Suffering in the media.
I feel like it can be a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
The phrase “poverty porn”, has been used to describe a sensationalised coverage of poverty. And I totally agree. In some aspects. I don’t agree with the notion that it covers all images of suffering in the media. Where it is seen to be profitable for a cooperation, and instances where the suffering of the viewer is the focus as opposed to the suffering of the victim. Then yes. I agree that this is poverty porn.
The media also has this ability to make it easier to process. Through representation, it can create “otherness” according to Bisht (2009). Where we can scroll past an image, reflect on our emotions towards the suffering of the subject, reaffirm our humanity and move on.
Where’s the line though? If I flick past the image of the suffering child in Cambodia on Facebook, am I inhumane for not being able to look at the truth, or if I stop, am I getting satisfaction from the image because it upsets me and that clarifies my humanity? I feel like the outcome is the same.
What happens with the next step? If someone watches an image of that child suffering and then does something about it, i.e. goes with a charity to rebuild a community, or simply puts in a donation. Is that furthering this idea of poverty porn, because we are further feeding our need for clarification of our humanity? Or can we be left alone to do what we feel is right?
I don’t believe that all forms of suffering in the media should be considered “poverty porn”.
I think if we are dictated to remove images of suffering from all forms of media then that in itself is imposing that those who suffer are not worthy of being considered art. Like I started with. Double-sided coin.
Kevin Carter was a photojournalist who composed pictures of sever suffering. A particular image that he is known for is an image featuring a suffering, malnourished child with a vulture standing over it in the background. He was highly criticised for this image.
The public was suggesting that instead of standing back, the photographer should have intervened in the situation, and helped out the little girl. Yes this may have been something positive to add to an incredibly negative and macabre situation, however it wasn’t necessarily his place to intervene.
For a start, the audience aren’t fully aware of the situation, what is out the frame of the photograph. They probably don’t fully understand the situation in this country, and they can’t comprehend what the photographer is going through either.
The call to the photographer about not acting comes across as a push to shift the blame. The audience no longer have to accept responsibility for this little girl, nor do they have to feel guilty for her situation, of which they are unfamiliar with.
I don’t see this image as poverty porn. I see this image as a call to action. It hasn’t been altered to shift the blame. It is a raw image, with a considered composure, and exposes the public to a situation. It doesn’t use a call to action, it doesn’t attempt to create a sense of paternalism so as to say we should help the child. The audience is left to take the response it chooses.
One of the main issues with poverty porn is the manipulation and misconception created around the poverty. There is no agency, and these people living in austerity are defined by their poverty. This article talks further about the other issues, however I saw this as the most relevant. It answers my question about the Facebook commercials, and images that are designed to draw a sense of empathy, and draw out action for that. I hate them. I understand action needs to be taken. I don’t understand why these people need to be painted as completely helpless, and desperate for my dollar. I would rather see them be helped in an economically viable way, so as to continue on their own, not charity.
What are your feelings around this?
Jack Monroe: Blog. I found this inspiring and raw, and an incredible insight into a world I have seen sensationalised.
TED talk by Jack Monroe
Bisht, T, 2009. “’Poverty Porn’ and the politics of representation”, Eurekastreet, Vol. 19, Issue. 14, pp. 16-17.