Watching Them Struggle

On April 28th, 2016, SBS announced that they would be airing a second season of their controversial documentary series “Struggle Street”. The three-part documentary will this time focus on a diverse range of Australians living in Queensland and Victoria. So, this leaves the question for many including myself, and that question is why?

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Why are they making another season? Why do the media love exploiting poverty for entertainment purposes? Why do I want to watch it?

These are just some of the questions that came to mind when reading the announcement about the second season of “Struggle Street”. When the documentary originally released in 2015, it copped a lot of criticism from their audience. It was a false representation of a Western Suburb, where there were only a minority of people living as presented by SBS. Former rugby league great and current Triple M radio host Mark Geyer was outraged as it ‘has gone too far’ in the way Mt Druitt has been presented by the media. Geyer, who has lived in Mt Druitt all his life, “was sick to death of the suburb I grew up in copping it from people who have never walked in the shoes of the residents.”

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But all publicity is good publicity, right?

Well, in this case, yes. The more that people complained about the show and how residents were perceived, the more tuned in to watch. Seeing people in these living conditions strikes several reactions, especially considering how some of the people presented on the show are funded by tax payers through government welfare. Many may have anger towards where their hard-earned money is going towards, and some may feel empathy for the families and the situations they are facing.

So why do we want to watch these shows?

Below is a clip from the show that has been shared around Facebook.

When this video showed up on Facebook, there were a multitude of different reactions. From personal experience, the demographic depended on the reaction towards the video. Younger audiences found it disturbing, while older generous had empathy for the baby, and anger towards the people involved in the scene. There was an inclination from social media to have a reaction towards the scene, and therefore may give them the urge to watch the documentary.

There are also multiple factors that can come into play when we watch Struggle Street, for example their relationships with each other, their ages and genders, but as an audience watching ‘poverty porn’, we don’t really connect in the way. This in turn, allows people are to harshly judge and embarrass others in public without the judged having the opportunity to respond (Couldry, 2011). We connect in the way that SBS and production companies want us to connect with the documentary, for pure entertainment. These companies know that their audience is going to turn a blind eye to the living conditions of these families based on their focus on entertaining the audience.

Questions will still be asked when they begin filming the second season, with audiences and critics wondering if they will present it similarly to the first season of struggle street, or will they take into consideration the controversy surrounding season one and change the way the present the people of Queensland and Victoria. Either way, they now know what attracts people to watching their show and probably won’t take into consideration whether the show presents a negative view of those living in poverty or not, the ultimate goal is to make sure that show brings a large number of viewers, along with copious amounts of money going into the pockets of SBS, rather than those who really need it.

References:

Couldry N (2011) Class and contemporary forms of ‘reality’ production or, hidden injuries of class 2. In: Wood H and Skeggs B (eds) Reality Television and Class. London: British Film Institute/Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 33–44.

Paterson, LL, Coffey-Glover, L, & Peplow, D 2016, ‘Negotiating stance within discourses of class: Reactions to Benefits Street’, Discourse & Society, vol. 27, no. 2, pp. 195-214. Available from: 10.1177/0957926515611558. [15 March 2017].

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