Where do the little people of Philippines go when faced with discrimination and persecution on the streets of Manila? Why, they traipse over to Jim Turner’s bar, Hobbit House, where they can find equal employment and treatment as staff, waiters, bartenders and even new family members. Or so they say in this riveting LA Times piece about Turner’s decades old bar stylized after Tolkien’s popular Lord of the Rings trilogy with a devoted following among locals and tourists.
Before you jump to conclusions about Turner exploiting dwarves for late night entertainment and profit, many of his friends have vouched for his well intentions. A former Peace Corps member, Turner has continually protected and aided an often overlooked population in Manila,
[Jim Turner] has provided many of his workers with loans and housing and has paid tuitions. Several years ago, he gave them something perhaps even more precious: the Hobbit House itself.
He founded a corporation, naming seven of his employees the main stockholders. Now they make the decisions and call the shots. From his perch at the bar, Turner watches over the business as a consultant and takes only enough salary to pay his bills.
I, too, was first skeptical of Turner’s intentions towards little people, but my perception changed when I realized he had turned his successful Hobbit House over to his own employees, giving them an opportunity to control, decide and profit from their own hard work.
The only question I raise, then, is whether or not the premise of Hobbit House still counts as exploitation. The bar’s employees seem happy to use their own small stature as a form of entertainment and income, but where do you draw the line between making full use of your own body and allowing others to use your body as entertainment? Would I feel comfortable if I found refuge in a Japanese maid cafe and made money off by dressing up in a schoolgirl outfit? (Is that job available? Please forward all openings to me ASAP.)
I guess it’s hard to say, since I personally have never experienced life as a dwarf, especially one growing up in the Philippines. So I won’t critique their personal hardship and decision to work for Turner, and conclude that hey, if they’re happy, all is well. It’s great that this oft overlooked community is tied to such an awesomely historic dive bar. And as I like to say, when life throws you lemons, read J.R.R. Tolkien.