Avoiding Poverty porn


In 5 Reasons poverty porn empowers the wrong personEmily Roenigk addresses “the objectification and exploitation of human beings in the media”. Emily argues that journalists and organizations purposefully use disturbing images in order to evoke deep emotions from the audience as a means to get monetary donations. We as a society seem to have an odd fascination with destruction — this is why images of post-tsunami damage and families grieving victims of shootings are so popular in the news.

I agree with Emily that in most situations, footage of poor and underprivileged people get used as a means to an end of more donations. However, there are ways in which we can use footage to inspire and share a story without exploitation. Here are two of my favorite examples:


1. Domestic Violence PSA (warning: disturbing footage)

In the preceding video, the National Domestic Violence Hotline uses a short and extremely powerful video of a woman appearing physically hurt over and over again. While the content is disturbing, the lady in the video is an actress, and the video is made as a PSA, to spread the word of an available 24/7 hotline for victims to call.


2. Humans of New York

2015_08_03_18_35_16_Humans_of_New_York_humansofny_Instagram_photos_and_videos 2015_08_03_18_38_27_

On his Instagram account, Brandon shares pictures and stories of random New Yorkers he meets on the streets.. In the photos above, Brandon interviews a couple a few people in a very poor part of Pakistan. Each person interviewed and photographed is told ahead of time what the footage is for, and some agree to the interview but decline the photo. This series of Brandon’s is extremely popular, as it helps us all relate to one another and realize that we’re all just human.


It is possible to use images of the poor and underprivileged without taking advantage of them. The main thing to remember is your intention — why do you want to share this story? Who will directly benefit?


11 thoughts on “Avoiding Poverty porn

  1. Amanda, nice job digging deeper on a theme raised in class. I do feel like there may be an opportunity to call out some of the more egregious offenders to give people a sense of what you’re talking about.

    • Hi Kristina, I thought about calling out some of the worst exploiters, but I figured giving them more publicity would go against trying to stop what they’re doing. That’s why I chose to highlight some good examples :]

  2. Great post Amanda,
    I very much like the statement from Emily which says that journalists and organizations purposefully use disturbing images in order to evoke deep emotions from the audience as a means to get monetary donations, that’s so true .

  3. Amanda, I really like your decision to highlight only the good examples. I really thought this article was fascinating – especially because groups continue to use poverty porn because it’s been proven to bring in more donations. I know someone in the ad world who calls this the “eyes and flies” method of advertising because of the way the commercials are framed.

    • Thanks, Rachel! I’ve never heard that term before, but wow, it’s pretty accurate. The second I read that term a ton of images popped into my head that I’ve seen so many times. It’s frustrating because, I think poverty porn is also so overused, that now I’m jaded to it

  4. Super interesting post, Amanda. The domestic violence video was very powerful, and the distinction you made between victim and actor is important. I think the same strategy probably wouldn’t work with actors impersonating the poor. I think that’s because one of the major issues isnt so much exploitation, but only showing a “single story” of people in poverty (If you haven’t seen this TED Talk by Chimamada Adichie, its really powerful, though unrelated specifically to public health: http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en). You address that issue by using the example of HoNY. I also think your point about intention is well stated and absolutely key. Great ideas here.

    • Oh wow, thanks for this link! I watched the video right awa, and I think HONY is a great example of telling endless stories from one place

  5. This is a fantastic post Amanda! I really enjoyed the article as well and wondered about some good examples. I think the ones you’ve pointed out are amazing. Donating money doesn’t help (for reasons stated in the article) but real people need to know they aren’t alone and where they can go for help and that they have social support. I think a video like the one you showed can inspire domestic violence victims to get help and maybe those that want to help can donate their time to the hotline or share the information with somebody they know that is a victim. And the instagram feed allows for impoverished people to be REAL PEOPLE with names and dreams and lives and problems. Everybody needs help from time to time but it’s important not to make people “charity cases” they need to be empowered through social support, policy changes and occasionally charity of goods and services. Thanks again for sharing this awesome post.

    • Thanks, Bryanna! I’m really glad you enjoed it. Money is definitely not always the answer. I heard that the ALS ice bucket challenge ended up overwhelming the association with donations too quickly, and in the end it didn’t do any immediate help.

  6. Very strong post! I really liked the examples you used to relate it back to the article “poverty porn”. I honestly think that it is possible to use images of the poor and underprivileged without taking advantage of them. I agree with the comments above, I don’t think that money is always the answer. There are many other ways one can help those that are in poor situations. One way we can help is by donating educational materials (pencils, paper, computers, etc.), clothes, donating mobile phones, etc. The main purpose is to directly impact those in greater need.

    • I agree Patricia, there are certainly ways to use pictures of the poor in non-exploitive ways. I think the issue is unfortunately, that usually isn’t what ends up happening. Thank you for your comment!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s