Is Struggle Street poverty porn?

7 May

Struggle Street

SBS aired the first episode of the documentary Struggle Street last night, amidst the kind of publicity and controversy media outlets dream of.

Briefly, the program follows the daily lives of families and individuals who live in Mount Druitt, a suburb in Sydney’s far west where unemployment and poverty are rife, and all the complexities created by lack of opportunity and marginalisation serve to oppress, in some cases, beyond endurance.

In this erudite review in The Conversation the program is described as “poverty porn,” created by the entitled for the entertainment of the entitled. It’s worth noting the author of this piece had not seen the program before writing his review of it. Always a mistake, in my opinion.

An alternative perspective can be found here, written by a journalist who has, thankfully, actually watched the documentary.

For the first ten minutes I found Struggle Street almost impossible to watch, so palpable was the pain, confusion, frustration and sorrow of the people involved. There seems to be an inevitability about the trajectory of their lives: the possibility of a happy ending, or an even slightly improved ending seems severely limited, not because the people involved are inherently undeserving or morally lax, but because of circumstances so complex that unravelling them requires skills and resources that are simply not available, and that authorities are unwilling to make available.

It is convenient to cast people in such situations as being entirely responsible for their own misfortunes, ignoring the vast web of circumstances created by the more privileged sectors of society, circumstances that inevitably create an underclass whom the privileged then have the satisfaction of despising.

To be poor is to be surveilled in a manner entirely alien to the middle class, where the possibilities of concealment are many and varied, and to whom “privacy” and the right not to be offended or embarrassed is a privilege enshrined in law.  It could be argued that the documentary is yet another form of surveillance of the marginalised, ostensibly entered into voluntarily, to which the middle class would never subject itself. It could also be argued that the privileged creators and viewers who perhaps voyeuristically consumed the program last night found moral gratification, if they needed to look for it, in the abyss between the them of Struggle Street, and the us of the entitled gaze.

For me, what fought its way through the grim despair that haunts the daily lives of many of the participants in this documentary is their humanity. The love of a father for his recalcitrant offspring who steal from him to buy drugs. The determined attempts to create, from nothing, a party atmosphere for small children. The yearning of a young woman, homeless for two years owing to family disruption, to return to learning and thus make something of her life. The ongoing adversarial encounters with authorities such as Centrelink and the police that are part of the daily grind that must be faced and endured. People keep struggling to love, to make things better, to stay alive, all against the overwhelming influences of forces beyond their control.

Struggle Street is not, to my mind, poverty porn, though there are those who will choose to view it as such. This says more to me about them, than it does about the program and its participants. There will be the righteously self-congratulatory who measure their success against the apparent failures of the residents of Struggle Street. That can’t be avoided, however, that they need to make such a measure speaks volumes, and not about Struggle Street. What I would hope is that this documentary will confront us with the ferocious inequalities in our society, and the inhumanity of political authority that refuses resources and care to those who most need it, opting instead to blame and punish and marginalise. Mount Druitt does not exist in a vacuum. If this series demonstrates anything, it ought to be that reality.

PS: And the Guardian agrees with me.

Advertisements

45 Responses to “Is Struggle Street poverty porn?”

  1. samjandwich May 7, 2015 at 11:15 am #

    Great review Jennifer, and yes I completely agree – the people in this show I thought came across as overwhelmingly dignified, and the perception of “poverty porn” could only come about from the perspective of an inability to look past the obvious and to connect with other members of our species.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. hudsongodfrey May 7, 2015 at 12:29 pm #

    If a society is judged by how it treats the least of its members then the question that matters is how we document our own report card. It would be very convenient wouldn’t it to pull out a trite label like “poverty porn” and have us avert our eyes from unpleasant truths.

    Meanwhile and elsewhere, the same mealy mouthed patronisers, are keen to extol the virtues of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, while busily making sure there’s nary a bootstrap to be found.

    I shall have to watch it on catch up!

    Liked by 1 person

    • hudsongodfrey May 7, 2015 at 11:52 pm #

      I’ve now watched the first episode on catch up, and my opinion of it and of some of the people in it improved as a result.

      While it’s true to say that harsh judgements are invited of some individuals, it’s even truer to say that time is often taken to allow a sympathetic side to come out.

      As in many a harsh set of circumstances acts of kindness that were shown put other individuals in highly complimentary light. I’m thinking particularly of a young single mother who took in a girl off the streets and was trying to help her find her way.

      Whereas the systemic failure and political realities of Sydney’s forgotten suburbs figure heavily in the background to the circumstances of the people’s lives, but the people not the politics are central to its narrative. So while I don’t think anyone in government would be spared consternation in watching this I don’t think it’s a deliberate attempt to coerce or embarrass Mt Druitt or any who sail in her. And I certainly wouldn’t call it “Poverty Porn.”

      Like

  3. Florence nee Fedup May 7, 2015 at 1:11 pm #

    It shows to me, that many people do not have much control over their lives. Each small mistake one makes, leads to disaster.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson May 7, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

      Especially when it involves authority that can be judgemental and unforgiving,

      Like

  4. Diane Pearton May 7, 2015 at 1:30 pm #

    Apart from anything else the occupants of Struggle St are products of social engineering, by successive governments, interested only in a successful economy, not a healthy or happy society.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. paul walter May 7, 2015 at 5:43 pm #

    It’s a fascinating review, coming in the wake of a Guardian review that also gave it a cautious thumbs up.

    I’ve avoided it because the trailors did indicate welfare bashing, perhaps the new management of SBS making a statement concerning a move away from social comment to censorious conservatism. The producer, when interviewed, did not appeal either- I thought, “another hired gun”.

    However, this review is one of several now about and the one that would adress my concerns most closely. I may yet give it a shot, to see if it measures up to some of the excellent 4 Corners docos in this sort of subject over the last year.

    As for Struggle St, I can admit to some experience of the lifestyle, having grown up in Adelaide’s devastated (post) industrial northern subs, then gradually working my self clear of that lifestyle here in the humble western subs over the last few decades.

    You need a bit of luck to break clear and can be defensive in some ways if that has been acheived to some extent..you remain suspicious of authority, contemptuous of the class system and neolib pol-economics. Returning “home” can be really depressing and there is always the faint fear that you are going to fall back into the worst of it through the dead weight of your own inadequacies.

    It’s an easy, lazy luxury to sneer at the bogans sometimes, but sobering when you remember that for the grace of god you go, for the undeserved gift of your own slightly more adequate brains.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson May 7, 2015 at 5:50 pm #

      Or just being in the right place at the right time….

      Like

    • Marilyn May 8, 2015 at 7:21 pm #

      I found it compelling and not judgemental or ugly.

      Let me tell you about my first real vision of poverty just like that in the middle of an affluent street where I lived in 1965.

      There was a family three doors down, good Catholics with 9 kids. One boy got tetanus and almost died because vaccines were not readily available in those days, the family was unemployed but there was no dole or support so the dad did odd jobs and was seriously injured when his back was broken on a days work unloading railway carriages to feed his kids. No disability in those days so the family rotted.

      They had no way to keep their slum house clean because mum was chronically depressed with 9 kids and no income much to speak of. And of course they were Catholics so doubly dubious in the sectarian Australia of the 1960’s.

      I went home and raided our wardrobes for clothes we didn’t wear, so did the very kind families both sides of next door, and another one 2 houses over and we took them down to the family because we were so shocked at their poverty.

      I was beaten to within an inch of my life by my father, abused by my mother for helping “‘that scum”” and the other kids were praised by their families for caring.

      In 1967 the family took over the lease of the fish and chip shop abandoned by a family of Italians the town had driven out and they flourished.

      2 years and they turned their lives around.

      Now for another story from 1969, the oldest girl was pregnant and the town demonised her, watch Love Child and see the attitudes, but me and my younger sister, 2 girls our age next door and three other friends, all teenagers ourselves, banded together to save Christine from being forced to give up her child.

      She told Jeremy Moore of the Woomera lawyers the story 40 years later and he understood why I worked for nothing to free refugees.

      Bearing in mind I was only 12 in 1965.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Florence nee Fedup May 8, 2015 at 7:56 pm #

        Sometimes it only take a little recognition to give people their dignity back.

        Like

      • paul walter May 9, 2015 at 6:42 am #

        You are right. the sixties were an odd time. At Elizabeth North we had heaps of migrant kids from big families at the local school as well as rough aussies doing it rough and falling to have to live in Elizabeth. Gotta say I was relatively lucky myself.

        Lots of abuse, mental probs, whispered stories about strange things happening to the kids in some famlies, drinking, drugs and brawling.

        And yet some of my neighbours were really great, kind people and there was often a good common sense spirit about the community.

        Like

  6. paul walter May 7, 2015 at 7:11 pm #

    Yep. Just read the Conversation article and the SMH one. I think they dealt with different aspects of a complex problem involving social representation and hierarchy.

    The Conversation article deals with something we have become familiar with for its sheer repetiveness on tabloid tv and in the Murdoch Press and is about why this sort of televison works in a spiritually impoverished post industrial culture obsessed with profit, including even from barefaced exploitation. A sort of bear-baiting thing it is talking about, and some thing I’ve reached the stage of fleeing from myself, for its odious cruelty, underlyingly shabby greedy impetus and unbridled bad taste..

    Whereas the SMH article is a heads up proposing that the Struggle St series maybe a departure from an odious norm, the young bloke writing this and yourself seem anxious that a dismayed public not flee from something different on the basis of past experience.

    The two positions need not be adversarial but can be read complementarily, when a person considers the purposes and intentions of the writers, which a reader should be able to take on board as intersting and to do with the peculiarities of this particular instance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson May 7, 2015 at 7:26 pm #

      I agree I think, PW. The Conversation piece is applicable in some instances, but not to the Struggle Street doco. The author really should have watched the episode before writing his review.

      Like

  7. paul walter May 7, 2015 at 7:30 pm #

    Just back with this, am wondering if the producers are right in doing this?

    :http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2015/may/07/struggle-street-makers-sue-blacktown-mayor-for-defamation

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson May 7, 2015 at 9:17 pm #

      Wow. i wondered why the Mayor had pulled his head in today. He said some stupid things it seems

      Like

  8. paul walter May 7, 2015 at 8:54 pm #

    A back-story to the hostility to Struggle Street: a credibility problem SBS’s new hardline management has inflicted on the station.

    https://newmatilda.com/2015/05/07/second-sbs-journalist-punted-after-sharing-critical-story-about-network-her-facebook-page

    Liked by 1 person

  9. paul walter May 7, 2015 at 10:24 pm #

    Nbg for view. SBS wants a download of adobe flashplayer, unlike ABC where you just play the thing with a simple click on the page. It wont download, no doubt because of my anti virus. So ends yet another unhappy experience to do with adobe. And why dont SBS PULL THEIR FINGER OUT!!

    Like

    • hudsongodfrey May 7, 2015 at 11:59 pm #

      What are you using to play it on? For most tablet devices and phones there’s an SBS on demand app available. For PC or Mac install the correct version of the download for your operating system, it’s free. I noticed SBS also maintains a help page for people with similar issues to yours.

      Like

      • paul walter May 8, 2015 at 4:26 am #

        It would have been simpler to just have the button push, as with the ABC. As I said, the download stopped half way through. I’m not worried though. People have told me there are problems with bugs in flashplayer and I had no end of problems last time I downloaded adobe.

        However, I will ponder further on what you have said.

        Like

  10. paul walter May 7, 2015 at 10:25 pm #

    Never mind, not to worry. Why worry about viewing life in the boganburbs when I’ve already LIVED it.

    Like

  11. Diane Pearton May 8, 2015 at 8:43 am #

    Living in a small regional town, and working in public health, I am not isolated from Struggle Street as I was growing up in ‘The Shire’. I think that it is important for this demographic to get some tv time and I think we need to understand that our constant policy stinginess has an impact on vulnerable communities. It is bullshit that we can’t afford to address public education, public health, public housing, public transport.
    I doubt that SBS can achieve any outcome with this doco but maybe it is a start?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson May 8, 2015 at 6:25 pm #

      I think it’s a start. I am so pleased to see the participants having a voice. I hope it continues.

      Like

      • Marilyn May 8, 2015 at 7:22 pm #

        My concern was when the 16 year old girl Baillie was interviewed without an adult present on one occasion, the rest of the time she was with a social worker.

        Like

        • paul walter May 9, 2015 at 6:21 am #

          Newspaper articles, I forget where, have pointed to the sort of thing you mention as a flaw in the series.. Without actually seeing the first episode, I get the sense it is ok, but a bit aggressive and a bit exploitative.

          Like

        • hudsongodfrey May 9, 2015 at 2:35 pm #

          If an adult does have to be present in the case of a 16 year old then I doubt there’s a requirement saying they have to be in shot. Sixteen being the age of consent in NSW such provisions as apply to younger children may also have lapsed.

          Like

    • paul walter May 9, 2015 at 2:59 pm #

      You know Diane, I’ve got to congratulate you on that quietly affective post.

      Like

  12. paul walter May 9, 2015 at 6:29 am #

    Affter the Brit election, you get the sense that Struggle St will turn out to be no more than a small feeder street relative to a neoThatcherite Hard Knocks Highway..

    Then there is the third world..

    Like

  13. doug quixote May 9, 2015 at 8:47 am #

    Too many comments without actually watching the program. Please don’t comment if you haven’t watched it. Bob Ellis would ban you out of hand.

    Now I have watched it. It was painful in places, and touching in others. But what struck me was that people are all rather similar wherever they are and whatever their social status. I’ve seen the so-called privileged classes and their own set of faults and deficiencies close up, and whilst the Struggle Streeters have their problems, they aren’t alone.

    For every person with an IQ of 120 there is one with an IQ of 80 to come to the average intelligence of 100, and whilst those without the benefit of money and education have it harder, in the end they are all human beings.

    Is Struggle Street poverty porn?

    No, because it takes an in-depth look at these people’s lives, and follows the main characters in a serious and sober way. Certainly the bit players are objects of amusement and the out-takes, the teasers, were deliberately chosen to excite controversy.

    That is a subject in itself: is it better to play it straight and have no-one watch, or is it better to be sensationalist and risk condemnation, but ensure a large audience?

    We’ll see where it goes next.

    Like

    • Florence nee Fedup May 9, 2015 at 1:36 pm #

      However it is compiled, viewers will see the show through their own bias views. Most I am sad to say, will blame the victims.

      Like

      • hudsongodfrey May 9, 2015 at 2:39 pm #

        I think the film maker is making every effort to render a positive impression of the families in general. And the David Field’s narration is I think helping to take their side despite some as far as I can tell baseless criticism.

        Like

  14. Michaela Tschudi May 10, 2015 at 7:21 pm #

    I’ve only watched the first 10 mins of this doco as I lost control of the remote. I grew up in rural/regional parts of NSW and Vic. This doco reminded me very much of living in the La Trobe Valley in the 1970s. Poverty, unemployment, lack of services, confrontations with the authorities, alcohol and other drug use…people experiencing these challenges don’t often get a voice. But I feel a sense of discomfort watching this doco, because it reminds me of my childhood. And I know that there is no magical fairytale ending for intergenerational poverty.

    Like

    • doug quixote May 10, 2015 at 10:01 pm #

      Try SBS On Demand. I preferred to watch Vikings first, and whatever was on when this went to air, but I watched it before commenting.

      I heard recently that someone made a report upon a lecture, noting all the salient points; except one, that the lecturer had dropped dead about halfway through.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Michaela Tschudi May 10, 2015 at 10:04 pm #

        Haha! Good advice. 😊

        Like

  15. eroticmoustache May 11, 2015 at 1:54 pm #

    I thought the Conversation article was excellent, but missed the mark regarding Struggle Street. Overly cliched narration aside, the show was far more sympathetic than I was expecting and I agree that it did not constitute “poverty porn”. Time will tell if it can continue to avoid that pitfall.

    Like

  16. paul walter May 12, 2015 at 12:39 am #

    watched bits of it..all it did was worsen a bad patch of depression.

    Like

    • doug quixote May 12, 2015 at 2:23 pm #

      I don’t see how, paul. Surely you could at least be of the view “There but for the grace of God* go I !”

      [* – Insert deity or other instrument of fate as you will]

      But these people have at least started to develop a way of coping with their misadventures.

      Chin up!

      Like

    • doug quixote May 12, 2015 at 2:27 pm #

      Clive hits home on Abbott! Love the old bastard or hate him, he has Abbott’s number.

      Liked by 1 person

      • paul walter May 12, 2015 at 3:51 pm #

        Yes, he was quite entitled to speak up. He is a cunning old snag, but by no means worse than flinthearts like Abbott and his high powered mates.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jennifer Wilson May 13, 2015 at 1:34 pm #

        got the mention my distaste for the narration. It was irritating.

        Like

  17. doug quixote May 12, 2015 at 2:16 pm #

    One of the teasers went to air saying “You’re a slut!” with another woman in the shot.

    The context was that the speaker was talking to her cat.

    (DQ’s eyes roll)

    Liked by 1 person

    • paul walter May 12, 2015 at 3:56 pm #

      No doubt the cat may well have been able to reply in kind, had it the chance.

      It is claimed in some quarters that a First Fleet sort of thing that survives in not a few Australian women, even to this day.

      For instance, some of the North Shore ones.

      Liked by 1 person

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Go on, you are a good person. – IndusProbha - April 15, 2017

    […] feature Image found here. […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: