From Poverty Porn to Performative Resilience? Imaginaries of Suffering and Disaster In Class-Divided Philippines

Date: 
Thursday, September 3, 2015 - 5:30pm

From Poverty Porn to Performative Resilience? Imaginaries of Suffering and Disaster In Class-Divided Philippines

By Dr. Jonathan Ong, University of Leicester, UK

Abstract

This talk maps out the ways in which suffering and natural disaster are imagined in specific acts of public communication in traditional and social media. I argue that traditional practices of representing poverty in charity appeals and “selecting unfortunates” (Boltanski 1999) in game shows and the news are now more than ever challenged by an imperative for comfort zone communication. First, I illustrate how middle-class discourses of dignity and resilience inform contemporary imaginaries of suffering, as exemplified by recent Gawad Kalinga and Kapuso Foundation fundraising campaigns. Second, I also show how middle-class “transnational shame” (Aguilar 1998) provoked performative resilience in the disaster memes after Typhoon Haiyan, where suffering is sanitized by popular calls for solidarity, national unity, and gratitude to foreign donors. Using an ethnographic approach that explores how representations of suffering prompt moral discourse and reflection in people’s everyday lives, I discuss how middle-class judgments about masa media culture operate as denial strategies where a moral obligation to care for vulnerable others is conveniently elided. The talk is an engagement with current debates on the ethics of care for “the other” within media environments that favor the soft touches of liking, inspiring, and aspiring.

About the Presenter

Dr Jonathan Corpus Ong has a PhD in Sociology from the University of Cambridge. He is currently Lecturer in Media and Communication at the University of Leicester, working on the ethics of media and humanitarianism, production studies, and media and minorities. He is Co-Investigator in the ESRC-funded “Humanitarian Technologies Project: Communications in Disaster Recovery” and a lead researcher in the DFID-funded “Who’s Listening? Accountability to Affected People in the Haiyan Response”. He is the author of The Poverty of Television: The Mediation of Suffering in Class-Divided Philippines (2015; Anthem Press) and co-editor of Taking the Square: Mediated Dissent and Occupations of Public Space (forthcoming; Rowman & Littlefield).