Whether it’s Channel 4’s Benefit Street or the Water Aid appeals featuring a malnourished toddler slapped on the front of the ad for extra crying effect, it’s everywhere. Out of the 2,000 adverts we interact with daily, a sizeable proportion of these is some form of ‘poverty porn’, a term cleverly coined to describe ‘any type of media which exploits the poor’s condition’. Its sole purpose – to evoke emotion and hence, a donation or reaction of some sort. It all seems innocent and rosy at this point, but my criticism lies in the ‘boohoo-super- saviour complex’ it evokes in some Westerners. The sense of superiority gained when interacting with poverty porn can in fact, make you delusional. Whilst it grounds some of us in realising how lucky we are to have education, water and healthcare; for others it does the polar opposite.

The now infamous James Turner Street of Birmingham was used as the perfect scaremongering set for Benefits Street. With 90 per cent of its residents on some form of income support and a few ex-offenders in tow, what more could a producer want to concoct an accidental commotion? For those who haven’t gotten around to tuning in yet, the programme charted the lives of the residents of Winson Green’s most notorious street.

Producers followed the lives of teenage mothers, ex-cons and the media’s absolute favourite icing on the cake – immigrants, a guaranteed timeless classic. The cruelest irony exists in the fact that the lines between documenting and demonising become hurriedly, and perhaps, intentionally blurred over the course of the five-week screening. White Dee, also known as Deirdre Kelly, was the archetypal mother of the street; settling disputes, helping Fungi the addict though difficulties of a personal nature, all whilst battling her own demon – depression. And her reward, courtesy of Katie Hopkins, was the disparaging of her character when she was described as the ‘patron saint of drug users and dropouts’.

It goes without saying that people like the above are a symptom of a society where unfair depiction of a minority is an oddly reoccurring theme. Unsurprisingly, the working residents of Benefit Street are nowhere to be found in the programme. And yet, channel 4’s Head of Factual Programmes Ralph Lee, adamantly denied claims that their intention was to demonise a specific strata of society as some form of leech on the welfare system. However, the name of the programme suggests otherwise.

The last episode sparked an intense debate which can be watched here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=mszhESGvE_c

On a more global note, Third World nations are primary hotspots for poverty porn. The southern hemisphere boasts a modest collection of favelas, shantytowns and slums – all ripe for the picking. Polaroid shots of emaciated African children are the standard stereotype when some people think of poverty. Their high frequency of appearance in broadcast has numbed some of us to the pain we are supposed to feel when we see another human suffering, in the knowledge that there is not a whole lot you can do about it because you are literally worlds apart.

The stereotype prevails today, with some simpletons genuinely believing that Africa is only mud huts and Ebola patients. The faces of poverty become distorted when people begin to feel empowered by someone else’s suffering, enough to believe that they are somehow ‘better’ than them. The delusion of superiority becomes overwhelmingly patronising after a while, which is the current situation. Are songs like the Band Aid 30 helpful? Don’t lyrics like ‘don’t they know it’s Christmas?’ perpetuate the cultural ignorance that is so rife? For British-born Africans like me, the whole charade is cringeworthy, frustrating, even. Life in Africa is nothing as it is depicted.’It’s Africa, not another planet’, a British Ebola nurse, Will Pooley says, finally revealing to the world the big secret. It’s no surprise that British-born afrobeat artist Fuse ODG politely declined the invite to participate in the song. He probably just about managed to stop his eyes rolling into the back of his head somewhere. Additional kudos to musicians like Adele who followed suit.

Bim Adewunmi’s criticism of the Band Aid 30 song:
http://goo.gl/RXLGf2

Bryony Gordon summarises my headache perfectly: ‘Why, when it comes to charity, the rich and famous must donate their precious time while the rest of us must donate our money?’ My answer (sarcasm intended) is that for the foreseeable future, Africa will continue to marinate in its extreme poverty and war-torn landscape, (mud huts and all) until ‘conscious saints’ like Geldof, the creator of the song, finally notice and come to rescue us all! Huzzah! In the meantime, we will wait, and wait we will.