Poverty Porn

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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...
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