The topic for this week was focused around poverty porn. Yes you heard that right. An official definition of poverty porn is producing objectifying images of the poor for privileged gratification (Threadgold, 2015). To put this in Lehman’s terms it’s essentially any type of media which shows lower socio-economic or disadvantaged people which in turn generates an emotional response for wealthier people. Poverty porn is all around us used by charity and non for profit organisations (images of sick, malnourished children), television shows (struggle street, swift and shift) and social experiments.
With the rise of social media there has been a new-found love of social experiments. Don’t get me wrong social experiments have been around for years one of the most famous being the Stanford Prison Experiment however now these experiments can now be shared online. The main aim of social experiments is to explain how thoughts, feelings and behaviours are influenced by the presence of others (Blakstad, 2008).
In case you hadn’t noticed, poverty is entertaining (Threadgold, 2015). I searched into YouTube “social media poverty” and clicked on the first video. It is a social experiment about a child being homeless in the Unites States. The video had 21,956,435 views and 679,357 likes at the time.
This video was created by well-known YouTube star fouseyTUBE and was a completely staged experiment. He hired a young boy as an actor to go and beg on the streets in America with a sign that reads ‘I just want enough to get my sister a meal’. He then filmed the reactions of pedestrians and made judgement on whether they donated money or not.
There is one main problem with these social experiments. They are staged. The boy is an actor as well as the majority of passer-by’s are also in on the video. This isn’t the first time a staged social experiment has occurred. Australian YouTube personality Adrian Gee performed an honesty test where he pretended to be a blind man asking for change to see whether people would provide the correct change. The video went viral quickly however came under scrutiny when the people featured in the film confessed to being actors (Noble 2015).
Staged social experiments such as Gee and fouseyTUBE’s videos trivialise these actual incidents. Roenigk (2014) concludes this point perfectly stating that ‘poverty is a result of both individual and systemic problems, involving not only personal circumstances but the social and justice systems in place that either work to empower the poor or perpetuate their condition. However, poverty porn defines poverty as merely the observable suffering resulting from a simple lack of material resources’.
“Poverty as merely the observable suffering from a simple lack of material resources” both these video display this, the homeless child without money and the blind man without sight. Social media can have positive impact on poverty around the world however viewers must be able to distinguish between what is true poverty and what is poverty porn designed to attract viewers and subscribers.
Blakstad O. 2008, Social Psychology Experiments, Explorable, viewed 18 March 2016, https://explorable.com/social-psychology-experiments
Noble F. 2015, Oh the irony! Viral social experiment which ‘tested’ people’s honesty is exposed as a HOAX.. and everyone involved in the video was an actor, Daily Mail, viewed 18 March 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3321398/Viral-social-experiment-tested-people-s-honesty-revealed-HOAX.html
Roenigk E. 2014, 5 reasons poverty porn empowers the wrong person, one, viewed 18 March 2016, http://www.one.org/us/2014/04/09/5-reasons-poverty-porn-empowers-the-wrong-person/
Stanek B. 2014, The Big Problem With All of Those Viral ‘Social Experiment’ Videos, Mic, 24th November, viewed 18 March 2016, http://mic.com/articles/104986/the-big-problem-with-all-of-those-viral-social-experiment-videos#.x6vQTkrVB
Threadgold S. 2015, Struggle Street is poverty porn with an extra dose of class racism, The Conversation, viewed 18 March 2016, http://theconversation.com/struggle-street-is-poverty-porn-with-an-extra-dose-of-class-racism-41346