Look but don’t touch! Action from exploitation

When Struggle Street first aired on SBS, audiences’ were intrigued with anticipation. The three-part series takes place in the Western Sydney suburb Mount Druitt and follows different residents from nine families in an attempt to demonstrate the tragedy of the poverty in our own back yard.

However once the series finally aired, many were outraged, many had questions. People found the show to be exploitative. There are a number of examples of poor foresight in the concept of this show. The main one being that it doesn’t acknowledge a number of minority groups within Australia that suffer from the same issues perhaps even on a great level. Former NSW premier Nathan Rees hit the nail of the head when he stated “there are many more people dealing with even greater levels of chaos and hardship than shown on this SBS documentary” and that “it appears that reasonable concerns about fairness were largely unfounded” (2015).

Blacktown Mayor also accused the film crew of manipulating the participants, claims which SBS officially responded to the claims as being “serious, defamatory and damaging” and “absolutely false” (2015). Mr Bali further questioned SBS’s accountability in some of the production’s more controversial scenes, including a pregnant 21-year-old taking drugs, which caused outrage on social media.


This is a photograph taken by Kevin Carter, and heavily discussed in this week’s tutorial. You can find a history of the photo, here. However it is the controversy created by Carter, that reveals the logic in completely excluding oneself from a tragic scenario of human suffering – the problem is so much bigger than only one person can manage. Also, misguided assumptions can easily be drawn about the artists’ intentions or level of exploitation without knowing the context behind the imagery. This rings true for Struggle Street.

Film producers of a documentary nature don’t necessarily have a responsibility to intervene in individual circumstances, because the point of the documentary is to raise awareness/discussion about the scope of this issue. However they should have a sense of responsibility about the action taken at the end of the show.

“The big question is will it shock people into actually standing up and contacting their local federal and state members, to say ‘give them funding back, we’ve got to help people’,” – Stephen Bali (2015)

Do the producers have vested interests in urban poverty in Western Sydney? Or is the coverage simply “poverty porn”; a production display of the elitism and disconnected privilege of the producers and a blatant commodification of suffering?

Herein lies the problem with Struggle Street, it only conveys a fraction of the problem. Only represents a fraction of the suffering. The issues the show explores are entrenched across ALL society, and the conversation we need to have is much more complex. In my perspective, the producers achieved what they set out to do; bring this issue to the foremost attention of the media, even if for a short time. In my mind however, Struggle Street became the equivalent of watching something horrific but only peaking through the crack in your hands. You know there’s more to be seen, but you choose not to look for fear of having to react. And I’m fairly convinced that this is on par, worse even, than turning away from the issue.





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