The topic of poverty, lack of food and living in a ‘bad’ neighbourhood is something that hits close to home for myself and many other people. The topic of ‘poverty porn’ and people willing to flaunt this lack of money, food and stability however is something I’m not familiar with – the idea that people would willingly be open about their misfortune for whatever reason. Poverty isn’t typically beautiful, not unless it is exploited to the point where it is entertainment – disassociated with real life situations that real life people go through. Poverty porn is exploiting those who have no better reason to say no, people who have nothing left to lose.
‘Hunger Hurts,’ written by Jack Monroe is a situation people would be familiar with, a real-time take on what it is like to live of ‘snack dinners’ for the third night in a row because a parent is simply too tired from working more than one job to keep food in the cupboard – or because there is no food in the cupboard or in the pocket for a real meal. (Monroe, 2012)
Truthfully, you can’t know who is struggling beside you because it’s not always obvious. Clothes and technology can only signify wealth to a certain extent, you can’t know if they are planning on selling that fancy Macbook for a meal the next day. You won’t know unless you are told that someone if suffering, or that someone doesn’t have the money to make ends meet. This is what brings me to question why anybody would show their suffering so candidly to a national audience, like on ‘Struggle Street.’ (Threadgold, 2015) Things get difficult, people work many jobs, lose jobs, healthcare and benefits are cut and a lot of people don’t see how real that can also be to people who aren’t on drugs or “in commission housing because of laziness” (a common stigma) unless they have experienced it or it is shown to them. (Chambers, 2013)
It’s likely that the basis and rationale behind Jack Monroe’s post is to help people realise – and to help people – period. Television shows in documentary form like Struggle Street are shown for entertainment, missing the mark of it’s proposition to show suffering candidly to an audience and instead making a mockery of a bad situation that people go through daily, it’s sad to watch. The most interesting line in Monroe’s post is, “you can’t plead poverty with an omega on your wrist,” (Monroe, 2012) as some people don’t believe you have no money unless it looks like you have no money. You should always look visibly poor to incite sympathy from others, but most of the time all you will get is pity. You shouldn’t indulge if you have no money. Poverty isn’t quite understood in Australia, but how could you possibly know who is suffering? (Alcorn, 2016)
Students often have Centrelink to keep them balanced, to keep food on the table but that doesn’t mean that the thought of having spaghetti on toast for dinner every night can’t and won’t be a reality for me again because anything could happen. That was a reality for a homeless man who studied at Harvard to become a lawyer – an article that has received thousands of views – why? It’s relatable, the demographic of viewers a younger, studying population. Poverty can happen to anyone, and if it’s presented to us in a way that is relatable sympathy is likely to be given. (Debruge, 2015)
There are varying levels of poverty, so when does it become ‘porn?’ Is it when these people are presented as below us? When they are on drugs or drinking and it’s their fault that they are in that situation – or when we are swayed to believe it is why they are in that position. Where is the line between pity and familiarity when it comes to having no money? Where we can comfortably watch something like Struggle Street and say, “I don’t know what that’s like and I never will.” Is poverty porn ethical when it places the blame on those who are truly suffering? (Schaffer, Schaffer and Jim, 2017) What kind of response do we give as viewers, is it meant to be relatable or enjoyable?
If you haven’t suffered, you can’t truly relate. However you can watch – make a judgement without realising, which may vary from pity to uncomfortableness. Is it fair to have a patronising narrator to influence the response you will have upon viewing, whether it’s with good intentions or not? No, because good intentions can sometime make things worse, even in the best of situations – and poverty is most definitely not ‘the best of situations.’ (Debruge, 2015)All poverty porn in documentary style is dig a deeper hole and disconnect from the rest of society, from the ‘privileged’ as it is seen as entertainment, and gives them a bad view of the poor. It begs the question, “Is all coverage good coverage?” People tend to look at poverty as a choice, that these people must have done something wrong to get like that. Does presenting these dire situations on programs like Struggle Street really help anything, or just make it worse? (Savchuk, 2016) Is poverty porn only ‘porn’ if it’s not relatable? If we as viewers are being forced into a position of higher stance than what we are being shown, are we subconsciously putting ourselves above these people to the point where it is entertaining? I believe so. (Debruge, 2015)
Alcorn, G. (2016). Struggle Street is only poverty porn if we enjoy watching, then turn away. The Guardian, [online] pp.1-3. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/15/struggle-street-is-only-poverty-porn-if-we-enjoy-watching-then-turn-away %5BAccessed 20 Mar. 2017].
Chambers, K. (2013). The Truth about Poverty. [online] Anglicare.asn.au. Available at: http://www.anglicare.asn.au/docs/default-source/default-document-library/the-truth-about-poverty-_-the-punch.pdf?sfvrsn=4 [Accessed 20 Mar. 2017].
Debruge, P. (2015). Film Review: Poverty Inc. [online] Variety.com. Available at: http://variety.com/2015/film/reviews/poverty-inc-film-review-1201649597/ [Accessed 20 Mar. 2017].
Mccoy, T. (2015). The homeless man who went to Harvard Law with John Roberts. [online] Washington Post. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/social-issues/the-homeless-man-who-graduated-from-harvard-law-school-with-chief-justice-john-roberts/2015/07/13/63257b5c-20ca-11e5-bf41-c23f5d3face1_story.html?utm_term=.8bbddc1600ad [Accessed 20 Mar. 2017].
Muslimah Media Watch. (2010). MMW Roundtable on Time Magazine’s Aisha Cover. [online] Available at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mmw/2010/08/mmw-roundtable-on-time-magazines-aisha-cover/ [Accessed 20 Mar. 2017].
Monroe, J. (2012). Hunger Hurts. [Blog] Cooking on a bootstrap. Available at: https://cookingonabootstrap.com/2012/07/30/hunger-hurts/ [Accessed 20 Mar. 2017].
Savchuk, K. (2016). Poor Journalism: Is Media Coverage of the Poor Getting Better or Worse?. [online] Cal Alumni Association. Available at: https://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/just-in/2016-04-06/poor-journalism-media-coverage-poor-getting-better-or-worse [Accessed 20 Mar. 2017].
Schaffer, J., Schaffer, J. and Jim, M. (2017). Poverty Porn: Do the Means Justify the Ends? – Non Profit News For Nonprofit Organizations | Nonprofit Quarterly. [online] Non Profit News For Nonprofit Organizations | Nonprofit Quarterly. Available at: https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2016/06/10/poverty-porn-do-the-means-justify-the-ends/ [Accessed 20 Mar. 2017].
Threadgold, S. (2015). Struggle Street is poverty porn with an extra dose of class racism. [online] The Conversation. Available at: http://theconversation.com/struggle-street-is-poverty-porn-with-an-extra-dose-of-class-racism-41346 [Accessed 20 Mar. 2017].