Guardians of poverty porn

Oh come on, Guardian. You run a somewhat-reasonable rebuttal by Claire Melamed of the Overseas Development Institute to the recent attacks on increases in UK ODA, but then you feel the need to top it off with this photo:

Let’s see how many boxes this checks:

  • Very cute, if impoverished, Haitian child? Check
  • No shirt? Check
  • Other cute, impoverished children, for context? Check
  • Longing gazes upward (where you look down upon them and consider yourself gracious and merciful donor). Check
  • Hands outstretched to receive help. Check

These are real children, ones that are obviously in need of help, but you do them a disservice when you exploit them in this way to make your arguments.

11 thoughts on “Guardians of poverty porn

  1. Matt Davies

    October 23, 2010 at 6:33pm

    No to mention how their parents would feel to see their children portrayed in such a way that. No matter how poor and vulnerable, people, especially children have the right to retain their dignity and this does nothing of the sort.

  2. what

    October 25, 2010 at 8:09pm

    what???? this is third world sensitivity at its worst! This is just a freaking picture and depicts the true state of affairs in the third world. Please quit all this self righteousness. It is nauseating.

    -From an African

  3. Matt

    October 25, 2010 at 8:18pm

    Dear African,

    If it was just a photo of a feeding camp, I’d have less of a problem with it, but it’s been chosen because of the way the subject is portrayed: helpless and needy.

    ince when is the above the `true state of affairs in the third world’ Most `Africans’ (this is Haiti, by the way) I’ve met aren’t helpless and needy, and I’d hope you agree with me.

  4. what

    October 25, 2010 at 8:36pm

    Dear Matt,

    First of all, most African children need urgent intervention from African Governments. Since a lot of African Governments are incompetent and corrupt, yes, our children would also appreciate assistance from the international community.

    The picture is of children in Haiti for crying out loud. What is Haiti’s poverty statistic? Is this representative of the average Haitian child???

    It is true that poverty porn exist, but development practitioners are taking it tooo far! What do you want? A world where no African/black child is depicted as poor and hungry in pictures when in the real world, they are in fact poor and hungry.

    If you do not want to see these pictures any more, then continue to ramp up efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger in Africa and the rest of the third world. Most especially, encourage Africans and citizens in third world countries to hold their government accountable and kick out corrupt and incompetent governments. That is the constructive thing to do.

    You cannot change the reality on ground by condemning people showing real lives of real children living in developing countries. It is pointless, undirected and distracting. It refuses to focus on the real issues that counts which is changing the reality in the first place. Maybe if we all concentrate fully on changing the reality, then there will be no more poverty porn to show. How about we all do that instead, eh??? More constructive if you ask me!

  5. Matt

    October 25, 2010 at 8:51pm

    Dear what,

    I have no problem with people taking photos of needy children, nor displaying them. It’s when said photos are used to make an argument for a given cause that we run into problems.

    Why? Because they provoke gut emotional responses which do not lead to good policies. They lead to paternalistic, dependence-generating assistance which is only going to maintain the status quo. I’m not denying that children in Haiti are in need – they are in dire, dire need, a fact I stated in the original post – but showing a photo of them looking for saviour doesn’t tell us how *best* to help them nor give us the context of why they are poor in the first place.

    This blog has always been about how examining how (badly) we are doing at changing the realities on the ground. Part of the problem is how we approach realities at the ground, and photos which make the poor seem helpless *do not help* that approach. You make it seem like it’s simple to change those realities. It’s never that simple.

    Please, see my other posts on poverty porn – if my post here seems rather glib, it is because I have had to argue this again and again and again.

    http://aidthoughts.org/?cat=12

  6. Jiesheng

    October 25, 2010 at 8:53pm

    Ok, if this one picture is so inappropriate then all International Organisations that post such pictures–WB, UN, UNDP etc etc, NGOs, foundations (Gates, Clinton) are guilt as charged.

    Sue them.

    Is one picture such a fuss?

  7. what

    October 25, 2010 at 9:12pm

    Dear Matt,

    Please I applaud you for your efforts in advancing the poverty porn debate in the past, but please there are more important issues to focus on, so I encourage you to move on and focus more on issues that will actually make a tangible difference in the lives of the poor.

    If the U.K. Guardian likes, let them publish pictures of poor, hungry black children gazing into heaven. At the end of the day, the truth is that they are probably hungry and need help. You can scream about poverty porn all you want, but that fact will remain unchanged.

    Perhaps, you will be happier if I find pictures of African elite children, happy, well fed and perfectly content and paste it on an article about foreign aid. Oh or even better, maybe as a photo journalist, I will beg the children not to gaze into heaven or gaze at me hungrily so that Matt from Aid Thoughts does not get offended.

    Hey, sorry for the vitriol, but I personally think that your time will be better spent focusing on issues that count. As long as there is extreme and ridiculous levels of poverty in the developing world, there will be pictures of helpless looking, hungry children.

    Again, if you don’t like those pictures, then do something about it, not by making snide remarks, but by thinking up unique and constructive development solutions.

  8. what

    October 25, 2010 at 9:36pm

    One more thing. This here is the reason why I am getting a bit nauseated by the whole poverty porn debate:

    You said:

    “This blog has always been about how examining how (badly) we are doing at changing the realities on the ground. Part of the problem is how we approach realities at the ground, and photos which make the poor seem helpless *do not help* that approach. You make it seem like it’s simple to change those realities. It’s never that simple.”

    Exactly! Condemning poverty porn is way easier than changing the reality on ground. It is an easy cop out and intelligent people who should be racking their brains thinking up solutions are spending quality brain time focusing on irrelevancies like a picture of a child looking up hungrily into the sky.

    Shouldn’t this worry the entire development community? How are we ever going to get to the promised land if we can’t properly prioritize problems.

    Please I vote that we move on from this poverty porn issue. When put side by side with real problems like child mortality, it is a non-issue to me. It worries me, that intelligent people are spending valuable time debating rubbish when the real monumental problems are starring at them in the face.

    I want a world where there are no hungry children for the poverty porn industry to peddle. As soon as we are able to take care of this, the industry will be out of business. Now let’s get to work!

  9. Matt

    October 25, 2010 at 11:25pm

    What –

    You’re under the impression that I spend most of my time worrying about this. Look at my posts – my snipes at poverty porn don’t actually take up much of my blogging time. I’ve spent far more time arguing with you about this than I actually have worrying about the initial problem.

    By your reasoning we should all just abandon blogging anyway because it’s pointless trying to change the discourse, and just spend our days looking for silver bullets. I really can’t do any more than disagree and continue as I have done, but thank you for your thoughts anyway!

  10. Matt Davies

    October 28, 2010 at 11:11am

    Sorry to go back to this debate, but did the children in this photo consent to it being distributed worldwide? Did their parents? It may seem glib to many, but I think it pertains to people’s fundamental dignity as human brings. I’ve worked with people living in extreme poverty for 16 years. Some living horrifically difficult lives and struggling just to survive. And not once have I ever felt that they would agree to “prostitute” their image in this way.

    This whole debate really narks me. I can only agree with Matt. Can we remember that we’re talking about real people in these pictures, not “tags” of starving, black, poor, children.

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