Gay Talese Amongst the Poor: Comedy, Tragedy, Or Kind Of OK?


This Gay Talese thing does make for a bizarre story–a man famous for his bulletproof sartorial style and glamorous townhouse parties takes to the streets with font-laded laserprinted signs bearing the legend “Please Support Pres. Obama’s Stimulus Plan, and begin right here … at the bottom … Thank you.” Talese then distributed his handmade signs to panhandlers as replacements for their own, more personally anguished cardboard pleas for help. By way of farewell, the writer recorded phone numbers for follow up, which begs the question of who exactly he was talking to. Then again, embedded a justly-mocked class comedy is a kind of basic empathy:

    I handed out these boarded messages at random to people who approached me for money, explaining why I thought their economy would be stimulated by my street signs. I further pointed out that the big bankers and industrial leaders the government was bailing out had lobbyists and public relations companies doing their bidding; but these wandering men who were seeking handouts in the street had to tap into the topicality of their plight, had to link themselves into the headlines and the top priority of President Obama. Stimulus, stimulus!!

Is it too wide-eyed for the internet to point out that Talese’s intentions here were somewhat admirable? Bankers get lobbyists to keep them out of jail; why shouldn’t the city’s homeless population be represented by Talese if both parties are consenting? Or am I just defending in vain a writer I happen to otherwise admire…?

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