The mission statement on http://www.bumfights.com reads:
The purpose of these videos, through satire and sensationalism, is to call attention to the global epidemics of poverty, violence, addiction, and lack of education. Fighting and violence of any form is ignorant and pathetic. Although the images we capture are often shocking, we do not believe these aspects of society should be kept hidden or ignored. You’ll see grown men trade blows on the streets, chick fights, stunts, sick pranks, crime caught on tape, crack heads, supermodels, and the most hardcore ruckus ever filmed. But please do not miss the point of these videos! Educate yourself. Help those who are less fortunate. Spread love not hate.
Now if spreading the love means paying homeless men donuts, beer and the occasional ten dollar bill to light their hair on fire, ram their own heads into dumpsters, and pummel each other silly with fists and feet in real street brawls all for the purpose of selling gratuitous low-budget/high profit videos, then Las Vegas filmmakers Ty Beeson and Ray Laticia guys are just selflessly continuing Mother Theresa’s work.
If, on the other hand, spreading the love refers to a love of the filthy lucre the duo have spread around their individual bank accounts based on video and tee shirt sales, then they’re just a couple of dick-headed insensitive scumbags who got rich by exploiting the less fortunate.
It’s not as if the video (filmed mostly in Las Vegas, and parts of San Diego) isn’t compelling, because it is. The grit and grime of the lives of the seedier and less fortunate have always fascinated audiences. It’s been a staple of the ten-cent pulp novel and a number of Hollywood movies. Charles Dickens made a career on the theme. The difference is Dickens never profited from his soot-covered, down-on-their-luck, plucky, orphaned street urchins, by filming them perform oral surgery on themselves.
Dickens’ forlorn characters were fictional; these men are sadly real.
Below is an excerpt from Fox News in 2002 with host Greta Van Susteren:
VAN SUSTEREN: Why didn’t you send him to a dentist instead of handing him pliers?
BEESON: Because he needed it out at that point in time, and sometimes in the streets, it gets rough, and you’ve got do whatever it takes. That’s real life.
VAN SUSTEREN: Lots of people get real-life toothaches, Ty, and they go to the dentist.
BEESON: You’re right. A lot of them do, but- but when you’re on the streets and you can’t, you’ve got a – and you’ve got a tooth that’s bothering you, then you do whatever it takes.
VAN SUSTEREN: How can you call it real when it’s staged, when you’re paying people to pull their teeth out with pliers and you’re paying them to do stunts that are dangerous, to bang their heads against walls? How is that?
BEESON: Well, how could you say it’s staged when that was his real tooth and he really pulled it out with the pliers?
VAN SUSTEREN: Did you pay him to do it?
BEESON: Did we pay him to pull out his teeth?
VAN SUSTEREN: Yeah.
Now it’s entirely possible these guys don’t consider pocket change and a sixer of cheap domestic “paying,” and it’s a good bet they didn’t report the transaction to the IRS, but it’s still not a crazy assumption to assume Beeson and Laticia did provide some sort of incentive for a mentally unstable man to extract his own teeth on video for their enrichment.
And that is the biggest problem with the producers of Bumfights. It’s not that they filmed people of dubious mental capacity, riding shopping carts down flights of stairs; Jackass has done that, and it was funny. It’s not that they documented vicious beatings; we can see that on any number of Ultimate Fight challenges on cable TV, and it can be thrilling. It’s not even the segment known as “Bumhunter.” The conceit of this loose-parody is Australian adventurer “Steve Urban” sneaks up on real homeless men as they sleep. The derelict vagrants are confused and panicked as they are awakened by an actor, aggressively wrestling them; measuring their shoulder blades, and printing numbers on their foreheads in indelible ink in order to “track” them. Saturday Night Live has been lampooning taboo subjects for years with varying degrees of comical effect, but the actors and writers of that show are well compensated for any humiliating or degrading sketch they choose to perform.
The problem with the producers of Bumfights is they became millionaires by filming real-life hardships, (crack-addiction, homelessness and genuine street violence) coaxing wandering itinerants into fierce battles, deliberately physically assaulting desolate men as they slept in squalor, and according to Rufus “the Stunt Bum” Hannah, they never shared the wealth with any of these dispossessed men specifically.
Hannah is now sober and employed. He says he is ashamed of what he did, but he “just wanted some money to get drunk.” According to a New York Times article, Hannah claims he was never paid a ten dollars a stunt, and has recently settled a lawsuit against the filmmakers.
Would-be movie moguls Beeson and Laticia are on record saying they plan on donating a percentage of the proceeds of the film (and subsequent sequels and spin-offs) to a homeless charity. At this time they have not. Whether or not newly wealthy auteurs are dirtier than any of the unfortunates they filmed seems fairly obvious.