Tuesday, May 08, 2007

“Development Pornography”

Crazy busy this side, and I am not too certain with what. Work is at an all time low. The systems of my current project have gradually been so well-created & fine-tuned, they are running themselves. Damn! That was dumb!

And no one is yet throwing money at us for me to get further work. Well, there was yet another offer to head up some abstinence and “be faithful” training. I told my boss that I would react in the same way I had when faced with this at my last company…. I resigned.

I think my boss gets some strange enjoyment from threatening me with such project prospects. He certainly laughs enough when he suggests it to me.

So, to divert attention from my bamboozled self, here is one fascinating REUTERS article on a subject that I agree with and argue for – the depiction through images of aid agencies’ beneficiaries.

Many of us Development cheerleaders hate that the pictures sent over to the West are of emaciated children with flies buzzing about their heads. This is sometimes known as “Development Pornography”. It causes the developed world to only imagine our continent as one of starving, filthy, dying half-humans. The whole continent-wide.

We argue for the media to rather show images to inspire well-off people to feel compelled to assist people with helping themselves. That these people CAN help themselves. We ask the media and aid agency PR departments to illustrate that these people, had it not been for natural/ political/ economic screw ups beyond their control, could be living the life you live. They need the right opportunities and resources to pull themselves up. And you have the ability to create this access for them.

The way to get the visual message across that someone from foodless desert-covered North East Africa is the same as you, the richer Westerner, is to depict this person as close to your image as possible.

How that is done, is hardly easy. But then, photo-journalists have never seemed like people to not thrive on a challenge!

During the Ethiopian famines in the 1980s countless photos were sent northwards of starving people, to cause enough pity for people to send cash in their merc- and bmw-loads. What next happened though, was that the donators became desensitised to such images. While at the same time every NGO and its sub-partner started using the stereotypical photographs to ask for(demand) money. Not only did this create an African icon that is false on many levels, it also tired people out from assisting with aid (in whatever form this aid takes).

We currently are trying to reprogramme your minds towards how you immediately think of Africa, and what you think of the development world.

An interesting example given is that of the Live 8 concerts in 2005, which were to raise awareness about poverty. "(It) was supposed to be about justice, not charity. It was supposed to be highly political."

Instead, “the media recycled the same old stereotypes - even the same old photographs - which said little about justice”. These images re-inspired possible charity, they did not argue for the public to put politically pressure on G8 leaders.

This might have been why I disliked this campaign. It was not a sSEQUEL to (ie. a progression from) the 1985 Live Aid campaign, that was about raising money for charity. It was a plain rehashment. The audiences were made to believe that even with twenty years of donations and assistance Africa had not changed a single bit. It still was starving & on the edge of death the landmass round.

Which is false, development work has reached and uplifted many many people – bit by small tiny bit. But that does not make for sensational storytelling!

“We live in an economy of indifference, and aid agencies - as well as the media - are forced to choose whatever images have a chance of puncturing that indifference….The trouble is, there doesn't seem to be enough research about exactly what gets through to the general public”, says David Campbell, professor of cultural and political geography at Durham University

So, in an attempt to do some very ad hoc research,…what do you think would get through to you?


Revolving Credit said...

Send them pics of McDonalds restaurants all run down and in disrepair as the local people are too poor to be able to afford a Big mac...fair chance that the donors funds will start pouring in as this is a symbol that can be understood in the West.

ChewTheCud said...

When is enough food aid though? Is the goal not to ultimately get the people to be self sufficient? Or is it already too late and the land cannot support the population anymore? Have the people come to rely too much on food aid, kinda like Zimbabweans selling their maize, because they thought they would get food aid later?

This is one of those things where there's no true or false answers I suppose. There's no quick fix to Africa anyway.

Champagne Heathen said...

Rev - ha ha ha, and yet...so true. Sob.

Chews - you do kinda get onto another element of the whole aid debate, but it does illustrate how images have influenced our understandings of what aid is.

The Development World seeks to make itself obsolete. To work itself out of a job, rather than continuing the aid pipelines for eternity.

One way in which to do this is to change the global fundamentals that cause current impoverishment. We should not expect the World Food Programme to be handing out food for centuries to come. But we do need it in the interim. The interem being one LONG time, considering how long it takes to change global systems, perceptions, & behaviour.

Yes, we def. need to look at whether that land is even able to support its people anymore. (Or should people be living in areas regulalry affected by natural disasters, etc.) But before then, we need to ensure that these people have argricultural training, that they have access to agricultural tools, and even to FAIR markets through which they can trade their produce.

The very global trade system needs to be reanalysed and reworked if people of the developed world wish to stop giving. But in a peverse version of capitalism, this is hardly the attractive option for those people holding the power.

Exploitative & corrupt governmental systems need to be amended to ensure aid is not "lost" at the "gates" - this is done through aid agencies demanding political accountability & transparency before the country can be a recepient.

So, yes, there are no quick fixes, nor is the aid world as simple as many laymen seem to think - that we take your money & translate it into a plate of food.

We are addressing the multifacet issues on countless levels & from countless directions.

And then we close our eyes and hope for the best.

(Did I just go on a tangent??)

Phlippy said...

brilliant, I honestly feel 20 IQ points more intelligent and that I can hold relatively decent conversation now.

Stunning post as always angel

Anonymous said...


Mommy said...

There was a Metro campaign in which white people were put in the roles that black people have traditionally performed in this country - such as being labourers, maids etc. I loved it because it reflected the essential similarities between us all, as well as giving people insight in a strange way by literally putting them in other people's shoes. So perhaps it's about doing a campaign in which leaders see themselves in the same scenario - attach their heads to emaciated white bodies in their urban contexts and see if they can then relate.

Anonymous said...

oooh, I like Jammie's idea...the good ole switcherooo...excellent advertising and subversion all at once!

Unknown said...

Inspiration, not guilt. Thats what would get through to me. Make me feel like I WANT to be a part of something, rather than that its my DUTY to do something.