Recently I watched 99 Homes, which stars former Spider-Man Andrew Garfield as a construction worker in Florida in 2010 who loses his family home to eviction. In order to make money, he goes to work for the guy who evicted him, a sleazy real estate agent played by former General Zod Michael Shannon. Soon Andrew Garfield is evicting people himself, along with stealing air conditioners and pool pumps from abandoned homes so his boss can file claims for them to Fannie Mae, who then pays him to essentially reinstall the stolen property. Things start to escalate as his boss prepares to make a deal worth millions in foreclosed homes, but when his family finds out what he's been doing, Andrew Garfield starts to get cold feet. It all culminates in a standoff at a former neighbor's house.
I found this movie really relevant for a few reasons. First off, it displays the massive corruption between the banks, real estate brokers, courts, and cops. At one point Andrew Garfield has to deliver forged papers to the city clerk in order to prevent a guy from keeping his home and spoiling the big deal. The sheriff's department is pretty much on the real estate agent's payroll and act like they're doing evicted families a big favor by giving them a couple of minutes to gather things to take with them. The deck is completely stacked against homeowners trying to keep their homes: besides dirty tricks by the banks and real estate brokers, the judge barely glances at the files before ruling in favor of the bank. And of course being in foreclosure, these people can't afford decent lawyers to fight back.
What was more relevant to me is the idea of working for an industry that is not really in a good business. After almost 18 months of unemployment I finally found a job in a legal office processing debt payments. The legal office I work for specializes in what's often called "zombie debt" because it's often old debts that people think are gone before coming back to haunt them. There was a story on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver that actually mentioned one of the big debt debt firms my office collects for.
Most of my job is processing the payments of people in debt. It's kind of a bummer, especially the people who owe tens of thousands of dollars. Sometimes people send in nasty letter or write snarky things on their checks or payment coupons. Which always is kind of annoying because I'm just a part-time employee who has nothing to do with their situation. Don't shoot the messenger--or the accounts receivable clerk in this case. But saying that makes me feel like one of those Nazis at Nuremburg saying "I was just following orders."
My dilemma is the same for Andrew Garfield in this movie: sometimes you get so desperate that you have to do things you're not proud of. Not just writing erotica books, but also working for an industry that isn't exactly doing the public good. Because let's face it, the world revolves around money and to make money you need a job. And hey I applied to jobs all over the place and that's the only place that would hire me. Which is actually a difference between me and the guy in the movie: he pretty much the next day starting (literally) shoveling shit for Michael Shannon while it took me a lot longer to reach that point. But then I don't have a kid and mom to support. Though if I'd been offered that job from the start I'd have still taken it. Money is money.
Something to remember when a debt collector or telemarketer calls: these people are just doing a job. There's a 99.9% chance that they didn't really choose this work and they sure as hell never dreamed of doing it for a living any more than 99.9% of clerks at Wal-Mart or McDonald's or baristas at Starbucks. We like to talk about "careers" but for so many of us it's simply a J-O-B to pay the bills. It's a sad fact of life.
You can say you wouldn't do something like that but when your bank account balance is near 0 and you're losing your home, you'll probably start singing a different tune.
Now of course the movie being a movie Andrew Garfield's family moves out on him when they find out what he does and tries to buy a new house for them. And then he pretty much confesses to a crime to probably end up in jail, though it's never said for sure. I don't think many families would be quite that melodramatic about it. Though they might be sentimentally attached to their old home, I don't think they'd run off to Tampa just because the dude works for the guy who evicted them. Because I'm sure that like Andrew Garfield, they'd do what they had to to survive and thrive. That's what people do, which is how we've managed to make a go of it for so long, even in places like burning deserts where no sane human should live. It ain't always fun or pretty, but it's what we do because what other choice is there?