A different kind of porn

When it comes to porn, our minds immediately jump to dodgy websites and Playboy magazines. We picture an industry of explicit content that exploits its subjects.

Bring this exploitation to the advertising industry for developing countries and you get poverty porn, defined by Matt Collin 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.” (Aid Thoughts, 2009)

The situation in developing countries is dire and not-for-profit organisations have an extremely difficult and meaningful job in front of them. The richer are getting richer and the poorer are becoming poorer, and no one can really know what it is like in a third world country until they go and experience it for themselves. Desperate times call for desperate measures, however do foundations and campaigns to raise funds for projects to assist those in developing countries go too far when it comes to their advertising?

Poverty porn is, in a nutshell, the exploitation of a subject in the media. Of course, the more powerful the campaign the more likely an organisation is to gain funds from people. Hence media campaigns have spurted containing confronting images, videos and stories with the goal to move audiences enough that they donate. In this process, however, we find that campaigns are exploiting subjects in third world countries to gain these powerful and highly emotive stories.

The video ‘Jack Black meets homeless boy’ was published as part of the Red Nose movements campaign, sending the Hollywood star to Uganda to, as they subtly titled the video, meet a homeless boy. The goal was for us as an audience to be particularly touched when one of the rich and famous realise how material their western life is and feel sympathy for the subject of the video, Felix, as he barely survives in extreme poverty.

There was nothing shocking when Jack Black states at the beginning of the video that “he isn’t going to cry” and then concludes with crying about how unfair the world is – we all are too. On a most likely all-expenses paid with reimbursement for his time trip, the celebrity donates a precious 24 hours of his time to spend it following a little boy, Felix, as he shows him his life on the streets of the city and talks about life without a family. At the end of the day, Felix shows Jack where he sleeps outside at night on the dirt and, as any little homeless boy would, asks if Jack Black can take him home with him. The company has used Felix for his story and gotten his hopes up only to crush them on camera and advertise it to thousands back in our privileged world.

Somehow, a celebrity who can afford to pay $3000 for his son’s app bill but isn’t donating anything to this little boy is supposed to convince the average income earner to donate their money to Red Nose’s cause. Hence, we have porn; a poorly executed video exploiting a subject to get the audience’s money.

With good intentions, there’s a fine line between making an impact through media and campaigning and going too far in a swamp of donation-focused charity. Huffington Post’s article article articulates quite well that advertising doesn’t empower the poor, instead makes them be seen as helpless cases that westerners can swoop in and save with a careless monetary donation without creating a deeper understanding of the epidemic.

You’ve also got the outright fake, with Sunshine Cambodia being accused of faux advertising.

poverty porn

The children did agree to be models for the advertisement, however their stories and captions are embellished by the organisation. In their attempt to help children like these, they have exploited them in the process of doing so.

It’s a difficult advertising pitch to nail – how do you make people sympathise strongly enough without including the stories of suffering? Global media does exist to inform, however really only the authentic experience of developing countries allows for a deeper understanding of poverty. In the mean time, there needs to be a shift from throwing money at people to helping them sustain their own communities that doesn’t use poverty porn to do so.

 

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