Sunday, May 29, 2005

Anger, not pity, is best response to poverty

The title comes from an excellent article in the Japan Times by Philip Brasor about poverty and its representation in the media:


Anger, not pity, is best response to poverty


In his new book, "Planet of Slums," the American urban historian Mike Davis paints a bleak picture of a world in which the poorest have become so marginalized that they have dropped off the economic radar. Over the past 20 years or so, globalization and the neoliberal policies of the International Monetary Fund have conspired to drive peasants subsisting off their land into cities that can't absorb them. The bottom line is something like a billion people living hand-to-mouth on a daily basis.


...


Well-meaning media accounts of abject poverty often avoid source problems altogether. Fuji TV has been broadcasting an annual special for the past three years called "If the World Were a Village of 100 People," which is the title of a popular children's book that attempts to make the Earth's 6.2 billion people more comprehensible by reducing their various lifestyles to that of a village of 100 residents.


This year's special was broadcast two weeks ago. A group of celebrities sitting in a studio watched reports about four children in stunned amazement. In the first, a 12-year-old Filipino girl supports her ill mother and two younger brothers by sifting through mountains of garbage for recyclables in the outskirts of Manila. The family lives in a makeshift hovel and once every three days eats a meal of watery rice gruel. The girl makes about 30 yen a day, part of which she has to spend on medicine for her mother.


The girl's situation is appalling, but the celebrities limit their comments to tearful commiserations and clueless questions. "Why doesn't she look for work somewhere else?" asks a former boxer, as if it were all a matter of personal choice, but in any case the program makes no attempt to explain the socioeconomic circumstances that keeps this family where it is.


...


Exploiting poor kids for the sake of greater awareness of their plight is not a bad thing in and of itself, but Fuji TV's purpose is to evoke pity, which has no lasting effect since it doesn't make people think about the cause of the problem. The emotion that needs to be stimulated is anger.


...


Read the complete article



Japanese TV is not greatly worse in this respect than TV in Western Europe, I think, although there is a genre of brain-dead reportage in Japan which is less common elsewhere: the 'wide show'. Short reports are presented within the framing device of celebrities watching those reports, so you get five minutes of (shallow) reportage followed by five minutes of celebrities telling you what they think about it. Predicably the comments made are often as irritatingly lacking in comprehension as the boxer's "Why doesn't she look for work somewhere else?"




For those interested in Japanese TV -- and I warn you that it is even less interesting than I have managed to describe it as here -- there's a pretty good article in the Chicago Tribune which mentions wide shows:

According to an article in the Hollywood Reporter, the Japanese watch the most television -- an average of five hours a day, which far outpaces Americans, in second place at a paltry 4 hours and 19 minutes.


...


A staple of Japanese television is the chat show, known here as a "wide show" for the wide variety of topics they cover. However, these consist almost exclusively of sensationalistic crime stories and recipes.


Hosts and panelists convene informally to talk, interview special guests and per-form silly stunts. To accentuate that homey feeling, a tall glass of iced tea is placed in front of each guest. But it's not cool to really take a sip. That would be rude.


The granddaddy of these programs is "The Wide." It's my favorite because I was once interviewed for a segment on a horrific school murder. But I was videotaped at my office. I didn't get a glass of tea.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mike Davis has the Bolshevik perspective on religion. Look in the endnotes for him to reveal his views - for example, those on Chapter 1 of City of Quartz, a book I nearly liked but can't believe a single word of. God bless those bearing vigilant witness to free China.

nick said...

"a book I nearly liked but can't believe a single word of" is a fantastic one-line review.
I haven't read any of Davis' books, so I'm not endorsing his views, of course, except that I agree with what he says about poverty and the IMF (assuming Philip Brasor has reported him correctly). He's hardly the first to point it out, though.

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