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Poverty Porn Essay

Fundraising is a noble and selfless deed. However, an ethical issue has risen concerning the process of raising funds for poverty-stricken communities. Often, visuals of the harsh lives people in poverty face are portrayed when raising funds. The exploitation of such visuals to increase donations or support a cause is known as poverty pornography (Collin, 2009). Poverty pornography is effective in raising funds but it is incorrect due to the unethical way it is carried out that degrades the poverty-stricken communities.

Poverty pornography is widely used by charitable organisations because it is an effective method of collecting donations. Research has shown that negative stimuli which evoke emotion can easily capture an individual’s attention (Murphy, Hill, Ramponi, Calder & Barnard, 2010). Images of children as well as those which bring about negative emotions also tend to generate more donations (Burt & Strongman, 2005). Thus, the disturbing visuals of dying children and women as well as their harsh living conditions portrayed in poverty pornography is effective in grabbing attention and generating feelings of sympathy. These feelings are then converted into actions whereby donations are increased. Therefore, poverty pornography plays a role in helping poverty-stricken communities as it easily grabs people’s attention and encourages them to increase their donations.

However, its method of exploiting visuals that degrade the poverty-stricken communities makes poverty pornography unethical. The exploitation of biased visuals depicts poverty-stricken communities in a negative manner. Common examples are severely malnourished African children staring at the camera, waiting to be “saved” (Osa, 2010). While it is true that there are malnourished children, there are healthier children too. However, poverty pornography is biased as it does not represent this side of poverty-stricken communities. Although taken for a good cause, a distorted image of them is painted (Opoku-Owusu, 2003). This is unethical as the partial representation degrades them, leaving the impression that they are helpless individuals, waiting for their lives to be taken away and unable to do anything.

On the other hand, some charitable organisations try to incorporate positive images into their advertisements by showing the after-effects of our donations. For example, they may show visuals of happy, smiling children as a result of our aid. However, such images indirectly degrade the communities as it gives us the impression that without our assistance, they are unable to survive. In 2001, a poll conducted in United Kingdom discovered that 74% thought that “Developing countries depend on the money and knowledge of the West to progress” (Voluntary Service Overseas, 2002).

From this, we can deduce that many have the perception that poverty-stricken communities are weak and vulnerable as they are highly dependent on our help. However, this may not be true because in reality, they are the most “strongest willed, most tenacious people one could hope to meet” (Cowdroy & Evans, 2010). Thus, the misrepresentation creates a false impression that poverty-stricken communities are weak and cannot survive without our aid. This false impression may also create an environment of self-pity which may lead to self-fulfilling prophecies.

The self-fulfilling prophecy, introduced by Merton (1948), refers to circumstances whereby an initial false claim later turns into reality. The exploitation of negative visuals pertaining to the lives of poverty-stricken communities has led to a stereotype that they are “uneducated, incapable of freeing themselves from poverty, lacking in competence, and miserable” (Clark, 2004). This stereotype may cause people to hold negative expectations on the poverty-stricken communities (Madon, Jussim, Eccles, 1997). Although these negative expectations may not be true initially, the poverty-stricken communities might adhere to them thus leading to a self-fulfilled prophecy. Therefore, the use of poverty pornography to assist them may backfire as incorrect claims can become true.

Nevertheless, many organizations unremittingly use poverty pornography. Does this make poverty pornography a necessary evil?

Poverty pornography is definitely not a necessary evil. It is unethical to degrade or stereotype the poverty-stricken communities, even if it is for a noble cause. Moreover, poverty pornography can instead contribute to the poverty cycle as the negative assumptions about the poverty-stricken communities may become self-fulfilling prophecies. Thus, instead of eradicating poverty, it may worsen the conditions of poverty-stricken communities. However what other methods can we adopt to increase awareness on the needs of the poverty-stricken communities without degrading them?

Instead of exploiting biased images that generate feelings of sympathy, programmes that create feelings of empathy and responsibility can be created. One such event is the inaugural 30 Hour Famine Camp in Singapore held by World Vision. In this camp, youths are given a feel of life in poverty by taking part in activities that simulates lives of children in poverty. The youths also make a stand to end global poverty by fasting for thirty hours. This camp generates empathy which encourages youths to not only donate but also to think of more ways to assist by allowing them to realise that they have the ability and responsibility to help end poverty.

To portray full representation of their lives, some have embarked on projects like ‘Perspectives of Poverty’ which “expose[s] this bias [poverty pornography] and present people in a light of dignity” (McNiholl, n.d). Even though it may not help in raising funds, by presenting poverty-stricken in a better light, it balances off how degrading poverty pornography has been and slowly alters people’s perception on poverty-stricken communities. This can help remove stereotypes on them thus avoid self-fulfilling prophecies.

Poverty pornography has proven to be effective. However, its unethical methods have undermined the usefulness of helping poverty-stricken communities. Instead of assisting, it strips them of their dignity, their ability to help themselves and contribute to the poverty cycle. Even though poverty pornography cannot be eradicated in the near future as it is widely used, the two methods presented above are examples of how we can slowly break away from poverty pornography. People in poverty are human beings too. Thus, in the process of assisting them, we must create a full representation of them and treat them as dignified human beings. To achieve this, poverty pornography must be eradicated.

REFERENCES

Burt, CDB. & Strongman, K. Use Of Images In Charity Advertising: Improving Donations and Compliance Rates. International Journal of Organisational Behaviour, 8(8) 1, Retrieved from http://www.usq.edu.au/extrafiles/business/journals/HRMJournal/InternationalArticles/Volume%208/Burt%20Vol%208%20no%208.pdf

Clark, D. J. (2004). The production of a contemporary famine image: The image economy, indigenous photographers and the case of Mekanic Philipos. Journal of International Development, 16, 693–704. DOI: 10.1002/jid.112

Collin, M. (2009). What is ‘poverty porn’ and why does it matter for development? Retrieved 16 July 2011 from Aid Thoughts website: http://aidthoughts.org/?p=69 Cowdroy, J. & Evans, H. (2005), Poverty Pornography. Retrieved 16 July, 2011 from The Global Poverty Project website: http://www.globalpovertyproject.com/blog/view/238

Madon, S., Jussim, L., Eccles, J. (1997). In search of the powerful self-fulfilling prophecy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72(4), 791-809. DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.72.4.791

Merton, R.K. (1948). The self-fulfilling prophecy. The Antioch Review, 8(2), 193-210. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Murphy, F. C., Hill, E. L., Ramponi, C. C., Calder, A. J., & Barnard, P. J. (2010). Paying attention to emotional images with impact. Emotion, 10(5), 605-614. DOI: 10.1037/a0019681

Opoku-Owusu, S. A. S. (2003). What can the African diaspora do to challenge distorted media perceptions about Africa? London: AFFORD.

Osa, E. (2010). The starving baby syndrome is hurting Africa’s image. New African, (501), 72-73. Retrieved from EBSCOhost

Scale E. (2010), WaterAid UK And Poverty Porn. Retrieved 16 July, 2011 from The Global Poverty Project website http://www.globalpovertyproject.com/blogs/view/262

Voluntary Service Overseas, (2002). The Live Aid legacy: The developing world through British eyes – A research report. London, UK: Voluntary Service Overseas.


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