If you are not familiar with the concept, Poverty porn is the exploitation of the poor to provoke sympathy or donation to a specific cause with the use of media. Basically, these are the black and white dramatic images of indigent children or the documentaries of disease-stricken babies. It is any form of media that can make the privileged feel condolence and feel the need to donate to an organization, thinking that they have done their part to make these people’s lives ultimately better; when in reality, it takes more than just a donation to solve a massive global issue.
There is also the notion in poverty porn that the worse the imagery is, the better chance of an emotional impact on people. This means that people are more likely to respond or react to a petrifying poster of a starving little boy from Africa, than to a photo of a smiling homeless man. Why? Because “worse is best”.
First of all, some non-governmental organizations utilize poverty porn for selfish gain. The money given by certain people to support a cause might not be used to actually help the ones in need.
Second, an article written by Emily Roenigk featured on ONE Organization explains five reasons why Poverty Porn “empowers the wrong person”:
1. Poverty porn misinterprets poverty
"Poverty porn shows grotesque crises, often through individual stories, that audiences can easily mend through a simple solution or donation. Poverty porn makes a complex human experience understandable, consumable and easily treatable.”
Solving a social issue is not a click away, nor is it curable by sharing an article on Facebook. Donating material things do help, but experiencing poverty is far more complicated to be fixed by money.
2. Poverty porn leads to charity, not activism
“It tells the poor that they are helpless beneficiaries and it tells financially secure donors that they are the saviors. In this dynamic, donors are told that they are the only ones with the ability to make a difference. Nothing is said about what it would look like to empower the poor and walk alongside them to help them realize their inherent ability to be the change agents in their own communities.”
The poor might be in need, but they are not completely incapable of helping themselves. To an extent, thinking that the privileged are the poor’s only hope is not just problematic but also degrading.
3. Poverty porn misinterprets the poor
“Poverty doesn’t only look like a starving child with flies on his face. In fact, poverty doesn’t look any particular way. It is multi-faceted and should be depicted as such.”
Also, if one only defines being “poor” as lacking funds or assets, he/she doesn’t even know the half of it. Being poverty-stricken also affects the psychological and emotional state of a person, it is not just a physical or material issue.
4. Poverty porn deceives the helper and the helped
“First, Poverty porn tells donors that because of their position in society and because of their resources they have the ability to be the saviors in vulnerable communities they might know nothing about....Second, poverty porn debilitates the helped. Poverty porn objectifies its subjects, defining them by their suffering and stripping them of the vital components of all human life – agency, autonomy and unlimited potential.”
This is perpetuating a stereotype that the poor are indeed impotent. Instead of the media showing that they can make a difference in their own lives, the fortunate are called to believe that the less fortunate are totally dependent on what they give; which then suppresses their capabilities to create change by themselves.
5. Poverty porn works.
“...audiences are more likely to make a financial donation when an ad shows a child that is suffering, rather than happy and healthy. At the end of the day, poverty porn is the result of well-meaning organizations attempting to raise money for their programs, and it works. This raises an important question – is the profitability of poverty porn worth the perpetuation of false ideologies and stereotypes? I say no....According to Strivastava, if we want to truly transform communities so they are economically and socially just, we have to create avenues for their voices to be heard. We cannot impose our constructs on them.”
Need I say more?
So what do you think of this so-called ‘Poverty porn’?
- Reign Gonzales
photo sources: 1 2 3