“If you wanna live in a tiny house, it’s ’cause you done gave up. You’re stupid.”
The words echoed for days in the tiny house subconscious. Threads with literally hundreds (maybe thousands by now) addressed the video. But I think it is safe to say the most immediate wave of guffaw has cleared since Steve Harvey – comedian, television host, radio personality, and talk show host – chose to “discuss” (and I use the word loosely…..very loosely, mind you) tiny houses. Himself – a man reinvented from the son of a coal miner who has worked as a boxer, an autoworker, an insurance salesman, a carpet cleaner, and a mailman, to his current persona as Renaissance gentleman with common sense, a great sense of humor, and a certain humility – Harvey has become a sort of celebrity du jour recently after his debacle with the Miss Universe pageant and subsequent apology. His moment was just getting started though as he chose to publicly take on the tiny house movement in his #TrendingTopics monologue. But did that moment rub people the wrong way because of just his words and attitude or has Harvey stumbled across a sort of ‘villain behind the cloak’; a scenario wherein Shaggy and Scooby uncover for us a heart of discrimination and discouragement that seems to have been festering under the very skin of the tiny house community? I’ll let you decide.
Allow me to ask these questions though. Why do we listen to celebrities? Why do we treat them as experts on topics well out of their wheelhouse? Example.
I think Peyton Manning is a fine quarterback. He might even be one of histories best. He seems like a gentleman and a real leader. He is handsome and of good build. But understand this. Peyton Manning is a football player. I do not want him to be the president of the United States. Likewise I don’t truly care to hear his politics. When I am not feeling well I go to the doctor. When my household appliances are on the fritz, I call the Maytag man. When I want a better understanding of political actions in Syria or the state of illegal immigration around the Canadian border I want to hear from a diplomat or an academic mind. Yet somehow on so many topics in our culture the media is more than happy to offer celebrities a platform to speak their mind, often unfiltered!
A couple months back Sean Penn took a few days to seek out and interview El Chapo and suddenly he became a focal point for helping capture El Chapo and as an authority on the drug war being waged in Mexico and at the United States border. For nearly a week Penn was given top billing by Rolling Stone, CBS News, ABC News, NBC News, the NY Times, and dozens of other outlets. And that is just one example. I can easily think of more famous people who talk about everything from childhood vaccinations to ISIS to the state of the Catholic church as if they are an expert simply because some media outlet allows them to. Then the media polishes the arguments up and serves them to us – a consuming culture – that regards them as fine China with some stake in the game. Thus is exactly the case with Steve Harvey.
Let me point out two things.
- Steve Harvey is a co-producer of his own show and therefore has to have some say in his topics. He isn’t given a topic to talk about “just because.”
- Steve Harvey has a well documented history of dropping out of school, being fired from jobs, and living in his car rendering him essentially homeless.
Harvey points out as much. The bottom left corner of the video screen shows he is on the Steve Harvey Show. It is HIS show. Let me reiterate that. It is HIS show. It is not the Andrew Odom show or the Tiny House Blog Show. It is the Steve Harvey Show. At 1:07:00 Harvey states, “See, I’ve been homeless before…” He frames his statements with the fact that he has lived in his car before; a tiny space. At that point I personally laughed off everything he had said prior including the phrase “raggedy baby doll looking house” and his suggestion of me needing to “get a bigger damned dream.” I giggled thinking about Harvey waking up one morning and pulling out his dapper suit from the backseat of a ’67 Volkswagon. I thought, Steve has lived in a tiny space. He gets it. He knows that it isn’t for everyone. He gets that society might see it as a negative. It’s all good. But then he just starts digging.
At 1:30:00 he argues that tiny houses are for people who have given up; who have no faith. I could feel myself tuning out at that very second. By 1:45:00 at “why would I put on my vision board….” I had stopped hearing anything he was saying. I don’t buy into the whole vision board thing and having a comedian turned talkshow host turned cue card bumbler tell me about his personal vision and dream within the framework of the Holy Bible (Harvey’s reference to Habakkuk 2:2) while calling another vision stupid or one who lacks vision stupid was just off-putting. But, the video ended, my life moved forward, and I all but forgot about what I had seen. In fact, the only comment I made was in a short TXT message to my wife with a link to the video. I didn’t make a public statement or write Harvey or anything. I chalked it up as a celebrity who had been given a platform to talk about something he has no real authority to talk about.
Another person. Another opinion.
But then something happened.
On Feb. 8 at 12:33pm a member of the Tiny House People group on Facebook posted the video and posed the question: “What do you think about what Steve Harvey said today about Tiny Houses?” Followed by a comment of their own the original poster added “Perhaps we should educate him and the public.” My first thought? Why? Does it really matter? Did I publicly cry out when Kanye West….well, said anything really. No. I just tuned out. If I want to hear tiny house philosophy I will gather my information from people considered authorities and academics on the subject such as Jay Shafer, Dee Williams, Deek Diedricksen, Kent Griswold, and others. I won’t waste time listening to the likes of Steve Harvey. Not all took that stance though. In fact, the more than 300 comments that fell under that initial question seemed to expose a nasty, vitriolic temperament that I didn’t believe existed in the tiny house community.
“I use to really like Steve Harvey, but this hurt my feelings.”
“He is uneducated…and materialistic..he has no values.”
“this guy is an a**hole”
I was honestly surprised by what I was reading. Had Steve Harvey and his opinion really bring an entire community to a place of name-calling and, dare I say, discrimination and discouragement? Were we now saying that Harvey himself is stupid? Did we allow him to hurt our feelings? If so, why? Do we really care that much about what a celebrity who has overcome what he feels was his own bout with homelessness, achieved financial success, and pursued his own dreams? Are we really willing to dismiss him because he chose to speak out again what our dreams are? I honestly don’t know. I know this though. This newfound caring of celebrity authorities is based in the devaluation of actual expertise. It is akin to a future where The Wall Street Journal is run by Jack Black. I beg of us all. Let’s not go there. If we want to truly educate the public and the likes of Steve Harvey let’s pour out our ambition in the right places.
Today, this week, this month, even this year, I challenge you to take the passion that Harvey may have evoked in you and put it towards something that will enhance your life or bring you closer to your personal dream. Don’t allow anyone – much less a celebrity – to hijack your energy or your vision. It isn’t worth it. That’s just, well, “stupid!”