Home WORLD Kindness, Harmful Performance: Misery Porn 2.0 | Opinion

Kindness, Harmful Performance: Misery Porn 2.0 | Opinion

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“Africa is the continent of the future. Thousands of children face difficult and traumatic conditions every year in the regions on this planet where most babies are born.”

This is how the photo exhibition I visited recently in a small town in the Catalan Pyrenees was introduced to the audience. The exhibition is a product of cooperation between Spanish journalists and various local and international NGOs. The title is: Indestructible: Watching the Next Generations of Africa. It claims to be a project about “Struggling African Childhood” and “presenting stories of African children” as The active protagonist of their lives”.

The exhibition includes child brides-in-laws in rural Uganda, Malian children living “marked by witchcraft and traditional medicine”, women giving birth under difficult conditions in rural Ethiopia, and children wearing Messi T-shirts and carrying rusty Kalashnikov rifles Photos and stories. The Democratic Republic of Congo, etc. These photos are full of lost faces, struggling farmers, primitive pain, dark backgrounds, huts, and lots of dirt.

The photographers, journalists, and NGOs who promote and fund this work are undoubtedly well-intentioned. They want Europeans to understand the difficulties that many African children face in their daily lives and how they try to overcome them. But despite these obvious goodwill, what do these carefully planned stories and photos from 10 different countries of the European continent convey to ordinary Europeans who watch them? Asphalt has not yet reached the African continent, the power supply is very limited, the buildings there are no more than the first floor, there are no prosperous urban centers or well-equipped hospitals in Africa, and all Africans live in mud houses.

In fact, seemingly well-meaning exhibitions, such as the one mentioned above, aim to draw Western audiences’ attention to the struggle of Africans through emotional images and stories of suffering, which may do more harm than good.

Such misleading “representation” attempts can be harmful, not only because they exacerbate existing misunderstandings about life on the African continent, but also because they turn Africans, especially African children, into commodities for European public consumption.

Such exhibitions also commercialize their themes without considering the issue of reciprocity. Have you ever seen a similar exhibition about “Struggling European Childhood” in the center of European towns? Countless white European children also “face difficult and traumatic situations every year”, but you can only hear these situations in carefully worded or filmed news reports that respect the privacy of children-their faces are always pixelated, their identities Is hidden.

What we have seen in the above exhibitions and many other similar exhibitions is a relatively new way of commoditizing Africans and African life in the name of representing and raising awareness. This is a direct result of the close relationship established in recent years between Western parachute journalists and charitable capitalist foundations that invest in the media and humanitarian organizations.

From “suffering pornography” to “humanitarian pornography”

When I look at the photos and read the stories in the Indestructible exhibition, I can’t help but think of Colombian filmmakers Luis Ospina and Carlos Majoro’s 1977 simulation film “The Poor Vampire”—especially Majoro Pretending to be commissioned by a German TV channel to produce a documentary about “The Sufferings of Latin America”, the filmmaker asked street children bathing in a fountain in downtown Bogata to jump into the water to produce theatrical effect.

“Poor Vampires” is a criticism of a new trend that emerged in Latin America in the 1970s: local filmmakers made sensational and out-of-context films about people’s “suffering” and sold them to the West. This is also a condemnation of European film festivals and television, which are always looking for such films about life and suffering in the global South. In the eyes of Mayolo and Ospina, these films turned the “suffering” of Latin America into a commodity that could serve as an escape valve for the system that instigated it in the first place. They coined the term “pornomiseria” (painful pornography) to describe these movies, and even wrote a manifesto on this issue.

Moreover, at the time, “painful pornography” was not only the most valuable currency in the film and television industry, but also the most valuable currency in philanthropy. International humanitarian organizations are publishing images of poverty, death and hunger to raise funds from Westerners who are sitting on the sofa and looking at the world.

In the early 1980s, the proliferation of images of children who were wasted by war and famine in African countries finally triggered a public debate in the West and forced international NGOs to stop using “painful pornography” as a means of raising funds. But soon, the traditional image of impoverished pornography that has dominated television, radio, and newspapers for years through NGO advertisements and calls for action was replaced by more positive but equally misleading images that were considered to be miserable living in remote lands. “other people”.

In recent years, as traditional media organizations have become increasingly unable to fund foreign reports, international non-governmental organizations have begun to work closely with parachute journalists, seeking to report on people living in remote and inaccessible areas.

Charitable Capitalist Foundations have expanded their influence on European media organizations by providing funds, support and opportunities for their journalists to produce projects and reports on issues related to the development of the global South. This has resulted in the media’s narrative of “others” in the West being severely affected by NGOs.

These cooperative efforts often avoid the production of traditional impoverished pornography. Their performance towards Africans and other global southerners is undeniably humane and positive on the surface, but they do not give their subjects initiative, dignity, or control. They fell into the trap of exoticism and somehow “humanized” the rest of Europe, turning them into consumer goods again. In addition, perhaps to ensure that European audiences always treat these other people as innocent and one-dimensional “victims” or “survivors”, they completely depoliticize them and move their stories from a wider context. except.

These seemingly positive and humane but completely out of context descriptions of Africans and other distant European countries are numerous in the media: reports of child trafficking in African countries evade existing unequal structures and European colonial heritage. Questioned that these structures are these crimes; Stories about refugee girls getting education through European donations, but did not mention the reasons for their initial displacement; Interviews with indigenous women’s rights activists in Latin America and their anti-capitalist consciousness disappeared from the narrative .

All the poignant stories are aimed at raising awareness, and at the same time generating other people who are apolitical-completely cleaned up so that European audiences can easily consume them, hoping to feel good about themselves and humanity as a whole. On the surface, these forms of expression are preaching humanism and even cosmopolitanism, but in fact, they deliberately erase historical differences in order to conceal the power imbalance between the expressed, the express and the audience. This may not be “suffering pornography” in the traditional sense, but it is undoubtedly a kind of “humanistic pornography”.

Those who frequently produce these performances may have good or even noble intentions. But these news reports, development projects, and exhibitions not only risk turning their themes into commodities consumed by European audiences, but they also hide the true source of their suffering and keep the harmful colonial dynamics intact.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.



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