Behold a 15-year-old Puerto Rican raising money for solar lamps for his community while his family was still being forced to heavily ration food in the wake of Hurricane Maria, an eight-year-old using his meme fame to raise $90,000 for his father’s kidney transplant, an 11-year-old working to save for college, a 19-year-old raising her two younger siblings, a 19-year-old whose co-workers bought him a used car so he doesn’t have to walk ten miles a day while working to support his siblings and sick mom, a single mom who worked three jobs until she somehow managed to write a bestseller, and “5 Inspiring People Who Each Paid Off Over $100,000 in Debt.” Their inspiring methods included not eating at a restaurant for 2.5 years, not celebrating holidays, and averaging “117 hours a week of billable time for eight months.” There was no “5 Horrible Ways Exploitative and Predatory Systems Allowed People To Each Accumulate $100,000 In Debt” companion piece.
The variables keep changing, but the stories are endless. And they’re always presented as an inspirational “If they can do it, so can you!” morality tale. It’s taken for granted that everyone has medical problems, crippling debt, or three jobs, that the situation is implicitly their own fault, and that the only way out is to either literally work yourself to death or be so goshdarn adorable that the internet masses step in to crowdsource your rescue. The continued presence of a monolithic system that can kick you in the genitals so hard that they’ll shoot out of your nostrils and then tell you that you created your own gaping groin wound is assumed, to the point where there’s no need to even mention it.
It’s great that these people were able to improve their lives, but that doesn’t make their stories inspirational. These are problems that are desperately getting fixed, and that desperation is held up to us as an example of hustle and a hard-working attitude that we should all aspire to have. It’s like congratulating someone for patching the holes in their rowboat with chewing gum while ignoring all the guns that continue to rip it apart, because we assume there’s a good reason they’re being shot at. Also, there are sharks circling. If this was a political cartoon, they’d be labelled “bankruptcy.”