Through out history, suffering has often been used as a tool by those in a more fortunate position to reassure themselves of their comfortability and stability. The problem with viewing poverty porn is it “produces abjectifying images of the poor through a privileged gaze for privileged gratification.”(The Conversation, 2015). This allows people to think, ‘this could never happen to me’.
Public executions in medieval times were seen as a joyous activity for the whole family to watch. Even the bible is based on suffering as Jesus persecutors “bound his hands so blood burst out of his nails”(Athene Reiss, 2008). These two examples are arguably some of the earliest forms of poverty porn. There are striking similarities between sitting down to watch human beings who are clearly very distressed on an episode of “Struggle Street” and going to the town square to watch a beheading, after all they too called it entertainment.
In the same way Kings and Queens put themselves in the position of thinking these public executions could never happen to them, educated, middle class citizens sit back on upholstered lounges and watch flat screen television with a comfortable living standard and think, “I will never have to live like these people do”. But as the example of Anne Boleyn tells us, we are never exempt from one step in the wrong direction and our lives being turned upside down, or in her case, your neck succumbing to the force of a single sword stroke.
Although the producers may have set out to create an accurate representation of the Mt Druitt community, what especially categorises this show as poverty porn is the entertainment value driven by the underlying class racism. Filming people whilst intoxicated, high and at their worst does not create a sympathetic audience and only helps to point the finger at the individual whilst ignoring figures of rising inequality and high unemployment rates. The photo below reflects this exact cause and effect with a woman being directly incriminated by struggle street filming her smoking illicit drugs whilst pregnant, viewers tweeted their reactions.
However, there are ways of creating accurate representations of people in crisis. For example, the image which became known as ‘Napalm girl’ picturing a 9 year old Vietnamese child running running in agony because her clothes and skin had been burnt off from the exposure to Napalm during the Vietnam war, a photo which some say hastened the end of the war.
A very similar story shook the world much more recently when Aylan Kurdi, a little boy whose body was washed up on a Turkish beach and reminded the world of the cost of denying thousands of refugees refuge from a war torn home land. This photo is arguably even more explicit than ‘Napalm girl’ as Kim Phuc survived these horrific burns where as Aylan sadly did not survive the immigration policies of many democratic countries, including Australia.
So why, after the release of magazines and newspapers featuring this heart wrenching photo on their covers all over the world, when the speed of communication, transport, internet connection and media freedom is stronger than ever before, have there been no dramatic changes to Australia and the worlds immigration policies when we have seen the consequences first hand.