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'Struggle Street' - Poverty Porn in Australia's Richest City?
Image Credit: SBS

'Struggle Street' - Poverty Porn in Australia's Richest City?

 
 

The biggest story in Australian television right now isn’t a home renovation show or a cooking show. It’s not even sport. It’s a docu-drama about marginalised families shown on a small broadcasting network. Why? Well, a local Sydney mayor sending his fleet of garbage trucks to the offices of the television station in a protest blockade helped.

Struggle Street, shown on the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) and produced by KEO Films Australia, had the highest ratings Wednesday night with 935,000 viewers, 110,000 more than Masterchef (terminally unassailable, generally speaking). Most viewers tuned to see what all the fuss was about after widespread controversy across traditional and social media in the lead-up.

Set in Mount Druitt in Sydney’s west, the show’s purported aim is to show a side of life in Australia that most citizens prefer to ignore: the poor, the disenfranchised, and the downtrodden. However even before it went to air certain residents were angry, the mayor of Blacktown was threatening to send in the garbage trucks, and community leaders were attacking the show’s sensational(ist) trailer in the press.

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Jon Owen, a Christian community leader who said he was approached by the filmmakers to assist in finding subjects, told the Guardian on Monday that the portrayal of people in the show was a “class issue,” saying, “We need to always put these subtle reminders in that they’re from the west and we’re not.”

Was the outrage justified? The show was not, agreed most, as sensationalist as initial reports made out and the outrage over a television program no one had yet even seen seemed a little hyperbolic. It did, however, create a tremendous spike in ratings for the small, publicly funded broadcaster and, said many commentators, help to start a conversation about poverty in Australia. Whether it is “poverty porn” or an important way to show the lives of the poor in a city where the average house costs A$1 million ($793,000) has turned into this week’s metacriticism in the Australian media. Meanwhile SBS’s Housos, a satirical, usually profanity-heavy television show by comedian Paul Fenech about people living in a housing commission area, has received generally positive reviews.

There have been concerns that some parts of Struggle Street have been genuinely exploitative. In one scene a 16-year-old girl confessed to the camera she had been raped when she was 13. Given that she is a minor there are issues of consent and one Sydney law firm is speaking about the possibility of initiating a lawsuit against the station, saying the broadcaster has dodged its duty of care.

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