Sunday, January 6, 2013

Is poverty funny?

Maybe, sort of. Sorry, did you say something?

When I told someone that I study environmental science, he asked me, "Aren't you perpetually depressed? Because it's like bad news everyday for you."

I thought about it. Contaminated water, energy crisis, malnutrition and the looming uncertainty of climate change day in and day out. Hey, I thought we're supposed to be the tree hugging, nature walking, panda snuggling granola people and now we're like those sandwich board guys on the street corner, bellowing at people that they better eat organic or we're all gonna die!

We might, right? Nah, joking. Right?

So I wanted to turn the tables and wondered how to make all of this more positive, even funny. What? Make world crisis and poverty funny?

Can poverty be funny? (Source: Lucas Jans)
Well, for us masochistic environment development types who enjoy this stuff, we readily plow through mono-drone podcasts on NPR and the Economist, and yes, I do admit I have friended the World Bank, UNEP and Washington Week on Facebook. Hmm, that didn't seem so sad until just right now saying it.

It was only last week (or maybe even yesterday) that I was thinking about this. People don't want to look at this stuff or think about the poor or the environment. They want to eat processed cheese, guilt free. We want to be free, damn it. Where's my Velveeta?

Maybe we need something like Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart who make the news funny. Heck, some days they're my sole news source. Don't tell my professors. How do you cite YouTube anyway?

I mean, who wants to listen to a podcast about poverty every week? "Hello, and welcome to let's make you depressed for the rest of your day while you listen to your overly priced sweatshop manufactured iPod and you jog in your overly priced sweatsuit that, honestly, you're just going to sweat in. Why don't you just work in the iPod shop if you're paying a year membership to sweat anyway?"

Yeah. Podcast, unsubscribe.

What we have been able to do is make poverty cool, like Bono. Like Angelina Jolie, who makes poverty suave. But funny? That's a bit touchy. Like Angelina.

I was thinking about this when my friend's Facebook post (Thanks, Jessica) reminded me of the crazy, self- Times of India proclaimed "India's First YouTube Star," Wilbur Sargunaraj. I got to his YouTube videos and recently he's produced one as an official entry to

Well? Does he make poverty funny?

Oh, does he!!! Uh... does he?

Wilbur does it in his classic is-this-supposed-to-be funny style, kind of Andy Kaufman slash Borat-esque, but Indian. Is that his real accent? I don't know. Does he think he can dance? I don't think so. Is that even his real name? It's the internet. Who the heck uses their real name?

But what is real is the poor people in the video, and in a cringey yet sweet sort of way, he does what even Bono doesn't really do. He let's them speak for themselves.

So for our enlightenment, here's Wilbur with the poor person's take on poverty.

How would you make poverty funny? Would you?

UPDATE: Wilbur had also recently visited Asha Deep School where I had helped.

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