Hungrr's iPhone auction gets no relief

A hunger-relief group tries to provide food bank meals by selling an iPhone, but it's stymied by ornery newsmen and eBay scoundrels.

Published July 6, 2007 5:26PM (EDT)

A couple of days ago Boing Boing's Mark Frauenfelder posted a hilarious and outrageous video of a hunger-awareness mascot getting abused by a TV producer at an iPhone line in Manhattan. The mascot -- a big-headed, big-mouthed, one-eyed orange dude who's more alarming than cute, but is still completely funny -- represents Hungrr, a company that aims to make people aware of the problem of hunger in America. The company is a for-profit organization that donates all its profits to feeding people -- it raises money by selling buttons and shirts, and through oddball stunts, such as, in this case, trying to sell an iPhone on eBay for $100,000, with all proceeds going to the Northwest Louisiana Foodbank.

But a newsman trying to cover the throngs waiting for the iPhone is having none of it. Though everyone in line seems to be enjoying the mascot, the fellow -- whom Hungrr later identifies as a producer for "Attack of the Show," a program that runs on the game-show network G4 -- tells Hungrr, "We're going live and all we're seeing is your big-ass head on the screen."

"That's the idea," the mascot says, distilling in three words the essential nature of mascothood.

"Yeah, I know, but I don't want you to fucking do it," says the newsman, "because I got a live show going on and a fucking jerk in the back. You gotta go somewhere else." When the mascot explains that he's out there for a good cause, the newsman says, "That's great but this isn't the forum for that. I appreciate that too but it's not the forum for it."

Right, so an iPhone line is a forum for opportunistic news cameras but not for opportunistic activists? Apparently so, because the newsman calls the cops, and the city's finest tell Hungrr to stay away or he'll end up in jail.

Well, still, the group got an iPhone. But its problems didn't end there. When Hungrr put its phone on eBay, a thief broke into someone's eBay account and clicked to purchase the phone for $100K. When the rightful eBay account owner discovered the purchase, she notified eBay, which canceled the sale and took down Hungrr's auction.

The group promises to put up the phone once again. In the meantime, consider donating to Hungrr. For the cost of one iPhone, the group reminds us, food banks can provide 9,000 meals to hungry people.

Update/correction: An earlier version of this post identified the news producer as being affiliated with NBC. Though the guy is hanging out in front of an NBC truck, he's actually from G4. In comments, a reader points to this Gothamist post which includes a statement from WNBC, New York's NBC affiliate.

"We looked into this serious matter thoroughly and are confident that the man in the video is not affiliated with WNBC. It's unfortunate that the incident took place in front of our NewsChannel 4 van, as there were many media outlets in the area covering the iPhone story."

Some readers also point out that Hungrr is not an official charity. That's right -- as I noted in the post, it's a for-profit company which promises to donate its profits to feeding the hungry. In the case of its iPhone auction, it says it will give 100 percent of its proceeds to the Northwest Louisiana Foodbank. If -- like the anonymous reader who notes that Hungrr hasn't provided any financial disclosures -- you worry that it's selling a bill of goods, feel free to donate elsewhere.

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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