We've all seen a human walking billboard near a car wash, or advertising a going-out-of-business sale near the mall. I have thought about how much I would hate that kind of job. I can recall feeling marginally uncomfortable by seeing one human whose only job at the time was to be a billboard for another. But lowly licit work has intrinsic worth and dignity In his 1981 encyclical, Laborem exercens, Pope John Paul reaffirmed this dignity:
Sweat and toil, which work necessarily involves the present condition of the human race, present the Christian and everyone who is called to follow Christ with the possibility of sharing lovingly in the work that Christ came to do. This work of salvation came about through suffering and death on a Cross. By enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, man in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity. He shows himself a true disciple of Christ by carrying the cross in his turn every day in the activity that he is called upon to perform.At the SXSW music, film and interactive conference in Austin, Texas, a dust-up has arisen because a vendor of mobile hotspots hired homeless men from an Austin area shelter to carry a portable hotspot router around the convention floor, while wearing a t-shirt reading: "I am Clarence, a 4G hotspot," and handing our promotional material. Matthew Yglesias puts the issue into perspective at Slate:
BBH's stunt here offends our sense of human dignity, but the real offense is that people were languishing in such poor conditions that they would find this to be an attractive job offer. The sin they're being punished for is less any harm they've done to homeless people than the way they broke decorum by shoving the reality of human misery amid material plenty into the faces of convention-goers. The polite thing to do is to let suffering take place offstage and unremarked-upon.