretty well. For some, it’s hard to think how there could be a happy ending. Others might be able to solve their problems with disciplined budgeting. And yet—the expose a whole side of the every day struggles that normally gets talked about in hushed voices—if at all. Take the guy in this picture. He’s in a tough spot—though it looks like things are getting back on track.2 But what are the chances that anybody beyond a few close friends and family members know about these problems? Financial struggles are isolating. We don’t talk about them—so we don’t realize how universal they are. And because we careful ignore them, we don’t give them a high priority. We worry about airport security. Or a celebrity scandal. Or something Newt Gingrich (who’s still there) said. We don’t communally address the problems that may be most important to us.
I actually think this second one would be a better title. ↩
The home foreclosure is a serious issue—but probably solvable with the new job. If you’re the guy in the picture and aren’t sure what’s going on with that, shoot me an email and I’ll try to hook you up with somebody who can help (and isn’t a foreclosure rescue scam). ↩