Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

Citizenship

SNL Brilliantly Breaks Down The Problem With "Poverty Porn"

We've talked before about how the use provocative imagery by NGO's and well-meaning people in the media can actually do a diservice to people living in poverty. It's an issue we care deeply about.

We’ve all seen those commercials - the abandoned puppy, the starving child. Well-meaning charities use images like these to inspire pity and generate donations.

The problem is that when those images, known colloquially as "poverty porn," use graphic examples in order to elicit an emotional response from the viewer they are not showing anywear near the whole picture.

Where are the children playing soccer, the best friends laughing over dinner, or the proud parents doting on their kids? How about the women’s group that meets weekly to come up with solutions to improve the community, or the teachers who give up their free time to help a struggling student?

SNL did a parody-sketch of that commercial we've all seen: the old white man holding a barefoot child in an unnamed village in Africa asking for a small donation to help these people meet basic needs. They also take aim at another one of our pet-peeves:how Africa is not a country.

No one is saying that imagery like this is effective, indeed the reason why they're still so pervasive is because they speak to our common sense of charity.

What the SNL sketch illustrates well here is this:

Poverty porn not only misrepresents the impoverished but also poverty itself. It propagates the idea that poverty can simply be defined as lacking material resources or physical suffering, which leads people to believe that a quick donation can reverse it. In reality there are many other issues at play such as the role of the local government, social structure, agriculture, gender roles, and history of the area.

These images also make people living in poverty appear fundamentally different from people living in the first world. They perpetuate the idea that the beneficiaries are hopeless victims unable to help themselves, unlike their capable donors.

We believe the movement to end extreme poverty must be led by the world's poor: our role is simply to assist in any way we can. Rather than offer charity, we want to work towards justice. Real, lasting change can only come when we change the systems that keep people poor.