Poverty Porn // Struggle Street

‘Poverty porn’ is defined as any type of media, be it written, photographed or filmed, which exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for selling newspapers or increasing charitable donations or support for a given cause. It can also be a term used to explain when media is created to generate anger or outrage rather than sympathy

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Filmed over 6 months, the SBS documentary ‘Struggle Street’ aired in 2015 as a three part documentary featuring the lives of 10 key people living in Mt Druitt, New South Wales. The three part series was taxpayer funded and said to be produced at $350,00 an episode which lead it to be called by many was “publicly funded poverty porn”. A second season is currently in the works to be filmed in Queensland and Victoria with a focus on Australians from a diverse mix of backgrounds battling against the odds.

The first season of the documentary caused widespread controversy and even resulted in a protest in Sydney but SBS Television representative Marshall Heald has said that “the second season is sought to continue the important national conversation started by series one and will seek to raise awareness and deepen our understanding of those of us in the community facing social and economic hardship and what its like to be doing it tough in Australia”. But rightly so SBS was slammed for their representation of Mt Druitt residents during the first series.

Peta Kennedy who was featured in the series with her husband and 10 children told The Daily Telegraph “When we signed up for it we thought it was supposed to be about people’s struggles and going through their problems and getting back on their feet, but this is awful. I don’t how I will manage when it goes to air” and this was only after seeing the promo. Not just Ms Kennedy but all the participants feel they were lied to about what the documentary was going to be about.

Often the media does objectify people for one reason or another to generate some kind of a profit or boost ratings. So was this objectification of Mt Druitt residents, portraying them in such a bad light and exploiting their misfortunes and suffering worth it? The first episode of the series attracted 985,000 viewers and was SBS’s best ratings of the year and the largest viewership since the World Cup the previous year.

Yes it is clear that poverty exists in this world, it is seen every day in many places. But I do not think that it needs to be shown and exploited turning it into poverty porn I believe that if told correctly the stories of the marginalised can bring awareness and contribute to the important national conversation started by series one of Struggle Street and deepen our understanding of those of us in the community facing social and economic hardship.

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