• CLV

    Although I’ve heard the term “poverty porn” used by many people that I respect, including the author of this story, I am always troubled by the misguided use of the word “porn.” The definition of pornography is sexually explicit videos, photographs, writings, or the like, whose purpose is to elicit sexual arousal. Using the word “porn” to describe an image that is not sexual, but rather evocative in another, non-sexual way, diminishes the impact of the word.

    We in the non-profit world are constantly challenged by those trying to redefine the language that’s used to describe the problems we work so hard to address in order to serve their own agendas. Let’s not be part of the problem by diminishing a word that is so important to a whole segment of non-profit and social justice work.

  • Hi, CLV. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree with you. The terminology is unfortunate and the word itself is unpleasant to think of. However, NPQ is a news organization and needs to use the language that its readers know and that was used by the reporter of the article on which this review is based. I believe Jorgen Lissner either coined the term in his 1981 essay or at least outraged the world with it, and the term stuck. Here’s my personal take on that word.

    First, the term is always in quotations because it is not my word. I first repeat the word linking it to the Wikipedia definition to justify its use beyond the reporters article.

    Second, and I say this with some emotion having spent many years overseas working in humanitarian aid, I think the word fits and so do not mind repeating it with all the jarring disgust the word implies.

    Third, I believe what is happening in Cambodia and elsewhere is far worse than pornography. Pornography is selling images. What’s happening in Cambodia and elsewhere (not for the charities named) is a form of prostitution and in some cases actual prostitution. Google “Cambodia orphanages” and you’ll see. Crimes against humanity.

    Fourth, that video linked in the article of the distressed mother giving birth to her unresponsive child? That most private and heartbreaking, if not also profoundly traumatizing, moment on film for worldwide consumption? And to depict the mother the way they did with her back to the viewer hardly covered, trembling and sobbing? I’m sorry, but I cannot forgive that perverted breach of privacy. If I worked for the charity, that ad alone would have been grounds for me to resign. If only “poverty porn” were criminalized we could hope to fine that global monolithic charity 10x whatever its miserable appeal raised.

    Perhaps a better term might be poverty obscenity, vulgarity, abomination, and so on. But coining words will never be my fate. That happens to far better writers.

    Jim

  • Dariel Garner

    Seems to me that a better illustration of “poverty porn” night be a photo of an $80 million dollar mansion in Beverly Hills or a $75,000 dollar dog collar and calling out greed and the lust for wealth as the systemic cause of poverty. That would be very offensive to lots of folks and perversely appealing to others.