'Hobo Jacket' Creator Responds to Critics: 'Guilty as Charged'

By | Boston Daily |

Update: Pan has removed his site from the web and posted an apology. Read about it here.

Original: MIT student Jin Pan has posted a response to criticism of his fundraising project “Hobo Jacket,” a website that donates coats to the homeless emblazoned with the logo of the donor’s rival school, and it is … sort of a spectacle.

Pan promoted his project this week, describing it this way on his site: “HoboJacket is a competitive platform where you can donate your rival college’s jackets and shirts to the unfortunate because it’s terribly unfortunate that people actually went to that other college.” He calls it a “tastefully offensive” way to spur people into helping the needy.

In true MIT student fashion, Pan (who was identified by BostInno Monday) spends the bulk of his response to the social media backlash waffling about the site’s design and functionality. Eventually, of course, he gets around to addressing the moral points raised by commenters on sites where he promoted his project, (many of them somewhere along the lines of this Hacker News commenter: “Clothing a homeless individual with a rival’s garb as a means to insult one’s rival reinforces the idea that it is ok to use a homeless person as an instrument of insult. It’s not.”) Pan notes that when he told all his friends about his idea, they seemed supportive. He acknowledges that his friends seem to be, uh, outliers where public opinion is concerned:

As I started posting this site onto online communities where I don’t know 99.9% of the folks on there, the responses were much more serious and some accused me of objectifying the homeless. Which I am guilty as charged. Possibly because my Asian parents would incessently [sic] threaten me in my childhood that I would become a hobo, especially each time I got a B+ in elementary school. Possibly because I’m a horrible person and, to quote /r/circlejerk, “literally hitler”. Possibly because we don’t have free choice and our consciousnesses are just artifacts arising from a world of strings dancing to the beat of physics.

Yes, he did just raise the possibility that he objectifies homeless people because of string theory or something. Yes, he is a parody of an MIT student. But wait because here comes the coup de grâce:

One coincidental thing to note is that Zuck was accused of objectifying women with his little initial project that earned him notriety in the Social Network. If history does repeat itself, I’ll be glad that I’m not afraid to be very politically incorrect and made this site on a whim.

Zuck, as in Mark Zuckerberg, who you might remember designed a site akin to “Hot or Not” using pictures of Harvard girls. Don’t worry, Pan is similarly just killing time and practicing his coding with offensive ideas while he awaits the big idea.

Of course, all these sorry defenses don’t really appear to be given in earnest. Pan acknowledges that his idea just isn’t very kind. He even suggests that his site might take the money he’s raised and purchase unmarked jackets for the homeless. That’s nice, though will it be acceptable to the donors he’s managed to find? Of which (oh by the way) there are many. If “Hobo Jacket’s” leader board is to be believed, he’s raised thousands of dollars from people who apparently would really like to see a homeless person wrapped in the ignominy of a CalTech sweatshirt. It seems Pan is caught between making an ethical decision and doing right by his investors. It’s like some kind of horrible business school simulation.

  • Janice

    So, who thinks all the homeless people receiving the jackets really give a damn about what school’s logo is on it? Who cares? If the idea provides an incentive to do something good for people who would otherwise not have new jackets, then it really is not a big deal. Really. Grow up.

    • J. Winder

      Janice,

      Some homeless people may benefit in the short term, perhaps, but the issue is that these elite college students, given their privileged position, are demonstrating just how how of touch they are with people outside of their own social class. To find humor in their joke is akin to acknowledging that one has no empathy or respect for those who are homeless.

      To paraphrase our beloved Spiderman: with great privilege comes great social responsibility.

      (disclosure: I am an MIT student and do not think the actions of these two individuals represent the great body of responsible and thoughtful students, staff, and faculty of our campus, nor our mission statement. If you want to learn more about how MIT is really helping with underprivileged communities, here’s one great example: http://d-lab.mit.edu/)

    • Will

      If they knew they were being used as the but of some rich SOB’s tasteless joke then they probably would.

      You’re the reason everyone thinks Bostonians are a******.

      • Will

        **butt

  • Stephen

    I honestly think as long as the homeless people are aware of why they are getting the jacket, who cares? The homeless can refuse it (I don’t think many will) and the site certainly had the potential to motivate people to donate. In the end I think it could have helped out some people. Just my 2 cents.

  • Riley G

    I think this is a terrible idea…

    …that being said, I’ll purchase 100 Wisconsin Badger jackets for this project.