More hardcore poverty porn, now with landmines

MSF have done it again. I’ve already discussed how these ads play to stereotypes and quite effectively use the medium to envoke the “right” emotions. See for yourself:

Common themes between this and their original ad “Boy” are pain, rape, and war. My prescription is the same.

9 thoughts on “More hardcore poverty porn, now with landmines

  1. kim

    November 21, 2009 at 8:49pm


    i was disgusted enough with the previous one you posted. i think after this, it will be hard for me to /ever/ give to MSF.

  2. Akhila

    November 21, 2009 at 10:15pm

    The ad is definitely horrifying and panders to stereotypes. But at the same time, like the previous “Boy” ad, it isn’t exactly objectifying individuals. It does well to keep the situation vague. I don’t know how much of the situation’s portrayal is true considering what conditions MSF works in, but it might depict some realities that they encounter and work under.

    At the same time, showing this to the American public might simply alienate some, and engender even more stereotypes amongst people who already harbor them.

  3. arbuckle

    November 21, 2009 at 11:37pm

    The question is whether it is representative of the areas in which MSF works, the work done by MSF, or to what extent. They provide emergency humanitarian medical aid, after all (i.e., context is important).

    Note that this video says nothing about Africa, as you seem to imply by linking to the video about How Not to Write About Africa. It could just as well be Afghanistan. And I’ve seen much worse violence on television.

    This is becoming a debate of “political correctness”, in which organizations will not be allowed to say anything that isn’t representative of the whole of Africa, or the “average” African. But extreme poverty does exist, as do conflicts, and there is a need for medical aid in many parts of the world (not just Africa).

  4. Matt

    November 23, 2009 at 10:54am

    arbuckle – thanks for the comment

    MSF does provide emergency medical aid, but it’s not necessarily always conflict aid. They operate in many, many countries across the world, most of which aren’t actually in the middle of some sort of a civil war.

    You’re very right – it was my own call that the ads were suggesting Africa. It could certainly be somewhere else (MSF, I might add, pulled out of Afghanistan years ago), but given that most ongoing conflict is happening on that continent, which is the no. 1 target of Western stereotypes (Africa is, of course, the land of rape and lions), I think it’s a fair assumption to make they’re referring to Africa. Of course, they could always *just tell us*.

    Yes, CSI is probably more “gory” than this ad, but is it as emotionally disturbing? (Then again David Caruso can be pretty intimidating).

    “Political correctness” matters in the context of financing development. When we promote stereotypes, we skew our beliefs about what works, and how best we can help, towards those stereotype (Africa is a war-torn, rape-riddle country that needs saving).

    But this isn’t just about political correctness, this is about appealing to the public in a more measured manner: more information on MSF’s work, their mission, there places of operation, their financial need – etc.

    Unfortunately MSF, like many charities around the world, has long since given up on the hard route – appealing to our minds and our consciences, instead opting for the fast and dirty route: relying on our emotions and heartstrings to bring in the cash.

    This is an extremely effective method in the short run, but in the long run it will likely just lead to desensitization and “outrage fatigue.”

  5. arbuckle

    November 23, 2009 at 5:54pm

    MSF started working again in Afghanistan in 2009. They left in 2004 after being there for 24 years when five staff members were killed. But I could just have easily used the example of Pakistan.

    Given current world events I suspect a lot of people would think the video is of Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or Iraq (regardless of where MSF is actually involved). I think it is your perspective that is imposing the view that many will think it is Africa, because you work in aid. Most people, however, watch news stations focused on US military interventions.

    MSF works in conflict areas, and my point was that it’s not a stereotype if it is the reality they face. Again, the question is to what degree their work is in conflict areas. If 10-20% of their work is in conflict areas, could you not argue that it is representative of a lot of their work? What’s the threshold? Is it possible conflict areas are a larger drain on their resources.

    Major correction: MSF does not provide development aid, but humanitarian aid. And their work can be emotionally disturbing. The book Six Months in Sudan is a good example, although I’m not sure how representative (which, again, I think is the point).

    It seems a bit disingenuous to judge MSF’s efforts to grab a person’s attention based on a one-minute video. They also write books, publish reports, get media attention, etc. And my personal favourite are the blogs written by staff:

  6. Matt

    November 23, 2009 at 6:50pm

    arbuckle –

    Point taken that they’ve returned to Afghanistan (a month ago), although the “Boy” ad has been out since the summer. I concede that either, especially the latest ad could really be anywhere. MSF notes that they intended to make the videos vague, suggesting that similar crises are happening on every continent:

    I don’t agree that most people would neccessarily think of Afghanistan or Iraq. The Boy ad was aimed at UK cinemagoers, who probably aren’t watching news stations focused on US military interventions (although you could argue that Afghanistan is certainly on the Brits’ minds right now).

    I apologise if I haven’t taken MSF’s extensive blog writing into account, but these ads are being aired in cinemas, which in the UK pretty much = maximum exposure.

    Here’s an example of an MSF ad which gets the same message across without all the misery:

    Anyway, I agree now that the ads don’t necessarily imply Africa, and do ‘cover’ sizable hunk of MSF’s work…. but I still object to the need to do it with manipulative imagery and audio. Advocacy that relies purely on an emotional response is rational in the short term, but in the long term can only damage the discourse. To MSF’s credit, they do admit that these videos are somewhat experimental, and are provided as pro bono work (although they are a little too quick to admit that).

    There’s a lot of great discussion about these ads (with arguments roughly following what both you and I have said) here:

  7. George Darroch

    November 23, 2009 at 9:11pm

    “i think after this, it will be hard for me to /ever/ give to MSF.”

    I have no idea why you think this. I am sorry that your support for this organisation which does incredibly important work is so fickle.

  8. arbuckle

    November 24, 2009 at 4:26am

    Matt, we’re splitting hairs. But I didn’t say that “most people” would think Afghanistan or Iraq. I said “a lot of people”. I have family in Brittain, and at least they suggest Afghanistan and Iraq are still prominent issues there. Similarly, Canada is not in Iraq, but we still talk about it.

    Do they get the same message across with the other ad? How do you know it works as well as intended? Advertising requires evidence of effectiveness, same as anything else. At the very least we can say the ads are stimulating discussion.

    I’m not justifying the ads, I just think it has to be taken into context. Is it representative of their work? What else are the doing to educate the public? I believe the ads are meant to stimulate interest. But I agree that it’s a fine line.

    Many people are driven by emotion, and I see nothing wrong with a short one-minute video trying to tap into that. Within reason. I don’t personally find the ads offensive, although they do illicit a strong reaction. Maybe a strong reaction is required to get people to take an interest. I guess we’ll see as cinema viewers react, or don’t, to the ads.

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