Community, charity & Craigslist

Craigslist can be a curious place, with ads often viewed with much suspicion and wariness.

While I was abroad in first year, the idea of “couchsurfing”, crashing on a stranger’s couch, to experience a foreign European city from a local’s perspective greatly appealed to me.

In the end, my doubts tempered my sense of adventure, and I eventually found myself at hostels – but do online communities such as Couchsurfing and Craiglist warrant a hyper vigilance regarding personal safety?

In our pervasively digital age of communication, 29-year-old Joseph Garner demonstrates that these qualms may be be unfounded.

In the 2012 documentary Craigslist Joe, Garner and a videographer (who he interestingly found on Craigslist) undertake a one-month long journey across America, surviving solely on the goodwill and charity of Craigslist users for food and accommodations.

When Garner cuts all ties with his family and friends, he truly tests the authenticity and sense of community behind Craigslist users. Garner inevitably comes face to face with an odd array of free spirits with a penchant for travel and adventure, but the most impactful moments are his interactions with genuine people, often overlooked in the larger scheme of society, that try to make a difference in their respective communities.

Lived experiences manifest into life altering views. Simply put, Garner comes into contact with such a large spectrum of characters, and his subjective experience provides many thought-provoking universal lessons.

From the elderly woman diagnosed with cancer to orthodox Jewish people celebrating Hanukkah to the dominatrix sharing peculiar home videos to young children with incarcerated parents, Garner affords his audience no missed opportunity in his social forays that take him from the West coast to the east and back – and, eventually to Sans Francisco to meet the CEO of Craigslist.

Garner takes away from his experience an understanding of the passion and drive behind not-for-profit organizations and selfless individuals. His tears and overwhelming emotions reveal true moments of compassion.

Though many encounters, such as a one-night stay with a stolid, but good-natured ex-marine, may be short-lived, Garner also makes many lasting and meaningful connections: he volunteers with disadvantaged refugee children and an Iranian family welcomes him into their home. Conviviality and polite dinner talk quickly turns to serious conversation around Americans and their unfortunate distrust of Iraqi Americans following 9/11.

Far from portraying an artificial ideal of online naivety and constant positive attitudes, Garner’s documentary excels for showing the inevitable mishaps and contingent plans. Cars break down. Some Craigslist users fail to even show up – but it’s the overwhelming majority of positive experiences that uplift this documentary as mere video footage.

Garner’s diverse interactions with an array of groups provide social commentary endorsing a positive outlook on the charitable nature of others. The social resonance of Garner’s personal encounters with vulnerable and selfless figures will continue to pique your interest – no two encounters are the same.

Admittedly, Craigslist may not be the first place I’ll turn to when looking to purchase a car or to find a convenient rideshare, but Garner’s refreshing social experiment will always remain a reminder that people are more than a Craigslist username.

This documentary isn’t a mere collaging of Garner’s experiences with various Craigslist users. Craigslist Joe traverses many cultural and social spheres. Its dimension beyond youthful backpacking and wishful thinking elevates this documentary as an impetuous must-see on Netflix.

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