There’s A Type of Porn I’m Against


I’m generally a pro-porn type of person, but one kind I can’t get behind is poverty-porn. Now, it seems, Africans are fighting back on social media.

Poverty-Porn is the tactic of media and charities that uses sympathy as a catalyst for monetary gain, exploiting the poor and uneducated, to showcase desperate conditions for an emotional response. And while the tactic may be effective at heightening profits—by misrepresenting an entire continent as slum—the fate of an entire continent is stamped with pity. What this means is that outside of Africa, Africans are expected to look up.

The media is about drama, afterall, and miserable poverty is definitely going to draw eyes. But the next part of the article, explaining the necessity of this campaign, actually surprised me.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian novelist who came from a middle-class family. Her father was a professor and her mother an administrator. Adichie attended an American university at 19-years-old and in her TED Talk, Adichie talks about her experience with a roommate who was shocked to find that she could speak English, knew how to use a stove and listened to Mariah Carey instead of “tribal music.”

“She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa, a single story of catastrophe. In this single story, there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.”

Crap, I really did grow up in a bubble.

I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in Italy, which is geographically much closer to Africa than the US, or if it’s because I happened to grow up around particularly travelled people. But seriously? There are people who think that an entire continent is a wasteland of poverty and suffering? It’s ridiculous.

Where I grew up, people often spoke of the mal d’africa. It is supposedly a feeling that certain people get the moment they step off the plane in any African country. There is the cultural notion that, to some people, Africa speaks to their soul, and the moment you get there, if you catch the mal d’africa, you won’t be happy living anywhere else in the world. I know a few people who ended up moving there, retiring there, and many more who winter there every year. There are very few people I know who haven’t been to Africa at least once in their lives, and three of my friends from high school live there right now. That is the context I grew up in, I always saw Africa as an alluring and gorgeous continent, which unfortunately had some problems in some places, but that many can’t help but fall in love with the second they see it. It never really registered in my mind that this picture of Africa is one that I formed because of where I grew up, rather than what I saw on everyday TV, and that others might have a completely different view of the continent. It never crossed my mind that some people might think that every single African in the world was a starving child covered in flies. It’s depressing, and now I fully understand the social media campaign.

In response to the oversimplification of African identity, and connectedly an oversimplification of the roots of poverty in some nations, Africans have taken to social media to show the diversity of the continent. Twenty-two-year-old Somali-American student, Diana Salah (@lunarnomad) helped spur the social media campaign #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou. Since it began a week ago, the hashtag has been used over 54,000 times.

The pictures are well worth it, and every bit as beautiful as I would expect. Can you tell that I’m still bitter that I didn’t get accepted into a summer masters program in Uganda when I was in college?

I really, really want to go to Africa.

Comments

  1. polishsalami says

    Humans tend to prefer simple stories rather than complex narratives. Stereotypes are easy for our primate brains to handle.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    But surely anyone with an email account is keenly aware that Africa is populated almost entirely by the relatives of recently deceased and fabulously rich government functionaries or oil company executives, who don’t need your charity (what with their multi-million dollar inheritance) but just a little bit of help actually getting access to their wealth, that help coming in the form of your bank account details?

  3. Death Disco says

    Considering that appending the word ‘porn’ as a suffix in this circumstance, and many others, is meant to denote that what is being done is both immoral and exploitive I wonder how one can both be ‘pro-porn’, a notoriously exploitive and misogynist industry that exploits, in substantially all cases, impoverished and/or marginalized women, and against images that display impoverished people who aren’t being double penetrated or sucking cock. The cognitive dissonance must be close to painful.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      Wow, how to unpack that condescending statement.
      First of all, the suffix “porn” is no necessarily used to denote what you describe. Take “torture porn” in relation to slasher movies, or “tragedy porn” in relation to train crashes or stories of the Romeo and Juliet varieties. It is meant to denote a pleasure in something that you feel (whether for good reasons or not) you shouldn’t be feeling pleasure in watching. Some people “like” feeling heartbroken for the tragic hero in the movie they are watching, or “like” seeing what new and inventive ways the character got cut up and butchered, but don’t want to admit it, so they bleat about good acting or an interesting twist in the plot to justify their enjoyment of the entertainment. Poverty porn happens to be exploitative, but the suffix “porn” refers more to the fact that those kinds of images draw in more eyes and interest, like the classic cliche’ of “it’s like watching a train wreck, you can’t look away”.
      As for the sex industry, there is undoubtedly exploitation that happens, and that is an issue. However, I happen to believe that women have far more agency than you seem to. While sexual exploitation is a problem that needs to be tackled, I do not for an instant think that every porn actress in the world is being exploited, mistreated, or is only in the business because she was traumatized and victimized. Guess what? Women are sexual beings, and some women actually like being in porn, and get off on exhibitionism. It is most unfortunate that our society still stigmatizes women’s sexuality so much that many who would like to participate in porn feel that they can’t because of how they would be perceived and judged afterwards – I would refer you to what Greta Christina has written about it as one of many examples.
      Some women like to suck cock, and like it when other people watch her doing it. I’m not going to be clutching my pearls over that. To each their own.

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