Filthy Rich and Homeless
Photo: Mark Rogers/SBS

I’m an old mare and have attended many rodeos. As such, I am rarely-to-never surprised. But this week, I had the chance to again feel as a filly: hitherto untouched by the brutality of bulls.

Tonight, the program Filthy Rich and Homeless concludes on SBS TV. Here’s a spoiler: I have seen the conclusion to this “immersive reality” series and it’s just as jaw-dropping as the other two. I really did not expect that television could surprise me by becoming even more deeply shit. It is now more deeply shit and I am young again.

This is the spectacle of well-known Australians who “trade privilege for homelessness”. For ten days, five celebrities were left on the streets of Sydney with nothing but their camera crews and the delusion that they were really helping make a difference. And, no, I am not saying that it’s no fun to watch bodies habituated to clean-eating suck stuff up from a bin. God, who wouldn’t want to see what happens when Cameron Daddo sleeps on carboard? Spoiler: he puts his back out, perhaps an event of job creation for Sydney’s healing osteopath community. Which is the only economic good that will come out of this pornography.

Notwithstanding public claims by very literate participant Benjamin Law that this show is not pornography, this show is pornography. It seeks to arouse a physical feeling in viewers which it then relieves. Yes, I found make-believe congress between celebrity and hardship momentarily satisfying, but I’m embarrassed to admit I enjoyed it. Here’s a tissue. Mop it up.

Just how the “journey” of a person — such as NSW MLA Alex Greenwich who was surprised by the fact of something he should have effing known — means progress for actual homeless persons is a mystery to me. But not to participants and producers, who have two piss-weak alibis for their illicit screen romp.

The first is that we all follow the prescriptions of Everybody’s Home, an online group of Christian charities that recommends as a first priority in the fight against homelessness a tax incentive for first home buyers. Incentives for first home buyers have had the past effect of increasing the price of the housing commodity, and economist Steve Keen was entirely right to call the First Home Owner’s Grant the first home vendor’s grant. But, hey, the second alibi does away with the first.

You just say: this show will make a difference.

What difference? Well, apparently, we need to be shown homelessness through “relatable” eyes to understand that homelessness is shit.

Look. I’m no a priori whiz, but I reckon I already know that homelessness is shit. I am similarly confident that attack by drone strike is shit. I do not need to face the very best fatal technology the world’s hegemon can afford to know that it would be shit nor I do not need to hear moving stories about drone strikes by their victims. In fact, I propose that when people do hear moving stories, they tend to feel like they’ve done their bit. US Congress — the people who have rather a lot to do with drone strikes — heard the moving testimony in 2013 of then 13-year-old Zubair Ur Rehman. This little citizen of Pakistan said that he now feared blue skies. The drone strikes continued. Here’s a tissue for those dead children. Mop them up.

Argue all you want about whether this show is a route to creating “empathy” in the general population. But, know two things: first, The Guardian has already had all the arguments about the sum of empathy created by shit telly and will continue to argue about beautiful, yummy empathy until little is left on this planet but heat, death and a dozen biodomes whose imprisoned elites fear attack by giant cockroaches; second, who cares about my “empathy”? What can my empathy do?

I’ve got empathy coming out my holes. I can’t go to the shops without wanting to cry. I broke down in Coles the other day when I saw a frail woman hold a no-name frozen shepherd’s pie for one. Empathy? It’s like flatulence. You’re human and you can’t stop it happening.

You can, however, restrain yourself in public. I do wish the five prominent Australians who traded “privilege” — these days, shelter is a privilege, no longer a right — thought to pop a cork in it. I wish that the out-and-out lie that empathy ever produces policy results, or prevents them, would no longer be told. These guys seem to think we’re living in a democracy. One activated by eminent tears.

Want to make a difference? Use five minutes of your time on TV to link the nation’s punishingly high cost of housing to the nation’s punishingly high cost of housing. Interrupt the cheap satisfaction of a “journey” with an unsexy thing like finance sector control over house price.

It is a decision not to discuss the role the finance sector plays in house price. One must ignore a global financial crisis, an ongoing royal commission and the opinion of many working locally to solve the growing problem of insecure housing to omit this. One must ignore a national economy that has boomed on debt creation.

Empathy? Here’s a tissue. Mop it up.

Have you watched the show? Let us know what you think at [email protected].