Ya’ll – I have so much to do right now. Seriously, there’s a lot on my plate that needs to get done like TODAY because Christmas is right around the corner. Despite both my mounting homework and the mounting pile of gifts my parents keep sending to the house that need to get wrapped, I found myself putting on a movie this morning. Maybe I’m self destructive, maybe I just fell into the ADHD trap, maybe I’ve been working my ass off and wanted to take a morning to watch a movie. When I saw Hustlers come up recommended on Hulu I couldn’t pass it up. I mean, Lizzo, Cardi B, J Lo? Who could resist that?
It fit in with a theme I’ve been thinking about recently, I’ve been questioning what is truly right and wrong in my ethical code. Like stealing – mugging someone on the street is bad, even horrible. Stealing from a giant conglomerate that pays CEOs millions while exploiting labor at the bottom of the chain? Well…I’m not sure that I think that’s evil. Robin Hood was a hero, after all. Was anyone ever on King Richard’s side in that story?
Before I get too deep into my rant, I want to acknowledge that there’s more to unpack in this story, like how the men who were drugged and robbed got swift justice for the crimes perpetrated against them while the multitudes of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell’s victims still await closure. Not to mention the women experiencing sexual coercion and violence every day who will never be able to bring their abusers to justice and are expected to just shoulder that burden for the rest of their lives. But alas, I’m going to have to tackle that double standard another time. For now, think on this grey area. Meditate on it, meditate in it.
Now, back to today’s rant.
Hustlers is a Robin Hood story – I’m going to clarify that I’m talking strictly movie here; if you want to know the real story, it’s all over the internet. You can google. In the movie, strippers based in NYC are struggling after losing clients and their own wealth after the 2008 financial crisis. They begin drugging men who still remained wealthy after the crash and charging their credit cards for thousands of dollars. While they weren’t giving the money away, it could easily be argued that these women were the poor in need.
The great crash of 2008 came about because of a handful of assholes figured out they could make money by tricking Americans. They knew it wouldn’t last, knew that it would blow up this country, but they didn’t care because they knew any fallout wouldn’t affect them. (Watch The Big Short for a slightly obnoxious telling of this story) In the end, the men responsible for throwing this country into chaos got bailouts while the average American citizen lost their home, their savings; some lost everything. These men were the targets of the Hustlers.
It’s easy to look at things from the outside, especially if you’re sitting in relative comfort and privilege. It’s easy to say that drugging people and stealing from them is bad. And I want to be clear that I’m not over here arguing that what they did is in any way right, I’m suggesting that what they did isn’t really bad. If someone is kicking the crap out of someone else on the street and you involve yourself by taking that guy and giving him a taste of the concrete he was trying to feed to the first victim, are you considered a villain or a hero? Would bystanders who see you rescue a victim shy away from looking at you, thinking to themselves that all physical violence is wrong? Probably some, and they’re not wrong because physical violence is bad. But is what you did wrong?
It seems that we spend a lot of time declaring things as right or wrong in our society. When a cop kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes until he died, the whole country took sides on whether or not it was bad. “George Floyd was a criminal!” some cried. “He was trying to use counterfeit money!” they screamed in justification.
The other side screamed back just as loudly – “Is a counterfeit $20 worth a man’s life?” they argued. “Does a man’s past sanction his murder?”
Let’s all sit here in our white privilege and think that going to prison is wrong, that doing something illegal – breaking any law and going to prison for it – is wrong. It’s clearly in the black of our black and white ethical societal system, right? Except that we know that the prison system as it stands today was developed after the abolition of slavery in order to continue using people of color as slave labor. We know that people of color, especially Black men, are targeted by our justice system and the statistics are clear that they are more likely to do time in prison than a white person who committed the same crime. Knowing these facts, is going to prison still wrong? Is stealing bread when you’re starving a crime that justifies cutting off a hand? I know for a fact that if I went into a store to try to spend a counterfeit $20 that no one would kneel on my neck; I’m nearly positive that no one would even call the police. I’m even more sure that a clerk wouldn’t question a $20 I handed them in the first place.
My point is, there is a grey area. I would argue that the grey area is bigger than the black and white areas combined. I would argue that our entire world is a big old grey area with tiny margins of black and white at either end. So before we all jump on to our righteous soap boxes, let’s pause and think about where the story of Hustlers stands on our ethical spectrum. In my opinion, the only thing that’s clear is that these women and their crimes are in the grey area. I’m not going to condone their actions, but I’m not going to condemn them either.
Now for my own hustle