Human Rights, Life, Opinion, World

Poverty Porn: A Play of Emotions

Before I begin explaining the topic of concern, or even start talking about it, why don’t you take a look at this?

And now, this:

And lastly, this:

How does it feel to be triggered, hitting all of your sensitive points? Let me ask you another question. How would you feel like if I capture a random picture of you through my fancy DSLR, post it online on my website, and earn money out of it? Used? Manipulated? Angered? Exploited?

Well, welcome to the world of those young African kids, suffering from malnutrition, on whose faces you just donated a dollar. Welcome to the world of the clueless, young girl standing in front of her makeshift house in the famous slums of Dharavi, India, and welcome to the world of the old man, to whom you just donated a beautiful “dinner.”

But, first of all, welcome to the world of poverty porn and manipulation! Manipulation of whom, you ask? Well, the answer is simple. YOU!

Manipulation by Guilt

Yes, you. You are manipulated almost every day by certain NGOs and fundraising events, and even the stores you visit. You might donate a dollar out of your earnings so that it would reach the people who actually need and deserve it. But do you really get to see the channel through which it reaches those people in need? I don’t think so.

The concept of you being manipulated to donate money to the Fundraisers and stores, thinking it would reach the needy is called ‘Poverty Porn.’ Poverty porn is one of the major tactics and a calculative scheme used by certain NGOs, fundraisers, and the media, to raise money from people like us. Above all, they aim at enhancing the feeling of empathy in our hearts. They trigger the weakest parts of our hearts and brains to make us shell out our money in massive amounts. They try and show us images of people in their indigent conditions, trying not just to exploit us, but also them! How can they exploit them, you ask?

So What is It Exactly?

The answer is simple. They capture their images in the most downtrodden states, put in some filters, and present it to us. Many people among us are left emotional and even guilty on seeing such images. Most of us would rather buy cheese in a retail store, with a picture of an impoverished kid, crying, and begging for food, while flies hover around his body. It triggers our emotional chords in a certain way, where we would reflexively take money out of our pockets and merely donate it in the name of helping the poor child. For this, certain photographers who have been traveling to countries like Africa and even India, share their experiences by saying that the pictures we see in such advertisements are mostly captured without the consent of the people who are in them. They violate their privacy and earn money out it.

Poverty Porn is Lucrative

The poor are used as an imagery of money-making by various industries. The induction of guilt here plays a significant role. We are left uncomfortable on the thought of certain African children not being able to have two meals every day, or an Indian girl not being able to afford to go to school. A stereotype is created, connected to the country to which such people belong. Therefore, whenever we think of Africa, the first thing that comes to our minds are those African children who suffer from malnutrition, or whenever people think of India, they think of Dharavi slums or the movie Slumdog Millionaire. People often, because of such reasons, turn a blind eye to the significant positives about these developing nations.

The media tends to trigger our senses into “enlightening” us in newfound ways about poverty. The human tendency, which plays a major role here, is to be as helpful as possible, out of emotions. The advertisements and the internet banking facilities are even more devious. You just have to log on to a particular website or pick up your phone to donate whatever amount you feel like. That’s it!

Stigmatising Poverty

Sociologists argue that poverty as a concept has a stigma attached to it. The stigma we have talked about previously. Poverty porn as an idea takes benefit of this stigma. The people who are primarily triggered by this are the Westerners. Westerners have the ideology that they are the donors and the saviors of the whole world. They are here to save that African child, they are here to send that Indian girl to school, and they are even here to make sure the abandoned Grandpa gets a wholesome meal on the eve of Thanksgiving.

What they do not understand is that poverty is not what it seems to be. Poverty as a concept must not be stereotyped. In fact, poverty can be seen all around us. Poverty can be seen in the fully developed nations like the United States, where there are vast gaps of income inequality. Poverty can be seen from the perspective of unemployment. The majority of us do not even fit the stereotype we have created in the name of poverty, and therefore, poverty as a concept is subjective and multifaceted. It is not something that you see in the images and advertisements presented to us in a decorative form by the media. Suffering and poverty are synonymous!

Exploiting Poverty

Poverty porn makes us believe that the people in advertisements and images are the ones who are suffering the most or are the most deserving of our help. They have this competitiveness amongst each other, about who are the “deserving poor” and who are the “undeserving” ones. Therefore, poverty porn is an attempt to make us “donate” our money through manipulative attempts, and we fall prey to their perpetual stereotypes. It works! How naive of us all.

Poverty is Everywhere

Do we talk about how every 1 in 5 US households does not have access to food to feed their children? Approximately 19.2 percent of households struggle every day to feed themselves. I am talking about the United States here because of self-explanatory reasons. The US is one of the major economies in the world, and also one of the most developed countries.

Material poverty and spiritual poverty are two different things. However, their lines are often blurred! Instead of directly donating money to the NGOs, we must first define a line between being a donor and being an activist. The structural institution on which poverty works needs to be defined as well. What is required by the poor is a voice and advocacy. Our social constructs should not define them. We need to question and keep track of all the amounts that we have spent in donations. We need to keep track of its whereabouts. We need to dive deep into the statistics and the “books” of such fundraisers.

Transparency needs to be brought in the way we donate today. The donations are not the problem, but the channel is. The people involved are. Money should not merely be shelled out, because you have it, or because we as humans are sensitive and emotional in their reaction to poverty porn. Instead, we must question the “goodness” our money is providing to that African child who is in dire need of food, or to that little girl who wants education, but is unable to get it, or to that mother who is unable to feed her infant.

About Saumya Khanduja

A cat lover, a book lover, and a beach lover: Saumya is all shades of being human. A sociology graduate from India, who spends most of her time writing. Outside the realm of the web, she loves cooking, sketching, and listening to the cello. A Game Of Thrones enthusiast, she might be small, but can “slay” you!

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