Suffering in the media is about the representation of people who are less fortunate than the rest of us. Those that live in low socioeconomic areas that are run down, have high crime rates and high rates of teen pregnancy among many other problems. These issues are presented through social media to show everyone else how they live and to get a sense of what these people have gone through. How they got where they are and how they are dealing with their day to day life. This portrayal of people who are not ‘like the rest of us’, becomes a commodity and something to view on our television screens. In hope to where we can relate and show empathy for their situation and do something.
The American City of Flint; population around 98,000 has been without clean water for years. Among the issues of lead pipes, corrosive rivers and fecal contamination among the city the unsanitary water issue hit a peak on social media around the world, much like this article from Australia talking about the issue. With only a short resolve of buying water from nearby Detroit the impact of getting clean water back into Flint has been a slow-paced solution. Online campaigns have been created to give people the chance to donate money to help the cause. The suffering is throughout the entire town, where the access to clean drinking water was once a basic need for human life. Kids who were drinking and bathing in the water have run the risk of lead poisoning which could come back with horrible effects later in life.
Through the many social media platforms people gave their money, their hope and their opinion on wanting to solve the Flint water crisis. This emerged the trend “Us” and “Them” – the have and the have not. Research done by Lund University, found here, identify that Poverty Porn is a haven for monetary gain as it provides a resource to be consumed, exploited and contained. Where there are groups of people who are in the group of “Poverty”, highlighted as “Having less than an objectively deadline, adsolute minimum”, “Having less than others in society” or “Feeling you do not have enough to get along”. Every poverty-stricken group plays a part in being the objective “outsider” for everyone else, as they are not something people want to be but something people want to not have to deal with. In both behavioural habits and financial struggle.
The people of Flint did not put themselves into the problem that they have, poor decisions made from their government changed the source for Flint’s water and poor investigation was conducted to make sure the water from Flint’s River was sanitary enough for human use. The slow decline into unsanitary water placed the entirety of Flint into Poverty where every local was at the hands of someone else to cater to the need of fresh drinking water.
There are articles written about Poverty Porn, much like in The Conversation’s Steven Threadgold’s article “Struggle Street is poverty porn with an extra dose of class racism” and The Guardian’s Gay Alcorn’s article “Struggle Street is only poverty porn if we enjoy watching, then turn away” that determine there is an issue in how this topic is presented and the ongoing action that takes place afterwards. The way information is presented to us and what we do with that information justifies what we can do and see. When there is a problem that society needs to take care of it benefits to give everyone the information about the topic. While the medium for which that information may be subjected to criticism there are only so many mediums that can have a huge audience or be academically unbiased on the topic. The choice to inform millions of people comes down to the platform chosen and in a manner, that appeals to a mass audience. When wanting to have an unbiased representation such as in an academic journal there is no information to everyone else outside of the academic sector. So, would it be best to give a mass audience some perspective on an issue that is affecting a lot of people that will generate some form of response or leave it for academics to decide what information is to be presented and how. When looking at the websites created to aide in the Flint disaster relief, the people are not academics but people from the general populace. When the goal is awareness then “Poverty Porn” works.