I’ve been around long enough to know the power of images in advertising and marketing.
I know the pictures taken are carefully chosen to evoke a particular emotion; whether this be joy or sorrow, excitement or devastation, is irrelevant. Each are designed to draw you in, to have you feel something, and, essentially, to act in a specific way.
Carefully considered are the words that accompany these images. They are selected to enhance the feels you are feeling, and, if necessary, to direct your emotions to where they want them to go.
Usually, the aim is to move you enough to have you purchase a thing you probably don’t actually need.
It all makes sense, really.
Despite this knowledge, I recently spent a few days on public transport (not actual entire days on public transport, more my morning and evening commutes over a few days) baffled by this image:
I stared at it, and stared at it and couldn’t work out why it was befuddling me. Something – for me at least – wasn’t sitting right.
I analysed, I overthunk, and could see nothing logically incorrect with it.
I mean, there’s a sad looking kid, not looking as roughed up, ragged, and down-and-out as most kids I know that could fall into this category, but we also can’t be too confronting with our advertising, because that makes people feel… uncomfortable.
His image is accompanied by phrases oft used by school aged children to tease those less fortunate than themselves, and the tagline Poverty isolates. You can stop it.
Finally, and in close alignment to the marketing handbook is the call to action; the request that you donate money, and the provision of the means in which you can do it … in this case, it’s the Smith Family and a fabulous cause to support those in need.
So what is it that is bothering me?
I could not put my finger on it.
Then I realised it was those words; Poverty Isolates, accompanied by those carefully worded taunts.
And I thought, It’s not poverty that isolates. It’s arseholes.
Look, don’t get me wrong. I’m not denying at all that poverty is directly attributed to disadvantage, including, but not limited to, poor performace at school, illiteracy, behavioural issues, poor nutrition … the list goes on.
And on, and on, and so freaking well beyond any ‘on’ that should be deemed acceptable in any society.
It is also, in many cases, a perpetual cycle, where illiteracy is passed on; not because it’s genetic, nor necessarily environmental. More … how does a parent who cannot read spend each and every night reading to their kids?
(Which brings me to sanctimonious, peaceful families commercials that make me want to reach through the radio and punch people in the face! They make me angrier than the ignorance that dials in to talk shows.)
These words in the poster … the loser … and got no mates … et cetera … that’s not Poverty saying that. It’s ignorant, ill-educated, arseholes.
There is no doubt that a child who is living in a household that is below the poverty line is a target for such taunting.
It’s a ‘thing’ that humans do, rightly or wrongly, for any given number of reasons. Whether it is because it helps them deal with something they are unfamiliar with and unsure how to handle, whether they are overwhelmed by their own emotions, feel helpless or hopeless and taunting makes them feel better, whether they have learnt it or are just mimicking those around them is anybody’s guess.
There are probably a billionty and seven other ‘excuses’ for this behaviour towards those underprivileged kids.
I, personally, spent the entire primary school career of my eldest two kids being lectured about ‘these’ kids at the school.
I’m going to be vague out of respect for children and their families, and in order to avoid any level of identification.
I was told my son should not hang out with one kid, because of the ‘drug culture’ in the home, or why he shouldn’t be allowed to go to another kid’s house, because, well, according to others, it could easily have been straight out of Housos.
And do not, under any circumstances, let my kids invite them home because they’d steal stuff, destroy stuff, introduce my kids to drugs … the list goes on.
That my kids played with ‘these’ kids because they both liked LEGO, or the same music, or same TV shows was not enough.
That my kids focussed on the things they had in common, and not the home or the parents they came form, or the shoes they wore, or that they couldn’t read, was not anywhere near as important as ‘but they might pressure him into taking drugs’.
True. This is very true.
You know what else might happen?
My kids might have an influence on them.
In fact, that’s precisely what happened.
My eldest had enough influence over one of his friends to have him sit in class and want to learn. This kid started speaking to people.
I worked with him on his end of year graduation speech, and he not only cooperated, he sat and wrote it out himself.
Then … then he stood up at the end of the year, and read it out in public.
(I may have cried. And he let me hug him – which was SO FREAKING COOL!)
My middlest son, he shared his lunch with another kid. He influenced a group of ten-year-old boys to stop teasing, stop isolating, stop ignoring, and allow this boy to join in their activities.
Obviously, there was support from the school, some incredible teachers and teachers’ aides, and some amazing parents – few and far between – who also had a profound impact on these kids. I’m not saying my kids ‘fixed’ things. I’m just saying that kids who do the good things can have as much power to influence as the down-and-out kids.
We know that kids are teased and taunted. We know this happens, and we know it’s a massive problem, and that it is a huge contributor to impoverished kids, and their families, being isolated.
We know poverty gives a ‘reason’ for this behaviour.
But it is privilege, in my experience and observation, that leads to the teasing and taunting, and the isolation of people who can’t always help the situation they’re in.
It is privilege that leads to ignorance, from children being ‘sheltered’ deliberately from anything that may distress them, or that are far, far too difficult for parents to explain, or just from not seeing or experiencing anything or anyone from a less-than-middle-class upbringing or home.
I have witnessed third year health / teaching students arguing with experts about the fact that there is no poverty, no homelessness, no children going without food in Australia.
Literally “We don’t have poverty in Australia. Poverty is those kids in Africa you see on TV with the flies all over them.”
Whilst her uni degree was being paid for by her parents, she had not only never seen a homeless person, she was completely and utterly ignorant of the fact that there are people in this country who don’t have enough funds to purchase food.
She was incredulous at the notion of children going to school without lunches, and that people were working two and three jobs just to pay their rent and electricity.
The idea that some jobs paid so little, and that costs were so high, was unfathomable to her, and not something she had ever, in her life, had to entertain.
To her, and more than a handful of fellow students, it was a myth.
Poverty simply does not exist.
At least, not in countries like Australia.
And when confronted with it, the only defence is to tease, to taunt, to degrade, to condemn, or to ignore.
Yes, poverty causes isolation. It causes distress, depression, ill health, illiteracy, and all manner of issues.
How much of this is more a direct result of ignorance about poverty than it is poverty itself?
Do we need to run a campaign to educate the well-educated? Reduce ignorance, and, perhaps, remove some heads from bums?
Or, how’s about, just don’t be an arsehole? Just be nice … to everyone.