This is for my Social Psychology class - for assessment and communication. I hope you find my thoughts interesting and please feel free to comment!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Rags to Riches: A social experiment

I briefly caught part of the Oprah show today and the story I saw surrounded a social experiment. Transcripts and information are available from the Oprah website on three separate pages: page one, page two, and page three.

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The story surrounded Ted Rodrigue, a 45-year-old, periodically homeless man for the past 20 years. In a documentary "Reversal of Fortune," filmmaker Wayne Powers tells Ted that he wants to make a film on what its like to be homeless, but he also had other plans in mind for the documentary.

One day while Ted was sorting through a dumpster for bottles and cans which he used to obtain money he found a briefcase with $100, 000 cash, which had been planted by Wayne.

"There [were] a lot of emotions all at once," Ted says about finding the briefcase. "I thought I was going to get shot. I thought it was drug money. Then I thought it was a prop for the movie, and I would have to give it back. It didn't sink in for a good half an hour—then I knew [it was mine to keep]."

Wayne says that he was inspired to create this film as he said he often had daily interactions with homeless people asking for money and he thought, "'What would happen if I actually was able to give someone $100,000 and the free will to do with it what they wanted to do?'" he says. "Would that turn their life around or would it create more problems?"

Wayne stated that they searched for a participant who could pass a psychiatric evaluation, a medical and a drug test, who ended up being Ted. Wayne states that he was at first optimistic about the money as Ted talked about change. He wanted to get an apartment, a job and was happy. Furthermore, Wayne felt that maybe this opportunity would really help Ted turn his life around.

Ted received financial counselling and support however unfortunately old habits die hard. Ted continued to collect cans and bottles which had supported him for many years. Slept on the floor within his hotel room and was generous with his new found wealth. He paid friends' debts, bought a car for a friend, a expensive truck for himself and got married.

"You never think…the money's going to run out sooner or later," Ted says. "At the time I was living in L.A., and I thought with having that money, I could go back to Sacramento and reunite with my family, and that it would change everything. It did for a while—I had more friends than I could count."

Ted stated that not only is all the money now gone but he is now in further debt. Ted states that "I thought it would erase all my problems. I thought I would never be homeless again," he says. "But, like I said, I made a couple of bad choices."

The bad choices surrounded the car purchased, getting his teeth fixed, turning down job offers and giving so much of the money away. Additionally his marriage, as his wife left when the money ran out.

"It was a frustrating process, in a way, because I think that there were a lot of opportunities sent Ted's way," Wayne says. "And while you're with someone, and the closer you get to them, and the more that you kind of root for them and understand them, the more frustrating it gets when those opportunities are passed by. I think that it shows that, from a personal story, people that are homeless, there are certain demons inside them. … I think alcoholism plays a part of that. I learned that in providing somebody with the necessities to be able to turn their life around, a car, a telephone, a roof above their head, a driver's license, all the things that we hear is what somebody needs to be able to turn their life around, it still, unfortunately, in this particular case, was not enough.

"Back living on the street, Ted says, "I'm not happy, but I'm contented."

Unfortunately it appears as though in this case, all the money did was cause more problems. In regard to further debt, 'friends' and generally bad choices. I found this story particularly interesting as while I was travelling I often saw homeless people and I wanted to give them something, whether it was money or a warm jacket (it was winter when I was travelling). However, I was constantly told by other people that it wouldn't make a difference etc. It is sad to think of Ted's outcome and that in this case his old habits did die hard. However this wouldn't necessarily be the case for everyone in this situation. Even so, this documentary provided an interesting look into social experiments.

If you saw the show, please feel free to comment on any thoughts you may have surrounding this story. Additionally, any comments or thoughts are welcome surrounding any aspect of this blog/post.

Thank You,

The Oprah Winfrey Show. (2007). Rags to Riches: Controversial "Reversal". Harpo Productions.

The Oprah Winfrey Show. (2007). Rags to Riches: A Homeless Man's "Reversal of Fortune". Harpo Productions.

The Oprah Winfrey Show. (2007). Rags to Riches: Did Money Change a Homeless Man's Life?. Harpo Productions.


James Neill said...

This is a great write-up Zoe - I read it from beginning to end fascinated. And lots of links to useful stuff. It's a difficult conclusion to accept though...

James Neill said...

See also discussion post by adeva on this topic.

Anonymous said...

Hi Zoe,

I did watch this episode-since it was related to Psych and all :)

It seemed that Ted really did believe the money would never run out, as he gave money away and even brought a car for someone.

I found it interesting that in hindsight Ted said he lost faith in society and felt the people he came in contact with took advantage of him. He didn't seem to accept responsibility for loosing the money and played a victim role. He only said he'd made some wrong choices after Oprah suggested this.

It really made me think that living on the streets was his choice. Ted was intelligent enough that he could have got a job and home with $1000 if he wanted. Maybe living this lifestyle is his way of escaping dealing with the society he dislikes and distrusts? Or perhaps he just doesn't know any other way-this seemed the case when he kept collecting bottles and when he rented a hotel room and still slept on the floor.

Homelessness is a real tragedy and way too common in all societies (even here in Canberra). The story of Ted however did not leave me feeling concerned for his wellbeing as i honestly felt he chose this and if he was given the money again would end up on the streets again-maybe I am just heartless?

Adeva said...

Hey Zoe,

I also saw part of this program on Oprah. At first I was thinking that ted's problems stemmed from his outlook on his actions, for example short term low level meaning goals. However, the more I think about it, he seemed to place attributions for blame, that the money was squandered, outside himself. He wasn't taking responsibility for his actions by internally attributing them to himself, rather he was externally attributing them to society, people around him and circumstances.

It appears like James said in his comment on my discussion posting, that he was exhibiting some level of learned helplessness. He believed that he had not control over his situation, even when he was given the $100,000. Therefore no matter how much money he was given, he was still going to act in a way that assumed he couldn't help his situation!

Interesting show!


Uma said...

Fascinating story, written with real kindness. And the comment by fiona is so insightful! wow...
Truth is that any able-bodied man should be able to turn his life around (get a job and a roof over his head) without any handout. But $100K should in fact make a man more optimistic about life, even if he squandered it all in the end.
More so because the process involved a psychological evaluation, so he should have felt 'worthy' and proceeded forth to honour the trust placed in him and encourage the donor's belief that a little kindness and help does make a difference.
Maybe we are unable to respect money unless we earn it.