‘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.
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.
The act of taking a picture of oneself has somehow become a very contested topic. Some call it conceited and narcissistic, and others view it as self-love, body positivity and self-empowerment through positive reinforcement. However how did we get here and why has something which seems so innocent gained so much hate?
A google search of the word ‘Selfie’ brings up an array of different results. After the Wiki page, the first link is one which takes you to a pornographic site, ‘Half Nude Selfies: Hot Sexy Selfies- Almost Naked Girls’. The second link is one which contains ‘fitness’ selfies alongside a Pinterest post on how to take good selfies. Further down the page you reach a Career One post about what your selfies say about you in a professional sense. Now the broad results shown by the term are explore how diverse the selfie has become. Not only have they become somewhat sexualized, they also have become a part of how we ‘brand’ ourselves in the sense of how we want other people to view our online personas.
One interesting commentary on the act of selfie taking was completed by the artist Shahak Shapira in his piece ‘Yolocaust‘. After being fed up with people taking photos of themselves often depicting light hearted takes at questionable locations and sharing them on the internet. He compiled a collection of these photos and contrasted them with what the selfies were essentially mocking. One of the examples was selfies being taken at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.
Image Credit- ‘Yolocaust’ Shahak Shapira, 2017
The juxtaposition of these selfies exposes how people often take photos without thinking at many places, especially when travelling, even if it may be considered disrespectful. The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin was constructed in memory of all who were killed and suffered during WW11 in concentration camps and due to persecution. Placing the selfies in real images from these times shows how idiotic it is to use such a place of mourning and memory to snap a quick piccy for Instagram or Facebook.
This constant posting of photos and selfies on numerous social media accounts, relates to the increasing trend of individuals attempting to ‘brand’ themselves in their online persona. By creating an interesting profile where individuals come off as happy, adventurous and living exciting lives, people are ultimately creating consumers out of their friends lists. Where the individual has the control to choose what parts of them and their life are consumed. It’s easy to post about the fabulous dinner you just had a fancy restaurant accompanied by a photo of yourself and 3 other friends with delicious looking plates of food in front of you. Followed by a quirky caption of course. However what probably isn’t seen quite as regularly is the following Monday’s dinner when you come home from work, too tired to go grocery shopping and too poor for takeout so you literally settle for a bowl of Weet-Bix to sustain yourself. Unless you’re running the Uni Students on a Budget Facebook page, this usually isn’t the image people portray of themselves, online where anybody is able to see and judge.
The ability to choose what we convey ourselves as online has lead to some discussions regarding female sexuality and empowerment. Many girls post selfies of themselves on Instagram and Facebook which sometimes lead to backlash. Posting naked or nude selfies online has been criticized and praised by equal amounts. Many people are quick to ‘slut-shame’, claim those who post the pictures are attention seeking whores who are just hungry for likes. But many also find the act of posting these pictures themselves, and thus controlling their self-image in this way is empowering and beneficial for self- confidence reasons. Citing that it really doesn’t matter to anyone else what girls (and sometimes boy’s) post of themselves on the internet, and people should have the right to choose to do so without hate. One of the recent famous examples of this was a photo posted by Kim Kardashian after giving birth and celebrating her return to her normal weight.
The selfie has been ridiculed and laughed at, but really there is a lot more to them than just a quirky self-portrait followed by a humorous caption. The logistics of creating an online persona go way deeper than ‘just a photo’, with technology shaping the way we allow others to see us constantly.