Charity Porn

Some people think the kind of consumer-driven charity represented by the (Product) Red Campaign is a bad thing. “Consumerism isn’t the answer,” they say, “It’s the problem.” You can’t (or shouldn’t?) help those less fortunate by pandering to Western culture’s base, consumerist instincts, say the critics. Well, if you’re one of those critics, brace yourself: a Japanese porn production company (Natural High) is now making “charity porn.” According to the folks at Jezebel:

[T]he Natural High performers have sex with impoverished local Africans on film. The director gave about $11,000 to a Kenyan charity, distributed some corn and free T-shirts to the locals in the area and then — reportedly — gathered up a few local men to have sex on tape with their performers…. For every DVD they sell, the company plans to give another $10 to the same charity.

Just about everyone I’ve read seems to find this project distasteful, but at least some are uncertain why they feel that way. Others think the wrong here is obvious — but they don’t necessarily do a good job of explaining that. The most common charge seems to be “exploitation,” though as I’ve said here before, it’s much easier to launch a charge of exploitation than it is actually to state clearly what that means. There are worries about playing to cultural stereotypes about the dangerous sexual potency of the ‘naked savage,’ etc. But, just to play devil’s advocate, here, there’s also an infusion of cash happening that wouldn’t be happening otherwise. It’s not clear how we should weigh the kind of diffuse harm (or insult?) done by such portrayals with the small-but-real benefits of these cash donations.

One last point: surely some regular readers will have noted by now the parallel between this story and last week’s blog entry Burger King’s “Whopper Virgins” campaign. (See: Advertising, Documentaries, and Cultural “Exploitation”.) In both cases, someone from a developed nation visited a less-developed nation, perhaps bringing some benefit but with the primary mission of deriving benefit, for themselves, precisely from the “primitive” image of the locals. It’s food for thought.
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Found via Marginal Revolution who got it from Wronging Rights who got it from Jezebel, etc.

3 comments so far

  1. Anonymous on

    I am reminded less of the “Whopper Virgins” campaign than I am of a story my mother told me about her family’s experiences in occupied Holland. In response to some minor civil disobedience, the Nazi occupiers of the city in which my mother lived decided to execute ten men from the community. My grandfather discovered that he had been chosen to be one of the ten. As a result, he was able to avoid the authorities, and some other person, unknown to him, was executed. He was able to continue to support and defend his family and to work against the occupiers, yet guilt over his survival was with him for the rest of his life. What would you have decided to do?In the case you have described, the participants in the pornographic video had a choice: debase themselves for some “public good,” or to refuse and a) allow another to do so in their place or b) see the “charitable” donation, and the good it could do, lost to the community. What would you have decided to do?Can we agree that imposing this kind of choice is, at the very least, morally questionable? Also, I cannot help but wonder what the cost of hiring actual actors from the porn industry would have been. Perhaps another question should be raised: Why didn’t the pornographers pay competitive rates? Surely the value to the community would have been noticeably greater.I leave aside the question of whether it is right to use the incentive of a further charitable donation to encourage people to buy the product.

  2. Anonymous on

    Further to my earlier post:Is it morally wrong for a pimp to profit from the prostitution of a woman desperate to feed her family?Would our reaction be different if it were women who were being exploited?jilly

  3. Chris MacDonald on

    Let me play devil’s advocate:It’s unclear whether or how much the production company paid local men to participate. Let’s assume, for sake of argument, that they were paid very little. Why shouldn’t the price of their labour be determined by anything other than supply and demand? If local job opportunities are bad, they’d likely be willing to do this work for very willing. If they saw themselves as having other, better opportunities, or if they saw the work as too demeaning, then they would refuse the work.It’s not clear that offering crummy work to someone who really needs the work is morally wrong. Some people think offering crummy <>sex<>-work is morally worse than other kinds of crummy work, but the reasons why are complicated, to say the least.As for pimps: again, to play devil’s advocate, I’d suggest the moral legitimacy of that occupation depends on whether the pimp is adding any value, providing any legitimate service (e.g., protection, keeping the books, etc.) instead of being a mere parasite. I suspect different pimps differ greatly in this regard.Chris.


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