Posts tagged Pornography

Poverty Pornography

Me playing Angry Birds with a young Guatemalan. Photo credit Jessica Chenevey Shyba.

Today I saw children destined for a greatness that will go unrealized.  Undernourished until the age of three or four, their bodies will remain in an underdeveloped state where body, mind and spirit will be delayed from now until death.  In this area of Guatemala, 9 out of 10 children suffer from this debilitating chronic malnutrition.

Ultimately, they suffer from poverty.  And when I say “poverty” your mind may conjure up photos and videos that act – in some way – like poverty pornography.  These imagines depict a situation with all the flesh and emotion without the person.  You’ve seen plenty of poverty porn on commercials that attempt to guilt you into sponsoring a poor kid with graphic images of “poverty.”  Or that god-awful traumatizing Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercial that guilts you into adopt 100 homeless dogs and cats.  I want to move beyond the starving puppies and move towards the humanity in poverty.

Poverty isn’t just basketball bellied African children with flies hovering around their desperate imploring eyes.

And those who are impoverished aren’t so because they are evil, or because God has cursed them or because they have a bad case of the stupid.

Poverty isn’t simply a lack of financial means.  Nor is it caused by a LACK of hard work, responsibility, character or godliness.

Poverty isn’t always a choice brought on by people who would rather sit on their couches than work an honest day’s labor.

And poverty IS NOT something you can climb out of all on your own.  You can’t just get out of it with an “I can do this all by myself” good ‘ol ‘Merican attitude.

Those in poverty are not deficient human beings who are on a lower rung in the echelon of human evolution … one step above the really smart sign language monkeys.  They are people just like you and like me.  Well, except they haven’t watched the latest Breaking Bad episode … and they probably know nothing about the iPhone 5s and 5c release.

“Those people” are the people who go hungry because they’ve given all their portion to their malnourished children.

People who work harder than you and I and yet still don’t have enough funds to provide the basic nourishment needed for the physical and mental development of their children.

Like the family I met today.  The husband walks from farm to farm looking for stable work, waking at 5 AM and coming home at dark, while his wife tends the children and their garden of corn and beans at home.

These are people who believe in Fate because they have no control over the outcome of their sick child.  With no access to healthcare, it’s “que sera sera” (now that song will be stuck in your head all day … mwahahaha).  There is no fix for sickness, no doctor for healing and no saving grace of medicine.  There is what will be, be it life or death.

And this impoverishment produces a cycle of generation poverty.

When a child has chronic malnourishment and the permanent physical and mental delay that comes with it, there isn’t any opportunity here in Guatemala for him or her to be anything more than a low paid worker, or – worse yet – a gang member.

This is the reality.  And it’s not nice.  Of course poverty exists in America, but this isn’t America’s poverty.  There’s no brush that I can use to paint rainbows and unicorns on this canvas.  The picture is gut wrenching, dark and sad.

This isn’t the life they want, nor is it a life they can choose to escape.  The reality is this: people in poverty need the help of you and me.  It’s just how it is.  Let them realize the greatness God intends.  Join me with World Vision.

Death Porn

There are two ways you can look at death as being pornographic.  In the one sense, pornography is representative of something taboo.  In the Victorian era sex was a taboo subject.  Today, as some have argued, death is the new taboo … a taboo that we make a huge amount of effort to deny.  Anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer said, “At present, death and mourning are treated with much the same prudery as sexual impulses were a century ago.”

Richard Beck wrote,

“the American success ethos is, at root, a neurotic defense mechanism involved in repressing death anxiety. The American culture is, thus, largely delusional and fictional, characterized by a fundamental dishonesty about our mortal condition. Americans pretend that they are immortal and have “all the time in the world.” Consequently, anything that punctures this illusion–disease, decay, debility or death–is pushed aside and avoided as unseemly and illicit. Hence the label “the pornography of death.”

Death as taboo pornography.

But there is another kind of death porn.  Another way death and pornography are related.  This other way isn’t through representation but through analogy.

Porno films have an intrinsically depersonalizing effect on those involved and those who watch.  This commodity of sex has been shown to effect real life relationships in a variety of ways, most of which tend to be harmful.  Just as “sex as commodity” can become harmful so can “death as commodity.”

Have you ever wondered why you can watch a gratuitous amount of violent deaths on TV and not be too particularly bothered by it?  I’ve never lost sleep over a death on a TV show (although it was difficult when Lori died on The Walking Dead.  And the Starks in Game of Thrones).

We play Black Ops on our game console and kill a couple dozen persons in one sitting without thinking about the fact that we are playing a game (A GAME!) where the objective is to kill as many people as we can.  And the best gamer is the one who can kill the most.

We watch violence and gore on TV, in movies and remain relatively unaffected.

And this “unaffectedness” is because death has become a commodity.  A thing.  Something we can look at.  Removed from person, and removed from emotion.

Death as a commodity is, in many ways, like pornography.  It’s become something that we can safely substitute for the real thing.  It’s all the visuals without the love, the trust, the grief and the person.  Just as pornography is the commodity of sex without love, so our present grasp of death (via TV, video games, etc.) is death without person and without grief.

And yet, while violence is all throughout our TV shows and video games, we are really uneasy when we talk about the real thing.  It’s all the gore without the grief, which – like sexual pornography – doesn’t always prepare us for the reality of death and the grief that comes with us.

Death porn can make us insensitive to a co-worker who is “grieving longer than he/she should”.  “Shouldn’t Pat be over that death by now?”  If all we know is death porn, then the answer is “Yes.  Pat should be over that death by now.”  With death, there are no “one night stands” but death porn makes us think there is.

When death becomes pornified, it becomes something that we should “shield the children from.”  So, like we often do when talking about sex around our children, we bath our language with euphemisms.

Grandpa has been:

“Called home”

“Gone to a better place”

“Gone to glory”

And when someone dies in the family we make sure that our children don’t have to see it.  We “block that channel.”  We are so used to the scary fantasy of death that we don’t realize how much beauty, love and life is in real dying, real death and real grief.

Finally, we learn to do death in private.  Sure, we might have a funeral (although funerals are become less and less of a social occasion), but we don’t want others to see us grieve.  When a friend asks, “How are you?” we won’t say how much grief hurts, we won’t let our friend see our emotions; instead, we’ll say, “I’m fine.”  And so we’ve denied it.  We’re ashamed of it.  We feel guilty.  “I just don’t want to be a burden to them.”  As though death and grief is something that should be kept away, hidden and private.

But death isn’t pornography.  Death isn’t dirty.  Death isn’t something we should deny.  Like sex, in the context of love, death is full of beauty, love and life.  What good sex is to a good relationship, so the good death is to a community.  Death provides that experience where the community – despite our differences — can come together as one.

The pornification of death robs us all.  It hurts us, hurts our relationships and hurts our community.

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