Daily WTF: CBS’ The Briefcase

The BriefcaseA week ago CBS debuted a new series called The Briefcase in which a lower income family struggling to get by is given $101,000 cash in a briefcase – only to be told about a worse off family that they can give the money to instead. The families meet each other, share their stories, visit each others’ homes, and the original family gets to decide if their personal hardships are more important than the other family’s.

This is disgusting.

The makers of this show have obviously never struggled and just as obviously lack souls. They find it entertaining to give a struggling family the glimpse of a better, less stressful life before saddling them with an emotional and psychological conundrum that, at best, leaves them with a lifelong of shame and, at worse, fills them with regret and bitterness.

Supposedly, some people think this shows that anyone – rich or poor – can still do good and show humanity. I take offense at that statement because it seems to say that poor people cannot show humanity and decency unless they are willing to sacrifice their whole happiness. Meanwhile, rich people can give away 0.000001% of their yearly wealth and still be considered philanthropists. What do you call the mother working several jobs to feed and clothe her kids? What do you call the grandmother dipping into her pension to get her grandkid out of jail? What do you call the father who spends weeks bargaining with a local dealer to get his college-bound kid a workable car? What do you call the college grad working several shitty, minimum-wage jobs while juggling an unpaid internship? Are they less decent because they’re trying to improve their own lives or the lives of their family?

As someone who has spent more than 20 years clawing their way out of poverty and into lower class (I’m above poverty level for the first time in my life, guys!), I can tell you that I would be enraged to find myself in this situation and that rage would be the only thing that would enable me to keep that $101,000. No, I don’t have a disability, but three close family members do. No, I don’t have outrageous medical bills, but two family members do. No, I’m not a disabled veteran, but my father is and I’ve served in both Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. Yes, I have thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Yes, I could spend $101,000 in a weekend without ever buying anything nice for myself. Yes, I would have anxiety attacks and nightmares for the rest of my life if I kept that money. Yes, I would try to keep it.

But the act of doing so, even if I didn’t succeed and ended up giving the money away, would ruin me for life. I would constantly think of that family and what they could have done with the money. I would remember their faces and their voices and remember a time when my family members were in that position. My heart would pound at the memory, and my body would flush, and my skin would tingle. My stomach would drop, and a tight fist of nausea would clench in it. And I would feel the exact same way if I ended up giving away the money – because now I’ve deprived my family. And that is what will happen to every since one of these contestants.

If CBS really gave a damn about helping people, they would take the millions of dollars they’re spending on creating this show and simply give it to the families they’ve identified. Maybe require that they do 30 hours of community service in a lower-income area or around potentially dangerous people like convicted felons or former gang members. There, you’d still get to exploit people, CBS, but at least you wouldn’t be ruining these people’s lives. Now was that so Goddamn hard?

(And FYI, everyone, stop calling it “greed” if a family chooses to keep the money. It’s not greed. It’s fucking trying to pull yourself out of a shitty situation and make a better life for yourself. It’s caring about yourself. It’s giving yourself the opportunity to help others in the future. How hard is that to understand?)

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