Poverty porn …

I’ve started watching Extreme Makeover Home Edition when I can’t sleep. It’s a fascinating programme and gives an unintentional insight into the realities of poverty today – and our attitude to it.

It focuses on families in the US, predominantly black, who are living in shacks, run-down bungalows, dilapidated houses and are desperate to move. These people are homeowners who can’t afford to have the sewage outlet fixed, so wade in their own excrement while watching telly. Others fit families of ten in two rooms. Some have personal tragedies such as a dead bread-winner or a disability that stops them from working.

In steps the Extreme Makeover team to raze their homes to the ground and rebuild them. The results are always magnificent. Of course, only homeowners can benefit from these shows and those in social housing or with slum landlords have to put up and shut up, and watch open-mouthed as I do.

After being pitied – a new home

It is genuinely moving stuff. I find myself sniffing a bit as I watch. Ok, I admit it, I’ve sobbed. The most moving part is, when faced with extraordinary luxury, having walked across plush carpets and gleaming tiled floors, wandered from one ornate room to another, they say something heartbreakingly simple like, “I can have a bath” or “I have my own bed”.

Poverty does make the simplest things more important but that doesn’t make poverty sentimental or acceptable telly-viewing, does it? My fascination is timely because I’ve found myself looking at things I’d like to buy now, despite a vice-like grip on my own consumerism. I’ve seen some cups and saucers I like. I don’t need them. I like them and felt a bit sad knowing I can’t buy them.

It is interesting to see that Extreme Makeover Home Edition not only rebuilds people’s homes, filling them with all their crockery needs, but also rebuilds lives: it provides college funds (raised by ticket sales for impromptu concerts with country and western singers), build garages and offices so the homeowners can earn a living and it even convinces drug companies to provide a lifetime supply of essential medicine.

But they shouldn’t have to. This, while moving and entertaining, is poverty porn. These people are benefiting from advertisers seeking airspace in order to have a decent home. The cameras hover for a few seconds over logos as they pass the posh cookers and enormous fridges. People shouldn’t have to appear on television, blatantly asking for help, in order for others to realise no one should have to live in a falling down shack.

Worse still is the fact that, while in the US telly shows rebuild homes, we send in The Secret Millionaire. This is one of the most despicable programmes ever made where the poor prove they are deserving of help before it is handed over by smug gits who want the publicity more than they want to help anyone.

This is, of course, Cameron’s vision: A return to the Victorian ideal of the deserving and undeserving poor being helped by philanthropy rather than the state. He wants private investors to “plough cash into projects for 120,000 families to reduce the number of days their children spend in care, lower the rate of teen pregnancy and cut the number of visits to hospital accident and emergency wards”.

I read this and realise that the Extreme Makeover team have more compassion and consistently better results when helping families and changing lives for the better than the coalition ever will.

Some of our best-known charities have their roots in Victorian England but I can’t imagine they thought they’d still be needed over a hundred years later. I doubt they thought there would still be people begging in the streets – or a government refusing state help but asking the rich for handouts in times of mass unemployment.

Victorian England’s philanthropists often saw the poor as feckless, wasting their money on drink and gambling. I wonder what the modern equivalent, The Secret Millionaire, would think of my situation. I might find out now former star Emma Harrison has caught Cameron’s eye. I imagine it like this:

“There are hidden jobs.” This is Emma’s mantra.

“So I just need to unearth these hidden jobs?”

“Yes.”

“Are they under here?” I lift up a cushion on the settee.

Emma says nothing.

“Are they behind here?” I quickly open the door to see if a job is hiding behind it.

Emma says nothing.

“Are they in here?” I rush into the kitchen opening all the cupboards, ready and willing to find a hidden job.

Emma says nothing.

In fact, I imagine it as a lot like a mandatory meeting at Job Centre Plus.

What I have in the fridge: Much food, including a treat of garlic mushrooms

My plans for the weekend: Eating garlic mushrooms and drinking red wine, probably while watching Extreme Makeover Home Edition

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3 thoughts on “Poverty porn …

  1. Pingback: Little bit of history repeating … | unemployedhack

  2. Pingback: Return to Oz … | unemployedhack

  3. Pingback: Why Emma Harrison and Workfare must go … | unemployedhack

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