It is incredibly hard not to feel incredibly cynical whilst watching videos of wealthy celebrities such as Jack Black visiting poverty-stricken countries. Although it is well-intentioned, it is also incredibly hard not to feel slightly patronised when a celebrity attempts to help those who suffer from various problems such as poverty, illness and malnutrition, but then return home and continue to make millions of dollars, whilst those who are suffering continue to do so. Now, this may just be the cynic in me, but videos such as Jack Black’s visit to Uganda for Comic Relief are very problematic and are veering towards exploitation. The same can be said for the incredibly controversial programme “Struggle Street” which observes the lives of struggling Australian families who live on the fringe of society. This issue is sometimes referred to as “poverty porn” and is the topic for this week’s post.
For this week’s topic, I will be using “Struggle Steet” to explore the issue of poverty porn and why it is so problematic. Before I begin, I will just state that having watched the first episode of SBS’s infamous programme “Struggle Street”, I was deeply disturbed by the way in which the people were represented and the invasive nature of the programme. The question remains, however, is whether the producers were well-meaning in their intentions, or whether they were intent on manipulating the representation of the people on the program from the start. Regardless of the intentions, the effect the show has had on those represented on the show has been destructive. In an article on news.com.au, Peta Kennedy uses words such as “hurt” and “humiliated” to describe the way in which she felt after watching the show and seeing how she was represented. However, producer David Galloway claims that the show is attempting to go “ beyond the stereotype and finding out why you end up in Mount Druitt” (2015). This may be the case, but having watched the show, the programme does little to explain the stereotype and in fact heightens the stereotypes by showing these people at their worst and hence manipulating the way we perceive these people, who are looked down upon by many and continue to struggle every day. Additionally, the incredibly problematic use of narration makes the show feel much more like a generic reality-television show, rather than a substantial exploration of the problems that these individuals go through and the way they are treated by the government.
Having said this, attempting to address the issue of poverty through films and documentaries without coming off as patronising and exploitative and is incredibly difficult. This is why I believe that poverty porn will continue to be an issue in the future and will continue to divide people. However, the optimist in me hopes that one day documentaries and media coverage of poverty will instigate positive change, rather than being part of the problem.
Willis, C 2015, ‘Struggle Street mum Peta Kennedy says SBS documentary ‘has ripped us apart’’, News, May 11th, viewed 28th March 2016, < http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/tv/reality-tv/struggle-street-mum-peta-kennedy-says-sbs-documentary-has-ripped-us-apart/news-story/b73ac50de773884c7591b4db835d3adf>
Kalina, P 2015, ‘Struggle Street is a raw insight to life at the edges of Australian society’, Sydney Morning Herald, April 30th, viewed 28th March 2016, < http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/struggle-street-is-a-raw-insight-to-life-at-the-edges-of-australian-society-20150423-1mqz40.html>