It is hard to ignore that in today’s society, suffering, death, sickness and tradgety are in the forefront of all media and in our faces every single day. We are asked to donate to charities, suggested to sponsor a child and even to simply share or like a Facebook page/image/link, in order to create awareness and spread the issue throughout the social media world. Is this all done however for the good of the subjects, or for promotional and business perspectives?
Almost 15% of Australia’s population is living in poverty. That’s a confronting 2.5 million people, many of which are children. This is not okay and something that must change. Is enough being done to create awareness on a national level? Should more be done?
The SBS documentary, Struggle Street, claims it was attempting to do just that – create awareness of what poverty in Australia looks like and depict, though images and real footage, how some people have to live. However, there was much dispute and outrage after the relies of the first episode last year, with many saying it was disrespectful and that the ‘documentary’ was essentially making fun of these people who live ‘on the dole.’ The guardian published an article about the backlash of the series and how it was seen to have exploited the lives of the subjects shown. The article raises the question, ‘is any coverage, good coverage?’
While many people did not sympathise at all with any of the individuals on the show, and many finding it a disturbing joke with most of the episodes containing swearing, drug use, fighting and eating fast food; it is also extremely hard to look away. This raises many questions… Is it poverty porn? Is it making fun of these poor people? Is it making little of such a big issue, which is an even bigger problem in other countries? Or is it sending an important message about poverty in Australia?
Struggle Street was highly talked about due to its images and way of portraying many individual was truly shocking. But did it send the right message? It definitely brought it to the attention of many – that people in Australia are suffering, and will do almost anything for money. Whether the subjects can truly help it is the real question…
What is poverty porn exactly? Steven Threadbold says it’s ‘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.’ Basically, people make these types of videos, for other people to make fun of the subjects and to have a laugh about their life.
Poverty porn, also known as development porn or famine porn, has been 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 for a given cause”
Poverty porn is also evident in images where the subject is depicted in a beautiful or inspiring way, but are truly deprived, sick, mistreated and unfortunate. The set of images below create artistic pieces out of those who are suffering… is this ethical? Is this okay if we are using these images to send a particular message about poverty and famine? Or is exploiting the individuals in the images? Is better or worse if these images are staged?
from his book Sahel the End of the Road 2004 (about the drought in Sahel region of Africa)
A vulture watches a starving child in southern Sudan, March 1 1993 (Kevin Carter)
I believe it is much worse if you are using real people in desperate conditions, and staging them for photographs; no matter what the intentions are. Suffering should not serve as entertainment purposes, for art, for commercial reasons or for fame; but unfortunately in today’s society, and with social media being an easily accessed, information sharing medium, it’s very easy and common to do.
To read more on a similar topic visit Amelia Murphy’s blog post. I believe she pointed out some very important issues and topics on the subject, and shows some great examples.