Some of you seemed to miss the point of the last post.
There were people who thought I was demonizing the Frugalwoods — or at least disregarding them — because of their surprisingly high income. Not true. I used the Frugalwoods merely as a touchstone to explore the deeper issue of finanial inspiration porn.
The point of my last piece wasn’t saying that the Frugalwoods themselves are the problem (or that all of their advice should be ignored). The real problem, as with all inspiration porn, is how they’ve been portrayed by the media.*
The media — even social media — sensationalizes success stories whether that’s they paying off debt, going from rags to riches or disabled-person-climbs-Mt.-Everest. These stories condense long, often nuanced narratives into one-note triumphs by two-dimensional characters. They make epic parts of people’s lives into soundbites: spots of fuzzy feel-goodness in between dire reports of the latest tragedy and the discovery of some ubiquitous chemical that’s probably killing you.
The media’s generally superficial coverage of accomplishments omits far too many details about the privileges the person had. Instead, the person is held up as (you guessed it) inspiration. An “If they can do it, anyone can” story.
Again, it reduces real people with real stories into poster children. These are people who have gone — and are often still going through — range of experiences and emotions. The trials and tribulations, the steps backward as well as forward… It all gets collapsed into a cheesy, glib portrayal. Anything that doesn’t fit within the boundaries of “uplifting” gets trimmed away like so many sandwich crust.
As if this reduction weren’t frustrating and insulting enough, it seeps into the brains of viewers/readers/Facebook-ers creating biases and unrealistic expectations. Thanks to that, disabled people are expected to be chipper and constantly trying to surpass very real limitations — all because one too many parathletes with gung-ho attitudes are featured in news stories.
Similarly, people know that anyone who hasn’t managed to pay off a zillion dollars of debt in 18 months, anyone who hasn’t saved enough for financial independence… That’s just a failure of will. It’s not that expenses can only be trimmed so far back; it’s not that some people have jobs that just don’t pay that well (some of whom, like many teachers, wouldn’t trade careers for a better salary). No, it’s that these folks lack determination.
And if you’re actually poor? Well, then it’s definitely a personal failing. Not low-paying jobs, not unavoidable life expenses — nothing but a dearth of determination and a clear disinterest in bettering yourself.
This is frustrating, maddening even, but it’s also detrimental to the populace that buys into the hype. It’s a way that the real world has been warped for them.
So no, the problem people have with inspiration porn (financial or otherwise) isn’t the successes themselves; it’s how they’re framed.
I’m happy for the Frugalwoods. I’m happy that their blog has helped so many people. But the depiction of their story, the fact that no journalist seems to have researched or insisted on knowing their salaries (which would, of course, have taken some of the inspiration-y edge of the tale) — that has real implications for people struggling to save money; and that I take issue with.
*Arguably, it sounds as though they did make the book a little inspiration porn-y, but they were emulating what the media had already done… Because clearly it worked well.