Previously, I had never even heard of the term ‘poverty porn’. After punching it into Google, the never ending list of explanations was incredible.
“Poverty porn is dangerous”
“What is wrong with poverty porn?”
“5 reasons why poverty porn empowers the wrong person”
I even stumbled upon the Wikipedia definition:
“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”
After some serious article and YouTube browsing, it became clear to me that this so-called “poverty porn” is all around western media culture.
We really do get off on it as much as pornography addicts get off on well, pornography.
There is so much saturation in the media of famished children’s faces, sad African people crying out for help and documentaries on trailer park people. The BBC in The UK has even created a reality show that recreates the living conditions of Victorian Britain. The main objective is to observe their struggle living and working in extremely tough conditions followed by reminding ourselves of how lucky we are after switching off the television.
Us as a western audience are being asked to feel pity for what is put before us. If we don’t feel pity, what does that make us?
Horrible, snobby and selfish.
Sometimes we are even being asked to open our wallets. Sure, we may shed a tear for the Syrian refugees begging for food as they flee their homes, and we may even donate a few spare pieces of golden shrapnel to feed a few starving children. But what does this exactly achieve?
So, you think that you are changing the world, hm?
But first, let me show you another definition:
If you don’t also agree that shedding a tear to a pair of begging eyes on your plasma tv is not shirking responsibility, I don’t know what is.
Collectively, we are feeding an industry of misconstrued images all for the gain for wealthy individuals, just so we can reassure ourselves that we are not just rich snobs. I strongly believe that poverty porn is creating a massive western “cop out culture”.
“poverty porn leads to charity, not activism: donors, not advocates.” (Roenigk, 2014)
This really isn’t our fault, because the everyday westerner cannot control the media’s portrayal of suffering. We sure do influence the media’s portrayal (because those slimy suckers know that we have a soft spot for dying, sick children), but nowadays it is almost impossible to escape these haunting images and stories of suffering.
“Images of buzzing flies, begging eyes, and bloated bellies flood television screens and print media in an attempt to pull at heartstrings and garner donations.”(Nathanson, 2013)
However, not all hope is lost because society has attempted to strike back at the culture of “othering” Africa through poverty porn. Their aim is to enlighten the world about how Africa too can be portrayed in a positive light and doesn’t only exist as a western source of pity. They are pretty much saying that *shock* *horror*, there is another side to the story!
Under the Twitter hashtag #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou, contemporary African individuals are attempting to end the media’s constant theme of African suffering.
Let’s just take the time to take a deep breath and admit that we get off on ourselves feeling bad for the sufferers out there. I really don’t think this is a bad thing at all, but then again, is there even much point? The least we could all do is recognise this and study the definition of a “cop out”. Then you can decide for yourself if you would like to to give the homeless man on the corner 5 dollars.