Where’s the humanity?

If you have not yet watched ‘Blackfish’ (2013), please go to your nearest available Netflix and spend the next hour doing so. The documentary was premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January of that year and is a prime example of a well executed and emotive project to make audiences aware of a specific issue.

Documenting the capture and following life of killer whale Tilikum as a performer at USA’s Seaworld, ‘Blackfish’ gives insight into the mistreatment of orca’s in Seaworld, the tragic deaths of several Seaworld trainers during shows and how Seaworld withheld information from their own employees. Not for anyone seeking some lighthearted entertainment, ‘Blackfish’ was one of those pieces that make you lose faith in humanity. In cases of animals killing humans, human life is constantly placed at a higher value over animal life, and we solve cases of animals causing harm to humans my terminating the animal’s life.

The fact of the ‘Blackfish’ matter is, had Tilikum never been captured and taken from the wild, he would never have been responsible for deaths in the first place. Affirming the argument for nurture over nature, the mistreatment and poor environment that Tilikum was kept in for his life was the reason he felt the need to kill; there was no other way that he could communicate his frustration. For Tilikum, the trainers were his source of food and companionship and therefore integral to his survival. At the same time, however, to him they would have been the ones responsible for his extremely diminished quality of life and separation from his community and natural environment.

Seaworld displayed a total disregard to life, both human and animal, all in the name of profit, along with an ignorance of the ramifications of interfering with the natural order. Not only did they heartlessly tear these whales away from their communities, there was a huge OH&S issue when they covered up deaths as “drownings” and did not make their employees aware of the risks involved in their jobs or the deaths of trainers at other Seaworld locations. On top of this, Seaworld was giving false information to their employees about the orca’s, who then communicated this information to Seaworld visitors. Employees believed that killer whales lives around 30-40 years, when in the wild they had life spans similar to that of a human and lived to about 100 years. Their lives in captivity were so poor that the whale’s health would extremely deteriorate and they would only live out less than half of their expected life span.

What would make anyone think that they are entitled to interfere with the life of another and change their natural course? It’s the widely held belief that humans are separate from animals and hold a much higher value. In historic examples such as the Stolen Generation, it is completely unjust for humans to be forcefully taken from their homes and communities and spend their lives away from their families. This is constantly done in the wild, for our food and entertainment, but we largely turn a blind eye.

Some would argue that that is the way of the world; we have to eat, therefore killing is necessary. In the case of ‘Blackfish’, however, this argument is completely redundant. Humans can certainly go without the whale shows, and with today’s technology there are numerous other ways of bringing simulations of a live underwater experience to crowds. We’ve all been to the zoo and the aquarium, but our lives would not be in any way diminished if those experiences didn’t exist in the first place. Human greed was the only reason that Tilikum was captured and taken from his environment.

What’s interesting to examine is the relationship between humans, animals and the environment. We were all put here to survive together yet humans have established themselves as superior. Without us, however, the world would keep spinning. In terms of the mistreatment to animals, where do we draw the line? Under capturing killer whales but over the poor treatment and slaughter of animals for our food? How have we figured out this hierarchy – in survival of the fittest, how would humans compare?


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.


Keeping Up With Kim K’s Selfies

Personally, I’m not one for taking selfies regularly. It’s good enough that I make it out of bed every day, let alone be photo ready with the right lighting. The topic of selfies has previously not really held that much importance to me. I certainly don’t feel confident enough to post any solo ones (you might wake up like this but I mostly wake up looking like I’ve been dragged along tarmac), but am partial to a snapchat selfie with friends at social gatherings for the memories. I’ve always held the attitude that if you feel confident enough to post a selfie, good on you.

Apparently not an attitude held by everyone, however, when Kim K’s nude selfie entered our Instagram feeds. Some people did not feel that a bangin’, post pregnancy bod was a good enough excuse to be posting a nude. Not even when, thanks to the sexism of Instagram’s hidden terms and conditions, she covered her breasts and vag with black bars in case, heaven forbid, the world should see a female nipple and die of shock.

Kim K Selfie

But hey, let’s not talk about the fact that Instagram will take down anything that reveals a female nipple while it’s totally fine for male nips to be spread far and wide throughout the IG world. Instead we’ll trash talk the celebrity for one of the thousands of selfies she’ll post in her lifetime and bag out her confidence when, based on her IG feed, photo shoots, television show and paparazzi photos, it’s really nothing we haven’t all seen before.

Quite a remark on society that one singular photo should spark such a response online. People are quick to criticise the Kardashian’s fame and fortune but more than happy to follow their movements across various social media platforms and partake in gossiping about the going-ons of their lives.

The general argument against this selfie is the appropriateness of it – did she really need to post that? The photo got such a response, obviously, because she is a celebrity and is exposing her life digitally to millions. No, she did not really need to post that. No one really needs to post a lot of things. However we choose to and Kim, like everyone else, can decide what she wants to do because it’s her body. It’s also her personal brand she’s promoting and, always being body confident and prone to showing off her best assets, it’s quite in line with her persona.

Other facets of the reaction to this image should also be considered, even more important than the selfie itself. People have hounded Kim for displaying her “naked” body in such a sexual pose, adding to the problem of body image in society, obviously seeking appraisal and sexualising herself for attention.

Chloe Moretz tweet

That as it may be, Kim K has built her whole brand on sexualisation by beginning with a sex tape and society has endorsed her all the while. We have all been quick to pass judgement on her action of uploading a sensual photo for a woman whose modelling and media career has been based entirely on aesthetics and who society only rewards for her sexuality then chastises her when she’s the one taking control of it.

Another element of the photo staring us right in the face but failing to be addressed is censorship. Going back to Instagram’s regulations, this “nude” selfie of Kim’s is, in fact, not that nude. Boobs covered, vagina covered, we’ve seen magazine covers printed by the thousand posing in about the same. The female nipple has been banished from Instagram’s realms, and any photo they deem as being inappropriate will be taken down. Again, this is society conditioning female nipples to be seen as something completely sexual and offensive while a male’s is not. Not to be unfair, of course you can still display your body on Instagram!  Just cover your girly bits and it’s all sunshine and rainbows.

That’s exactly what Kim did, with two parallel black bars. Good enough for the world? Absolutely not. Her nakedness is still, apparently, too naked.

Remaining in line with Instagram’s standards, Kim posted another “appropriately naked” photo with the hashtag ‘liberated’ as the caption.

Kim K nude selfie 2

While I’m not disregarding her feeling of liberation in that photo, the caption in our current situation is paradoxical. “Liberated” on a platform that makes you cover up your body. “Liberated” with a following that insults the sight of a naked female. “Liberated” in a still largely censored media landscape. No bathroom selfie, this stylised and professionally shot image still received the same flack.

The woman who became famous from a sex tape, was once married for 72 days and received an apparent $200,000 proposal from her celebrity husband will no doubt continue to throw spanners into the media realm with or without intention, but her selfie indeed took on a life of it’s own when it was uploaded.

Males that enjoy appraising her body passed their judgements for giving them exactly what they want to see. Feminists who want to see change in the world judged her because it’s perhaps not the action they personally would have taken. If Kim Kardashian’s nude selfie is such a problem, the world has much larger issues to be addressed than that.