Image source: Cyanide and Happiness at explosm.net
Before anyone reacts to anything here, make sure you’ve seen the giant disclaimer in the middle.
Imagine, for a moment, that you are a cocaine addict. Your situation gets worse and worse every day, until the point where you reach your lowest. Imagine that moment when you’ve hit rock bottom, and it is physically impossible to dig any further. You’re lying on the floor, drifting between consciousness and unconsciousness. Then someone takes a picture of you. They use this picture to build a campaign to bring awareness to the issue of cocaine addiction, and how we need to do something to help addicts recover. This picture, of you at your worst, is displayed all over the press and internet, with the same point, “Look at this. Human beings shouldn’t be like this. This is so sad. Please guys, let’s do something about this.”
Now pause. How do you feel about this? How do you feel about the fact that this picture of you, who just happened to find yourself in terrible circumstances, at your lowest point, being broadcasted to the entire world? How do you feel about the fact that an entire campaign has been built around a picture of you at your lowest point? Imagine now that it was a video, showing all the things you’re doing when you’re at your worst. How would you feel about that? What if it was your loved one? Your mother, your father, your brother, your sister, your child, would you like them to be exposed like that?
I think most of us would not like that. I know I don’t. Even though it is for a good cause, we don’t want a picture, or even worse, a video, of us at our worst point going around the world.
And yet this is what is done, every day, by Help Africa advertisements. They take a picture or a video of a person, a picture or video of a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a child, at their lowest point. They go to people who happen to be in the crossfire of some problem and record this, ready to portray the inhumanity of the situation, while they themselves have not considered the humanity of the person they are portraying in this manner.
Now just to be clear, I am not saying cocaine addiction is comparable to poverty. Let me put that in large letters so the critics can see it before they start a rampage.
I am not saying cocaine addiction is comparable to poverty.
I am simply asking you to picture yourself in the worst state you can imagine, and the rock bottom of cocaine addiction is just an example. It could be anything else, whatever you feel would be your lowest point.
This picture, this video, this campaign, is for a good cause. Yes, of course, it’s always for a good cause. And I understand the point. They want to show how bad things are and how people should do something about this.
But what about that person?
What about a billion Africans who are now only identified with those kind of pictures and treated with contempt or condescendingly by the rest of the world because of them?
Every time a Help Africa ad comes on, picture yourself as that person. Think about if you would like that to be you. Is there really no better way to help people in a bad situation than by making them a poster for inhumanity? Is there really no way to develop Africa than by making IT the poster for inhumanity?
I choose to believe there is a better way.
But let’s pretend for a minute that that doesn’t even matter. That it’s just a side effect we can ignore in favour of the good things brought by these ads.
What is the point of these ads? They are usually to raise money to be given to someone or for food or something. A good question is, why are these things needed? Usually, it is because these people are poor. Poverty is the disease, all other things you see are simply symptoms of that poverty, things like malnutrition, squalid living conditions and illiteracy.
If we treat the symptoms, have we treated the disease? We are ignoring actual causes in favour of treating the effects. What we should be doing is looking at WHY these people are in those conditions in the first place, and doing something about that. Otherwise, those people will continue to need help, year after year.
This is an issue I expound on in the book, because it is one that is very close to my heart. It goes into more detail than I can put in a post. Get it here.
Ladies and gentlemen, there has to be a better way to help than by making us the poster for all things inhuman.