You may have seen this video released during the holidays where YouTube Prankster Josh Paler Lin gives $100 to a homeless man and follows him to see what he will do with money. The homeless man named “Thomas” goes to a liquor store, but instead of buying of alcohol which Lin and a lot of other people would expect, he gets food which he distributes to other homeless people in a local park. Lin apologizes to Thomas about his stereotyping, and the video goes viral. Is this a truly touching moment, a life lesson about making assumptions, or is it as some point out, a hoax and staged money making scheme? What does this say, if anything, about Asian Americans and YouTube?
It should be mentioned that the sentiments expressed in the video are not at all bad. Homeless people are people, and not just mindless alcoholics or junkies as many assume. Stereotyping is wrong, and the video makes that clear. These sentiments, perhaps including guilt over how people have felt about the homeless, have pushed the views on the video into past 32 million.
That being said, even the noblest of ideas lose power when people sense that they are made under false pretenses. Those saying the video is staged point out logical inconsistencies, like why Thomas would pass up a closer and cheaper market and go to a more expensive and farther away liquor store to buy food. One witness is claiming that he saw Lin drive Thomas to the liquor store and another says that he was in the liquor store prior to Thomas arriving. A man has surfaced saying that he is the brother of “Thomas” says that “Thomas” is really named Kevin and is actually owed an inheritance.
Why would Lin do this?
He is estimated to have made thousands on the viral video, and the Indiegogo page Lin set up to “help get Thomas back on his feet” has accumulated more than $140,000. Lin promises more videos with Thomas, and has already done one on a makeover. Looking at the hits on his videos, it seems that heart tugging videos can generate a lot more views and profit than puerile pranks. Seems to work for some Thai TV commercials! Lin has denied that the video is staged, as has “Thomas.”
Asian Americans have circumvented traditional media stereotypes through YouTube, and some have become well-known and relatively wealthy and have used it to launch careers. It’s ironic that that a video decrying stereotypes is confirming the stereotype about Asians that they will do anything for money. There have even been some comments about that.
Moreover, Lin doesn’t seem to mind reinforcing Asian stereotypes in videos like this one.
Lin calls himself “Craziest Asian Prankster alive.” I realize, and he probably does too, that all this discussion of him whether negative or not, especially with links to his videos, generate more traffic and thus more profit to him. Clever. Still, I wonder if someday Lin will eventually reveal that this is all just a prank, and that the prank is on all of us.