Poor People or Poor System

Image result for suffering in the world

You are suffering and I see you suffering, yet I am the one who suffers. This is also known as poverty porn. According to Dortonne (2016), poverty porn is a tactic used by nonprofits and charity organisations. They show us images or videos of people in terrible living conditions hoping to invoke empathy on the viewers. The goal behind this is to use the empathy to get people to give their contributions to the cause. Isn’t it a good thing to be able to help these people? The answer is debatable. Sure it’s easy to call the campaign and give your donation to the cause. What happens after that? Do you know what happens to the money? Is the money being used to help those people you saw being advertised? Or worst is the money going to these people?

I disguised myself as a donation seeker/Pic: mD

Speaking from experience, when I was in Malaysia some people will come approach you and ask for some donation. They would have a folder with lots of graphical pictures of their cause. Some will be about helping old people and some will be about proving for the needy. Thinking about it now that was poverty porn. Them showing me those photos made me empathise with the people in the picture. I did give a donation and that made me feel better as if I had helped them.

Coming back to the topic. Poverty porn is not just about getting funds from people. It is much more twisted than that. Nowadays in television, there are shows that specifically shows people living in poverty and it has been getting many views. For example, Struggle Street. This show was aired in Australia in 2015. The show was made as a documentary to bring awareness to the people about the hardship certain communities were having (NewsComAu, 2016). What I want to point out about this show was that it had received the highest ratings in SBS. Although the show was getting backlash on the controversy it had brought and was also labeled as “Poverty porn”. It had still gained many viewers around Australia (Lallo, 2015). Which come to my point. Watching other people suffer can be a form of entertainment for someone else. In fact watching people in poverty can be a form of gratification to others (Jensen, 2013). Watching others suffering in a way makes you feel better or more thankful for what you have. Isn’t that just twisted? Why can’t we be thankful for what we have already? Why do we need to watch others suffer to feel better about what we have?

There are also terrible side effects of using “Poverty Porn”. According to Roenigk(2014), one of the negative effects is that this encourages people to be donors instead of advocates. If they truly want to help eradicate poverty shouldn’t they focus more on people that will become activist to this cause? Instead of seeking people that will give a one-time donation. Another point is that poverty porn misrepresents the poor. Poverty comes in lots of different angles whether if he/she is having a piece of bread for dinner or does not have enough money to pump gas into their car. When poverty is being televised, they try to show those who are most in need. The “deserving poor” compare to those who are “undeserving poor” (Roenigk, 2014).

My final point about poverty porn is that it mispresents poverty itself (Roenigk, 2014). Most of the time it shows the people are to be blamed for their poverty. What if that’s not the case and it’s due to faults in the system that causes them to be poor. Should the system be more empowering for the poor so that it can help them get out of their situation? It could also be due to culture understand what poverty is. Because of people’s perception of the poor, they would not want to hire them. Poverty porn is more focus on the people’s suffering rather than the solution to help end their suffering. As a conclusion, poverty porn is more than what is being shown. There are so many more factors behind it but they don’t show it to us. Is it because people can make money out of others empathy? Or is it because people do not what to deal with the actually issue and instead do what they can at that moment?


Dortonne, N, 2016, The dangers of poverty porn, viewed on 26 March 2017, <http://edition.cnn.com/2016/12/08/health/poverty-porn-danger-feat/&gt;

Jensen, T., 2013. A summer of television poverty porn. Sociological Imagination.

Lallo, M, 2015, Struggle Street sets ratings record for an SBS documentary, with 1.31 million viewers, The Sydney Morning Herald, viewed on 26 March 2017, <http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/struggle-street-sets-ratings-record-for-an-sbs-documentary-with-131-million-viewers-20150507-ggw15r.html&gt;

NewsComAu, 2016, Struggle to find the new Struggle Street. viewed on 26 March 2017, <http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/tv/sbs-documentary-struggle-street-struggling-to-find-suburbs-to-film-second-series-in/news-story/60624b54cfb5b9f26caa098e0d61f83a&gt;

Roenigk, E, 2014, 5 Reasons poverty porn empowers the wrong person. viewed on 26 March 2017, <https://www.one.org/us/2014/04/09/5-reasons-poverty-porn-empowers-the-wrong-person/&gt;


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