I have seen adverts dedicated to showing the lifestyle and conditions of African children while asking for my donation. I have flickered through the channels on TV to come across shows depicting the poor and their life on the screen. But never did I know that these all fell under the same category as ‘poverty porn’, an issue I choose not to notice consciously until now. According to Steven Threadgold (2015) poverty porn refers to the westerner’s portrayal of global inequity, disease and hunger, ‘in a way that presents a distorted view of the disadvantaged”, by people who are more privileged (Threadgold, 2015). Others describe the term as a way of evoking sympathy and support for a given cause (Bright, 2013), which could even evoke enough emotions to call for action or change (Beresford 2016,p.421). Resulting in charities and the media using these tactics, as a way to grab our attention and to even create entertainment through TV shows. Though the question arises if the media should be exploiting the poor in this particular light, to the point where poverty porn may be damaging these individuals then creating positive outcomes.
Within Australia we have regard poverty by the amount of people living below the 50% household income (Australian Council of social service, 2016) and because of this we tend to class anyone below it as poor. As a result we see many TV shows and charities using this information to gain our attention. A perfect case study example can be found through the Australian documentary show Struggle Street on SBS (2015). Showing lives of local community members found within the suburb of Western Sydney, Mt Druitt, a place known for their crime rate and low standard of living. Chelsea Bond from the Conversation (2016) highlights this type of documentary demonstrates a “one dimensional story of poverty”(Bond, 2016) stating the show failed in its challenge to take away the ‘status quo’ in how we think about poverty, by given and fueling our stereotypical views associated with the poor.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008) is another movie that depicts the debate of poverty porn and its exploitation. The movie plot tells the story of a Mumbai teen that reflects on his upbringing in the slums of India, when accused of cheating on a TV show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”. However the movie brings up issue of exploitation and distortion by many critics, who view the film as glorifying the poorest people found in India (Bisht, 2009, pg.17). Criticising that the film is reflecting the Western fascination with ‘ poverty porn’ (Bisht, 2009, pg.17). Ever Since the movie first realise and the success of the film winning an Academy Award, the slums of Mumbai have seen an increase of tourist tours visiting the area (Chin, 2016). Thus illustrating an emotional connection between Western audiences, and the depiction of the characters shown through the movie to create a certain point of view (Chin, 2009).
According to The LA Times (2009) the release of the movie saw many Indians being disappointed in how the movie was showing their culture. Particularly by using another stereotypical depiction of their nations poor, to the western world for entertainment by using graphic images (Magnier, 2009). The article furthers their claim by stating the film was made with the purpose to create international success through themes that would touch a chord with the western audiences (Magnier, 2009). Shyamaml Segupta, a film professor at the Whistling Woods International Institute in Mumbai, highlights the film is a “white man’s imagined India” stating the film has brought the term ‘poverty porn’ into popular consciousness (Dudek & Lee, 2014, p.73).
( Source: Of image)
Unfortunately charities have also been known to use poverty porn in their campaigns. Australia is no exception, many non-profit aid organization use images portraying people in a “pitiful way” to manipulate their fundraising (Murdoch, 2016). The ACFID state“ campaigns should honestly convey the context and complexity of the situation in which local people live”(cited by Murdoch, 2016). The charity Sunrise Cambodia, has received serious backlash and criticism for poverty porn, after portraying a village girl, an orphan child over in Cambodia as “dirty, miserable and disheveled”(Murdoch, 2016). Labeling her as a sex worker in their latest advertisement for their charity. Critics are concerned that the young girl will now have to live with the stigma being placed upon her as a sex worker for the rest of her life (Murdoch, 2016). The chief executive of the ACFID , Marc Purcell , claimed Sunrise Cambodia did not hold up to the standard of the ACFID code , suggesting to the charity to not use images that manipulate a story in order “to portray people in a pitiful way”( cited by Murdoch , 2016). Thus raising the question about poverty porn and pity charity. The practice where charities use hard images in order to gain and draw empathy and donations, even if it means showing children in a stereotypical role. Liena Srivastava criticizes the idea of poverty porn for depicting those who are trying to find aid as it “evokes the idea that the poor are helpless and incapable of helping themselves” creating the notion of disrespect (cited by Bright, 2013).
It is evident that popular culture and the media have used poverty porn to grab our attention, whether that is through shock or just for entertainment purposes. Though the question remains does poverty porn bring justice to the poor? To some critics like Richard Chin (2009) poverty porn is just an excuse for the western world to create a quick catchy entertainment to watch.
I would love to hear your thoughts; do you believe this to be the case?
As always all the best
- Australian Council of social service 2006, Poverty in Australia, SPRC, University of New South Wales, viewed 29th March 2017, <http://www.acoss.org.au/poverty-2/>.
- Beresford, P 2016, ‘Presenting welfare reform: poverty porn, telling sad stories or achieving change?, Disability & Society, vol. 31, no. 3, pp. 421-425.
- Bisht, T 2009, ”Poverty Porn’ and the Politics of Representation’, Eureka Street, vol. 19, no. 14, pp. 16-17.
- Bright, W 2013, Poverty Porn: Media that intentionally exploits people in poor conditions, WordPress, weblog post, 18th September, viewed 29th March 2017, <https://walterbright.org/2013/09/18/poverty-porn-media-that-intentionally-exploits-people-in-poor-conditions/>.
- Bond, C 2016, Why I struggle with the idea of struggle street filming in my suburb, The conversation, weblog post, 20th May, viewed 29th March 2017, <http://theconversation.com/why-i-struggle-with-the-idea-of-struggle-street-filming-in-my-suburb-59678>.
- Chin, R 2009, ‘Slumdog Millionaire: Debate Poverty not “Poverty Porn”,’ Huffington post, 4th July, viewed 29th March, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-chin/slumdog-millionaire-debat_b_172646.html#>.
- Dudek, I, & Lee, k 2014, ‘How rich?: Crazy rich’, ArtAsiaPacific, no. 88, pp. 73-75.
- Magnier, M 2009, ‘Indians don’t feel good about ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ Los Angles Times, 24th January, viewed 29th March, <http://articles.latimes.com/2009/jan/24/world/fg-india-slumdog24>.
- Murdoch, L 2016, ‘Poverty porn: Charity body denounces use of ‘pity’ advertising in fundraising campaigns,’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 7th June, viewed 29th March, <http://www.smh.com.au/world/lindsay-20160607-gpdeec.html>.
- Threadgold, S 2015, Struggle Street is poverty porn with an extra dose of class racism, The conversation, weblog post, 6th May, viewed 29th May 2017, <http://theconversation.com/struggle-street-is-poverty-porn-with-an-extra-dose-of-class-racism-41346>.