Poverty Porn; exploiting the most vulnerable for fundraising and entertainment.

 

‘Poverty porn’ is a very confronting phrase. As soon as you read that you feel uncomfortable. They are two words which hold very negative connotations, and coupled together they feel very unsettling and unpleasant.

Which honestly is perfect because that reaction sums up exactly what poverty porn is.

Defined as ‘any type of media, be it written, photographed or filmed, which exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for selling newspapers or increasing charitable donations or support given for a cause.’ It refers to all of those charity ads which utilize young children tagging behind disheveled mothers on a dirt road, in between run down houses in order to obtain a sympathetic response from viewers. It exploits individuals’ economic situations and has been criticized for lacking dignity of those it portrays.
Used in many fundraising campaigns one of the first more notable was called ‘Live Aid‘ in 1985. Featuring huge names like Queen and U2, Live Aid raised over $125,000,000 through a concert in a bid to end world poverty. It was later criticized for oversimplifying poverty and songs titled ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ were found to be demeaning. Once it came to light in the age before the internet of 1986, that Ethiopia the country so stricken by famine in all the advertisements was engaged in a man made, country crippling world war, and those at Live Aid had just raised a huge wad of cash to hand over to the country’s’ leaders, people begun to question a lot of things about the whole construct.

 

This phenomenon is one still seen today. Many charities use forms of ‘poverty porn’ to raise revenue and increase support from the public.  One recent example comes from an orphanage in Phenom Penh in Cambodia run by Geraldine Cox called Sunrise Cambodia.

 

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This ad depicts 3 children living in the orphanage as disheveled and undignified individuals who can be saved with your measly donation of $500. Further the portrayal of this underage girl as a sex worker, where investigators have claimed she in fact is not involved in sex work, will be paired with her photo online and shared worldwide. Ramification of which she will have to live with her whole life. It is unethical to use undignified images of individuals in order to shock and manipulate the generous public by promoting pity.

Not only is this done in developing countries, there are examples of poverty porn in Australia. The SBS documentary ‘Struggle Street’ has been accused of stereotyping those struggling with poverty.

“Like mainstream sexual porn that produces sexualised images from the male gaze for male gratification, poverty porn produces abjectifying images of the poor through a privileged gaze for privileged gratification.” -Steven Threadgold, 2015

Depicting the characters as lazy ‘dole bludgers’ who could solve being poor if they just got off the couch does nothing to actually solve the problem. Being confronted by what is shown in the documentary is one thing, but unless something is done to attack the root of the cause of generational class warfare and deep entrenched social inequality, the documentary purely is entertainment. ‘Bogans’ have always copped a lot of criticism over the years, namely for being stereotyped as lazy, dole bludging racists. However this obviously is not the case and does nothing to solve the problem.

For poverty to realistically be abolished we need a lot more than undignified portrayals of the general public. Social inequality needs to be addressed and deeper economic, mental health, class and community problems must be attacked at the root before we blame the poor for situations often out of their control.

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