I believe that talking about things matters. Having an awareness for other people in the world is important– it’s what brings us emotionally closer together. Unfortunately, seeing someone suffer, helps us to realise that we are human. That we all experience pain to some degree, others worse than some. Having the ability to empathise, to feel WITH someone instead of FOR them, helps us to realise our equality. For some. Others are robots/homophobics/racists/sexists/ageists etc etc etc. Those individuals lack empathy and therefore do not see all humans as equal. “The Other” is a common phrase or idea at the back of their minds.
Regardless, I think there’s a line. Between feeling something and doing something, and doing that thing for the right reasons.
Most Friends fans will remember the episode where Joey challenges Phoebe, saying there is no such thing as a selfless good deed. How can it be selfless if you do something good for someone else, and in turn, you feel good too? In that case, who are you really doing the good deed for? We like to think it’s for ‘the other’ but often, Joey’s idea is right on the money.
What’s important is how we represent “the other”. Particularly the representation of the poor in the media. Sharing images and information of the poverty around the world may have started as a means of spreading awareness, but now these members of society are a part of an exploitation scheme. A way to make money.
“Poverty is a result of both individual and systematic problems” (Roenigk, 2014) Groups of individuals live in a community that will either “work to empower the poor or perpetuate their condition.”(Roenigk, 2014)
The White Helmets are an emergency-responders group based in Syria. Recently they have been exposed and accused of not legitimately helping individuals in Syria. The REAL Syria Civil Defence have an emergency contact number (113), but the multi-million dollar US & NATO state-funded White Helmets, does not. It is clear that this organisation, aimed to assist injured civilians in Syria, is not doing that at all.
“In fact during my recent trip to Syria, I was once again struck by the response from the majority of Syrians when asked if they knew who the White Helmets were. The majority had never heard of them, others who follow western media noted that they are a “NATO construct being used to infiltrate Syria as a major player in the terrorist support network.”” (Beeley, 2016)
In this video, we can see that this man is acting injured on a cue.
This video is a prime example of exploiting people in dire conditions for the gain of the viewer. Why are the White Helmets not actually helping people in need when they have the means, money and ability to do so? Apparently they’re actively involved with terrorist groups such as Al-Quaeda. But that’s not really what I’m here to talk about.
As the other side of “the other”, what do we actively do when we see these kinds of videos and images (whether we know them to be legitimate or not)? Some of us feel something, a real feeling, and maybe we share the video on Facebook. By doing this, we’ve let the people around us know what good samaritans we are, because we care about the atrocities happening in places around the world. There is nothing wrong with this, but unfortunately our sympathy, our empathy isn’t really helping anyone.
This concept of “poverty porn”, sharing and exploiting images of those in need, promotes charity and not activism (Roenigk, 2014). People will donate to a charity through a few clicks on their computer screen. So many people don’t realise most of this money goes to nothing but the charity– helping them create more ads of poverty porn, to employ their workers, to create functions etc.
It doesn’t mean that we are in the wrong to donate. Anyone who takes the time to donate isn’t doing it for the wrong reasons. They care enough to spend their hard-earned money on a hope for change. But it was the exploitation of poor, injured civilians that got them to make that decision. Unfortunately.
Beeley, V. (2016). EXCLUSIVE: The REAL Syria Civil Defence Exposes Fake ‘White Helmets’ as Terrorist-Linked Imposters. [online] 21st Century Wire. Available at: http://21stcenturywire.com/2016/09/23/exclusive-the-real-syria-civil-defence-expose-natos-white-helmets-as-terrorist-linked-imposters/ [Accessed 27 Mar. 2017].
Roenigk, E. (2014). 5 Reasons poverty porn empowers the wrong person. [online] ONE. Available at: https://www.one.org/us/2014/04/09/5-reasons-poverty-porn-empowers-the-wrong-person/ [Accessed 27 Mar. 2017].