“Poverty porn tears society apart: stop it now”

Picture Editor - Sukey Richardson

By Mark Williams

Subedited by Lee Wyton and Jasmine Wing

“Every day, Concillia gives her baby water that’s teaming with parasites and bacteria, she knows it could kill him, but she has no choice.” After pouring the deadly concoction into her baby’s mouth, she looks straight into the camera. Desperate. Pleading. She had no choice. But guess what? You Do! For just £2 a month!

You might not have heard of poverty porn, but you’ll know it when you see it. It’s the pencil-thin arm of a child on a poster. It’s the Channel 4 documentary Benefits Street, peering into the homes of a deprived community in Birmingham. It’s Ed Sheeran looking into the tear-streaked face of an Ebola orphan for Comic Relief.

Poverty porn is media that exploits the misfortune of some for the entertainment and titillation of others. Sometimes, it entertains us by making us angry. Cheap TVprogrammes like the Jeremy Kyle Show hold the poor up as spiteful pantomime villains. They spend their benefits on booze and baccy and fight each other. Boo! Hiss! Sometimes poverty porn entertains us by eliciting pity. Charity appeals from the like of Oxfam use images of children with flies in their eyes to tug heartstrings and open wallets. Despite the virtuous intentions, this type of poverty porn deprives people of agency and humanity just as surely as the scrounger shows.

The problem with poverty porn is that it divides. The moniker “porn” is important. Pornography appeals and appals in equal measure because it makes the subject intimately familiar to the viewer whilst allowing them to keep a safe, dehumanising distance. The same is true of poverty porn. It divides the audience from the subject. Television and phone screens guard us against the horrors on the other side. Poverty porn sorts the deserving from the undeserving. We instinctively know that the famished poor on the other side of the world warrant our assistance whereas the louts around the corner are entitled only to destain and benefits sanctions. Perhaps worst of all, poverty porn forces a wedge between a fantasy and a reality. What we see is so unbelievable it can only be fiction.

This division is dangerous. It makes reasoned discussion and debate impossible. Putting distance between us and poverty makes us less willing to help. Grouping the world into those who deserve and those who don’t means we patronise some with ineffectual charity and punish others. Neither helps. Turning poverty into some exaggerated fiction for our own amusement means we are unable to take it seriously, let alone do anything about it.

The poverty pornstars are human. It’s about time that charity executives and television commissioners treated them as such. For all our sake.

About Breathe News 281 Articles
Breathe News provides reactionary commentary on various aspects of contemporary culture, focusing on the misdeeds of political figures, the actions of governments, and global economic inequalities. We address socio-political issues through the use of multimedia content to tell a story from all angles. Breathe News aims to implement and promote change by informing our readers about a given problem and appealing to people's sense of justice. An informative, entertaining news site propelling social impact during turbulent times.

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