Development Made Sexy: how it happened and what it means

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1 Third World Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 8, 2008, pp Development Made Sexy: how it happened and what it means ARTICLES JOHN CAMERON & ANNA HAANSTRA ABSTRACT This article examines the recent trend among Northern development organisations to represent development as sexy in awareness and fundraising campaigns. The article argues that the ways in which development organisations represent the global South and development work play an important role in the construction of social power relations between people in the global North and the global South. The representation of development as sexy is compared and contrasted to other representations of development that highlight scarcity and deprivation. The article argues that, although the representation of development as sexy avoids portrayals of poor people in the global South as helpless victims, it presents an image of development in which the most important form of agency is Northern charity. An advertisement for Motorola s Product (Red) line of cellular telephones that aired on Youtube in 2007 featured a group of young, female models in red bikinis dancing to highly provocative background music. In the final seconds of the video clip the Motorola logo flashed up on the screen with a short message in front of it that proclaimed: Saving Lives is Sexy. 1 Such a statement may not capture the ways in which most development practitioners or activists perceive their work, but it does highlight the increased use of sex appeal in development fundraising and awareness campaigns. In another Youtube video clip to promote the July 2007 special edition of Vanity Fair magazine on Africa, the guest editor, Bono, explained that the goal of the special issue was to bring some sex appeal to the idea of wanting to change the world. 2 In a very different venue Steven Thompson, the executive director of the Royal Society of New Zealand, asserted in the summary report on the Society s Sustainable Development Forum that we need to build on the existing momentum around sustainable development and make it sexy. 3 Commenting on efforts to do precisely that, journalist Sue Wheat noted in the British government s Department for International Development (DFID) journal, Developments, that increasing numbers of aid agencies John Cameron and Anna Haanstra are both in the Department of International Development Studies, Dalhousie University, Room 339, Henry Hicks Building, 6299 South Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 4H6. ISSN print/issn online/08/ Ó 2008 Third World Quarterly DOI: /

2 JOHN CAMERON & ANNA HAANSTRA are seeking out celebrities with sex appeal such as Angelina Jolie and Geri Halliwell to act as spokespeople in order to satisfy the demand by media outlets that stories on development issues be sexy. 4 In a less subtle initiative students in the Public Health programme at Colombia University produced and sold T-shirts that bluntly proclaimed Sustainable Development is Sexy. 5 The effort to bring sex appeal to the idea of development marks a shift from past strategies to generate funds and public awareness in the global North for development issues in the global South and points towards a reimagination of the social identity of potential donors and activists in the North which has important implications for power relations between the populations of North and South. The most prevalent approach to development awareness and fundraising in the past, frequently referred to as the pornography of poverty, aimed to induce emotions of pity and guilt on the part of potential donors through images and descriptions of material poverty and images of helpless others in the global South. In a significant departure from this strategy, efforts to bring sex appeal to development charity and to certain forms of activism explicitly shift attention to the identity of the self in the North by targeting the libido. Rather than being made to feel guilty about their affluence, Northern publics are encouraged to celebrate it by re-imagining development awareness and charity as sexy. In short, the strategic emphasis of awareness and fundraising initiatives has shifted from guilt about scarcity in the global South to a celebration of abundance in the global North. Past associations of the supporters of development causes in the North with socks, sandals and granola are replaced with a new imaginary of high heels, tight dresses and martinis, that is, a sophisticated, affluent, cosmopolitan and sexy Northern donor. While numerous observers have analysed the celebrity endorsement of development causes, 6 they have generally failed to note as the tabloid press does that it is not simply the fame of celebrities that is used in efforts to raise funds and awareness, but very frequently their perceived sex appeal as well. 7 This article examines how and why development organisations in the global North are using sex appeal to generate awareness and funding for their work and considers the possible implications of this unfolding process for the social construction of social power relations between the global North and South. The focus of the article is on the ways in which development issues in the global South are represented to mainstream publics in the North. Smith and Yanacopulos have called attention to the construction of the public faces of development in the North, claiming that it is through these representations that relationships between individuals and communities in the North and South are mediated and produced, in turn sustaining (and only rarely challenging) prevailing global political and economic power relations. 8 The faces of development that development organisations present to Northern publics can be understood as an important component of the discursive creation of the Third World and the distinction between North and South, 9 but also as a space where those dominant representations can be challenged and contested. In short, public awareness of the global South in the global North and public attitudes in the global North towards specific 1476

3 DEVELOPMENT MADE SEXY development issues are all heavily influenced by the ways in which the global South and development work are represented in Northern popular culture. While representations of the global South by the news media and feature film industry may have more impact on popular understandings of the South and of North South relations than NGO charity appeals, we believe that it is particularly important to analyse the strategies of representation employed by development organisations precisely because these organisations have the power to control the ways in which they represent their own work and the people in the global South who are the presumed beneficiaries of it. Recent efforts to generate a broader constituency for development through the use of sex appeal are fraught with dangers. Most importantly, the reimagination of development as sexy replaces images of passive Southern others with those of active and attractive Northern selves, in short, switching the emphasis from other to self but reinforcing a paternalistic, charity-based vision of North South relations. Moreover, efforts to make development sexy threaten to undermine many of the goals that development organisations in the North and South have struggled to address for several decades, such as gender equity and increased emphasis on Southern agency. These concerns highlight the need for development educators, activists, practitioners and scholars to ask hard questions about the costs and benefits of the strategies used to raise both funds and public awareness of development issues in the North. The article begins by examining the strategies used by Northern-based development organisations in the past to raise funds and awareness of their activities. It then examines the logic behind the representation of development as sexy and analyses some of the possible implications of this project. From the pornography of poverty to development made sexy It is important to contextualise the analysis of efforts to reframe development as sexy by examining the faces of development that development organisations presented to Northern publics in the past. While the lifestyles of expatriate aid workers and others who have worked and travelled in the global South have long been romanticised, recent efforts to frame development as sexy have focused not on development work in the South, but rather on the more comfortable home turf of Northern publics. Moreover, it is only very recently that development organisations in the North have deliberately used sex appeal in their marketing strategies whether those were aimed at generating donations or awareness of particular issues. The predominant strategy used by aid organisations in the past to generate charitable donations as well as awareness of their work has been widely described as the pornography of poverty. The iconic image associated with this approach is one of starving children with flies around their eyes, too weak to brush them off. 10 As Plewes and Stuart explain, the term describes images that portray people in the South as helpless, passive victims in need of assistance. 11 The motive behind the use of such images of scarcity and deprivation is to coax, cajole and bludgeon donations from a guilt ridden 1477

4 JOHN CAMERON & ANNA HAANSTRA Northern public. 12 The deployment of sensationalised images of suffering as a strategy to provoke sympathy and charity among Northern publics has a long history. Rosario argues that the emergence of philanthropy as an important element of middle class popular culture in the USA in the early 20th century was predicated on the use of graphic images of human suffering by philanthropic organisations such as the American Red Cross. 13 Northern development agencies have made particular use of images of small, dark skinned children to provoke emotions of guilt among potential donors in the North. 14 In the specific case of Belgian development NGO fundraising campaigns, Lamers notes that children have been the most prominent figure used over the past 35 years, primarily because images of children are proven to evoke emotions of sympathy and because children cannot easily be blamed for their own misfortune, as adults presumably can. 15 However, the use of pornographic representations of poverty as fundraising tools has been widely criticised for constructing a public image in the North of others in the South as passive, helpless and sub-human victims. It is argued that such images reinforce already widespread perceptions of cultural and intellectual superiority among Northern publics, as well as the belief that benevolent donors in the North are the primary source of solutions for the problems of the South. 16 Such representations of the global South have been scrutinised not only because they obscure the structures and processes that sustain poverty and injustice, but also because they provide a strong cultural grounding in the North for paternalistic, charity-based and frequently neocolonial development practices and projects. 17 In Foucauldian terms, the pornography of poverty has created a regime of truth about developing countries that mediates relations between the North and South, 18 and helps to reinforce distinctions between the west and the rest. 19 The strategic use of pornographic images of poverty reached a peak during fundraising campaigns for famine relief in Ethiopia in , after which widespread criticisms led many Northern aid organisations to deliberately represent the global South through positive images of selfreliant and active people or at least to avoid using images that depicted people in the South as completely helpless victims. 20 Nevertheless, pornographic portrayals of poverty remain deeply engrained in the minds of Northern publics. A 2002 report by the British NGO Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) found that 80% of the British public strongly associates the developing world with doom-laden images of famine, disaster and Western aid... these images are still top of mind and maintain a powerful grip on the British psyche. 21 Moreover, although pornographic representations of poverty in the global South have been moderated since the mid-1980s, they remain widespread for the simple reason that they have proved to be highly effective fundraising strategies. Plewes and Stuart point out that the emotional power of images of helpless victims, especially children, is reflected in the fact that the three largest public fundraising NGOs in Canada are child-sponsorship organizations [which] generate more than ten times as much money from the public as the three top non-sponsorship organizations do

5 DEVELOPMENT MADE SEXY While the representation of people in the global South as helpless victims has proven to be an effective fundraising tool, it has not only fostered profound misunderstandings of developing countries, 23 but also largely failed to stimulate interest and engagement in development issues among Northern publics. Faced with the tensions between fundraising and public understanding of development issues, most aid organisations in the North have given priority to the former. 24 As Mark Goldring, the chief executive of a major UK NGO acknowledged, We have taken part in an intricate dance that sacrifices the long-term building of a balanced view for the short-term gain of raising funds for or awareness of our work. 25 One result of the prioritisation of fundraising over understanding is a widespread conviction among Northern publics that there is little they can do to confront global poverty other than charity: 57% of respondents to a 2007 survey on the impacts of the Make Poverty History (MPH) campaign in Britain agreed that The only thing I can do to tackle poverty in poor countries is to give money to charities and appeals. 26 The relative failure of fundraising strategies to generate broad interest and engagement in development issues among Northern publics is well recognised. Michael Edwards argues that aid organisations have generated a constituency that may be supportive in principle, but is largely ill-informed and inactive in practice. 27 Similarly Ian Smillie has asserted that it is widely conceded that the public [in the North] knows little about international development or about the connections between development there and life here. 28 Alison Van Rooy also pointed out that Northern domestic audiences remain, in most countries, passive about global social justice issues. 29 In response to low levels of public awareness of development issues, Van Rooy asserted that there is a need to mount continuing efforts to increase understanding of global processes and peoples, 30 a sentiment echoed by numerous other scholars, practitioners and activists. 31 However, given the relative failure to provoke interest in development issues among Northern publics in the past, Edwards argues that a new story is needed that engages its listeners on grounds of self-interest as well as ethics ; he specifically argues against the use of shock tactics to stimulate public interest. 32 A growing body of psychological research also questions the utility of using images of suffering and deprivation to generate awareness and funding for development issues. Analysts of compassion fatigue argue that the emotional impact of images of poverty declines with repetition, potentially undermining fundraising and understanding of development issues. Initially identified by psychologists as the traumatic stress experienced by caregivers and emergency workers, use of the concept of compassion fatigue has expanded to include analysis of the apparent lack of public concern in the global North for poverty and social injustice domestically and in other parts of the world. Sennett defines compassion fatigue as the exhaustion of our sympathies in the face of persistently painful realities victims of torture, masses of people wiped out by plague, the sheer scale of the holocaust make so many demands on our emotions that we eventually stop feeling. Like a fire, compassion burns out. 33 Various observers, especially in the news 1479

6 JOHN CAMERON & ANNA HAANSTRA media, have asserted that compassion fatigue in the global North has grown over the past several decades. An editorial in the Boston Globe entitled Compassion overload noted the weariness with which Americans are reacting to suffering abroad and the unwillingness to respond to yet another disaster. 34 Explanations of the growth of compassion fatigue focus primarily on the ways the news media have covered stories on the global South. 35 In the context of widespread images of natural disasters, famines and violent conflicts, Smillie points out that it is even more difficult to convince the public that aid can and does work. 36 Although some scholars question whether compassion fatigue has really increased, 37 psychological research strongly suggests that, given the bombardment of the public with images of suffering in the news media, efforts by NGOs and development activists to raise awareness of development issues would do well to avoid further representations of scarcity and suffering among Northern populations that already feel that they have seen enough. Related research on the phenomena of psychological numbing asserts that humans possess psychophysical traits that desensitise them to mass suffering and are unlikely to respond to awareness-raising efforts that emphasise the mass scale of human suffering in the global South. Research by Fetherstonhaugh et al found a psychophysical inability in research subjects to cognitively process the differences between limited and catastrophic losses of life. 38 Findings from the same research also emphasize not only that psychological numbing blocks rational responses to knowledge of mass suffering, but also that descriptions of events that highlight the positive impacts of interventions generate sympathetic responses much more effectively than descriptions of tragedy. 39 Similarly Sennett notes recent arguments by moral philosophers which assert that human well-being can be most effectively promoted through a focus on potential rather than need, 40 a sentiment echoed by Rutherford s assertion that emphasis on abundance rather than scarcity can free Northern publics from unproductive and repressive moral restraints. 41 Other psychological research has demonstrated that people are not only more likely to trust and help other people whom they perceive as attractive, but that they also make positive associations between attractive people and the issues or products that they claim to support, as is widely demonstrated through the use of attractive models to sell cars and other consumer goods. 42 In short, a significant body of research suggests that emphasis on the positive rather than the negative is more effective at triggering psychological responses in humans towards suffering and injustice. These findings highlight the need for creative attempts to drive home the severity of catastrophic losses. 43 Making development sexy In the context of the relative failure of past strategies to generate engagement by Northern publics in development issues and of the psychological research that highlights the shortcomings of strategies that emphasise deprivation and suffering, efforts to frame development as sexy may represent precisely the 1480

7 DEVELOPMENT MADE SEXY creative attempts and new stories that are needed to provoke deeper engagement with development issues in the North. The specific calls to reframe development as sexy have come primarily from actors associated with the news media and corporate advertising agencies. Notably Northern development organisations have made increased use of professional public relations and advertising firms in their fundraising campaigns as competition for donations and media attention has intensified. 44 A report by Emily Hay on strategies to generate public interest in sustainable development in the UK concluded that there s a strong consensus among those engaging with the public that the term sustainable development is a turn-off. 45 Another observer noted that sustainable development really is a very unsexy phrase. 46 Similarly British news editors asserted that any attempt by a journalist to do a story on sustainable development is almost doomed to failure and noted that stories on sustainable development generally wind up in the worthy-but-dull category something that s hardly likely to excite the readers. The relative failure to engage public interest in sustainable development results from what journalist and consultant Peter Knight calls an attitude problem among its proponents who, he asserts, can be so egotistical and puffed-up. They need to get some perspective about how ordinary people live. If they can t understand why Big Brother or Hello magazine are so interesting to so many people, then they ll never realize why sustainable development will be so un-interesting to them. And it doesn t help that many of them suffer from a major sense of humour failure. 47 An editor on London s Evening Standard argued more bluntly still that to generate public interest, a story on development has to be sexy. 48 To understand the emphasis that news editors and advertising agencies place on sex appeal and its capacity to generate public interest it is useful to examine the profound influence of Freudian psychoanalysis on the North American and European advertising industries since the 1950s. In A World Made Sexy, Rutherford outlines what he calls the eros project, an effort by advertising firms to free the mass public from the constraints of late 19th and early 20th century morality in an effort to seduce consumers by generating passion in consumption. Rutherford carefully tracks the use of sexual imagery as a consistently powerful sales strategy, beginning with the establishment of the Institute for Motivational Research in 1946 by Ernest Dichter, the leading advocate of Freudian approaches to advertising in the mid-20th century. Six decades later it appears that the principles of the eros project integrated into the project of selling development to potential donors and activists in the global North. In short, rather than attempting to coerce people into giving money or engaging in activism through efforts to trigger emotions of guilt, Rutherford s analysis of the eros project suggests that it may be much more effective to seduce people into action by reframing development issues as sexy. In the context of the sheer scale of social injustice and the relative failure of past efforts to generate a significant constituency of supporters for development action in the North, the potential 1481

8 JOHN CAMERON & ANNA HAANSTRA power of using sex appeal to raise funds and engage Northern publics in development issues needs to be taken seriously. Development made sexy: implications At the same time, however, it is crucial to ask whether the means making development sexy may undermine the goals of promoting a deeper understanding of development issues among Northern publics and ultimately of reducing poverty and promoting social justice. Numerous observers have criticised the use of celebrities to generate funds and awareness for development organisations, arguing in particular that attention is focused on the celebrities rather than on the issues they represent, that the issues themselves are simplified excessively, and that the role of politics in development is downplayed. 49 Here we focus specifically on the representation of development as sexy by raising five questions: are there some development issues that cannot be represented as sexy and that will be marginalised or ignored? Does the focus on the identity of Northern selves rather than Southern others mark any change in the social construction of the imagined relations between North and South? Are some forms of agency in the North not made sexy and thus marginalised? Does the representation of development as sexy promote a deeper understanding among Northern publics of the underlying structural forces that produce and sustain poverty and social injustice in the global South? How do representations of development as sexy construct gender identities and gender relations? Perhaps the most immediate concern about efforts to represent development as sexy is that some issues cannot be made sexy and will be marginalised. For example, Norway s former minister for international development, Hilde Johnson, asserted that toilets are not sexy and that the un-sexiness of sanitation explains why it has received less attention than other Millenium Development Goals. 50 However, as a recent report in Canada s MacLean s magazine on sanitation campaigning by glamorous Hollywood celebrities such as Cate Blanchett, Cameron Diaz, Sheryl Crow and Drew Barrymore suggests, just about anything, including toilets and sanitation, can be represented as sexy, if the will to do so exists. 51 A second concern is whether the representation of development as sexy avoids or reinforces the social construction of Southern others as passive, helpless victims that characterises pornographic representations of poverty. Awareness and fundraising campaigns in the past focused primarily on the presentation of images and information about the poor in the global South and so constructed deeply engrained impressions of the Southern others in the minds of Northern viewers, readers and donors. The social construction of Northern selves was more implicit than explicit even if the representation of Southern others as helpless and backward so clearly emphasised the agency, reason and cultural superiority of the North. 52 Indeed, most analysis of the pornography of poverty has criticised the portrayal of poor others but has not examined the self-side of the coin. 53 By contrast, the representation of development as sexy explicitly targets the identities of 1482

9 DEVELOPMENT MADE SEXY would-be donors and activists in the North, encouraging them to enhance their own sex appeal by supporting development causes and associating themselves with sexy celebrity spokespeople. The emphasis on Northern abundance thus allows for a shift away from the images of scarcity that were criticised as the pornography of poverty, and the representation of Southern others becomes more implicit than explicit, marked more by their absence from fundraising images than their presence in them. While the representation of development as sexy may avoid the most serious ethical criticisms of the pornography of poverty, the identity of the Northern self that is explicitly fostered by efforts to make development sexy remains remarkably similar to that fostered by the pornography of poverty, with the exception that the Northern donor is also represented as goodlooking. Lamers analysis of the images used in fundraising campaigns by Belgian NGOs from 1965 to 2005 found that people from the global South were primarily represented as hungry, ignorant, insecure, innocent, and unimportant, while Northern selves were presented as helpers, rescuers, the guilty, money givers, changers and supporters. 54 In short, Northern selves possessed agency and Southern others did not. A comparison with the idealised image of the Northern donor/activist promoted by Product (Red) one of the initiatives that has most forcefully sought to frame development as sexy promotes a very similar identity. For example, the Product (Red) Short Film Competition solicits entries to the Vail Film Festival that dramatize one of these two (Red) themes: We are the people we ve been waiting for; Be a good-looking Samaritan. 55 The problem with these representations is not that agency in the North is unimportant, but rather that the representations promote paternalistic, charity-driven identities and roles for Northern donors and suggest that the agency of people in the South is not important, thereby failing to challenge the representation of Southern others as helpless victims. As the Nigerian American writer Uzodinma Iweala argued: This is the West s new image of itself: a sexy, politically active generation whose preferred means of spreading the word are magazine spreads with celebrities pictured in the foreground, forlorn Africans in the back... Africans are props in the West s fantasy of itself. 56 While we argued above that most development issues can probably be made sexy, the question remains whether some forms of agency are encouraged and others are discouraged in efforts to represent development as sexy. Evidence suggests that the identity of the Northern self that efforts to make development sexy promote is not simply that of the philanthropic donor or the political activist, but rather a new category that is something more than simply a donor but less than an activist. For example, Darnton s analysis of the MPH campaign in the UK found that many of those who became involved were not the usual suspects in terms of anti-poverty supporters and that their understandings of different forms of activism and its implications were very weak. 57 In this conjuncture, when the identity of global citizens and the next generation of donor/activists is under negotiation, the forms of global citizenship that are fostered by representations of development as sexy stand to have a powerful impact on the 1483

10 JOHN CAMERON & ANNA HAANSTRA projected social identities of Northern selves in relation to the Southern others. The criteria for the Product (Red) Film Festival cited above provide a clear indication of the preferred forms of agency. Instructions for film submissions explicitly stated that films should not make the viewer feel guilty, be overtly political, be sad, be angry, or use violence. Conversely film-makers are encouraged to be optimistic and empowering. 58 More broadly the public manifesto of Product (Red), which highlights the tremendous power of First World consumers, makes clear that the goal of the brand is to foster a benevolent consumer identity as the basis for global citizenship. 59 As Richey and Ponte argue in an analysis of Product (Red) as the new frontier of development assistance, the ideology, identity and forms of agency which it encourages are solidly anti-marxist as they promote capitalism and the consumer instead of the collective and the state. 60 In short, forms of agency compatible with capitalism are made sexy, anticapitalist resistance is not. One of the central criticisms of pornographic representations of poverty was that they promoted an extremely shallow understanding of the forces that produce and sustain poverty and injustice in the global South and focused attention on the victims of poverty rather than the political forces behind it. 61 It is thus important to note that the MPH campaign, which made prominent use of celebrity sex appeal to motivate development action in the North, specifically sought to promote a deeper understanding of the causes of global poverty by drawing attention to the problems caused by global trade rules and practices, Third World debt and the modalities of aid delivery, suggesting that the representation of development as sexy may help to foster a deeper public understanding of the forces behind global poverty and injustice. However, the deeper roots of the representation of development as sexy in post-world War II advertising highlight a contradiction between the messages of the MPH campaign, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the commodification of sexuality as a strategy to promote consumer capitalism. While development organisations and campaigns may attempt to frame action to address any number of issues as sexy, the problem, as Rutherford argues, is that sex-appeal itself has been commodified: 62 the primary mechanism offered to prospective Northern donors/activists to enhance their sex-appeal is capitalist consumption, such as buying Product (Red) clothing or MPH wristbands. Indeed, Darnton reported in an analysis of the MPH campaign based on a survey of 2104 people in the UK that most of those surveyed failed to identify any linkages between global poverty and global trade rules, debt or the delivery of development aid. Moreover, the most common action that British people undertook as part of the MPH campaign was an act of individual consumption: the purchase and wearing of the campaign s white wrist bands. 63 As Richey and Ponte argue in their analysis of Product (Red), Its hard commerce sex appeal approach may engage individuals from previously untapped constituencies... but in doing so, it will perpetuate the disengagement of needy recipients in order for us to become benefactors with bling. 64 The representation of development as sexy thus not only fails to question consumer capitalism as a force that sustains 1484

11 DEVELOPMENT MADE SEXY global poverty and injustice, but also actively promotes it through the regime of stimulation described by Rutherford. 65 A final concern with efforts to make development sexy is that they have overlooked some of the central messages of feminist development scholars and practitioners. The use of scantily dressed women in a 2007 Product (Red) Youtube video that aimed to raise funds to confront the AIDS epidemic in Africa indicates a lack of concern about the link between the objectification of females and the spread of HIV/AIDS on the continent and elsewhere. 66 Exploitation of the female body to promote capitalist consumption may have become normal in Northern fashion magazines, but to employ this same strategy to raise awarness and funds for AIDS in Africa is cause for concern. The strategy contradicts efforts by feminist activists and scholars to challenge sanctioned gender roles that promote sexual violence and consequently the spread of AIDS in Africa, which disproportionately affects females. 67 The contradiction between the objectification of female bodies in representations of development as sexy, on the one hand, and efforts to stop violence against women and the spread of AIDS in Africa, on the other, highlights the tension between development education and fundraising strategies and the dangers of confusing the two. Moreover, the representations of sexuality that are used to sell development to Northern publics are very narrow. A Hollywood standard of heterosexual sexiness prevails, which may be good marketing but fails to provoke deeper analysis of broadly viable models of sexuality. The search for ethical representations of poverty and development One of the central questions in the debates about representations of poverty is whether the ends justify the means: can representations of poverty and development that succeed in generating funds for benevolent development initiatives but which present distorted images of poverty and development be justified in ethical terms? In the wake of the heavy criticism of the pornography of poverty, some development and humanitarian relief NGOs in the North adopted a dogma of positive imagery which sought to redress the representation of people in the global South as helpless victims with images that presented them as happy and empowered. 68 While this approach at first appeared to avoid the ethical problems associated with pornographic representations of poverty, Dogra argues that it remains a lazy way out : It is time to question the purpose of positive imagery. Does an idealized happy image show the achievements of the INGO thereby representing a postintervention scenario? Is it just the safest way out of the strong criticism of negative imagery? Or is the trend of positive imagery merely in tune with some currently acceptable marketing studies that indicate that appeals sent to potential donors with a positive image fetch more donations compared to the ones with negative images. 69 The representation of development as sexy offers a new strategy for appealing to a new generation of potential donor/activists that shifts the focus away from images of the poor in the South to the identities of donors/activists in 1485

12 JOHN CAMERON & ANNA HAANSTRA the North. However, as we have argued, the representation of development as sexy remains burdened by many of the same distortions that plagued pornographic representations of poverty. Northern selves are portrayed as beneficent and as possessing the wisdom and agency needed to help Southern others, while the structural issues that sustain global poverty remain in the shadows. Two further questions emerge from this conclusion. First, does development really needs to be represented as sexy in order to attract the attention and interest of Northern publics? Second, do alternatives exist that might escape the tensions between the demands of effective fundraising and appropriate ways of representing the global South? Dogra also asserts that the creation of images that show the complexity and context of development but which might also work as fundraising tools in the North is a difficult challenge. 70 A first step towards meeting that challenge is for development organisations that seek to raise funds from individual donors in the North to recognise the powerful impact that fundraising strategies have on public understandings of poverty and development. Fundraising and public education cannot be approached as separate activities, as they have been in the past. 71 Indeed, the fundraising campaigns of development NGOs constitute one of the most important faces of development and forms of development education that is presented to Northern publics. A second step is to search for ways of making development issues interesting and engaging for Northern publics without distorting and misrepresenting them. Alternative approaches may exist. A recent report by the BBC and DFID on public perceptions of news coverage of developing countries argued simply that news stories need to be presented in ways that are relevant to ordinary people s lives and that they need to provide sufficient background information. 72 Similarly Peter Knight, a director of the consulting firm Environmental Context, argues that efforts to promote public interest in issues such as sustainable development need to get some perspective on how ordinary people live. 73 Perhaps sexiness is not all that motivates ordinary people. Greenpeace s recent success in engaging new constituencies in its campaign to save whales through the use of humour is one possible alternative approach that has also been used by the development NGO Comic Relief. 74 The key issue is to carefully consider the ways in which representations of poverty and development shape public understandings and thus mediate and produce relations between North and South. Notes 1 Product (Red) is a business model developed to generate funding for the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Malaria and Tuberculosis. See 2 Bono, Bono brings Africa to Vanity Fair, at accessed 14 April Steve Thompson, Sustainable Development Forum: Report Summary, Royal society of New Zealand, at aspx, accessed 14 October Emphasis added by authors. 4 Actress Angelina Jolie became the Goodwill Ambassador for the UNHCR in Former member of the all-female pop-rock band Spicegirls, Geri Halliwell, became Goodwill Ambassador for the UN 1486

13 DEVELOPMENT MADE SEXY Population Fund in Sue Wheat, Celeb appeal, Developments, nd, at accessed February See the web-based advertisement for the t-shirts at pagename¼gi_event1. 6 Andew Cooper, Celebrity Diplomacy, Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2008; and Charlie Lee- Potter, Can celebrity endorsement save the planet?, New Statesman, 134, 2005, pp For example, an article on actor Matt Damon s humanitarian activism in Africa in the Canadian news magazine MacLean s ran under the cover headline The world s sexiest man bares his soul. Brian, Johnson, The world s sexiest man bares his soul, MacLean s, 120 (48), 2007, pp Matt Smith & Helen Yanacopulos, The public faces of development: an introduction, Journal of International Development, 16 (5), 2004, p Arturo Escobar, Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, VSO, The Live Aid Legacy: The Developing World Through British Eyes A Research Report, London: VSO, 2002, at 11 Betty Plewes & Ricky Stuart, The pornography of poverty: a cautionary fundraising tale, in Daniel Bell & Jean Marc Coilaud (eds), Ethics in Action: The Ethical Challenges of International Human Rights Nongovernmental Organizations, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006, pp Ian Smillie, The Alms Bazaar: Altruism Under Fire Non-Profit Organizations and International Development, Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 1995, p Kevin Rosario, Delicious horrors : mass culture, the Red Cross, and the appeal of modern American humanitarianism, American Quarterly, 55 (3), 2003, pp BOND, Engaging with Northern constituencies in 2005 and beyond, 2005, p 1, at accessed 25 February Machiel Lamers, Representing poverty, impoverishing representation? A discursive analysis of NGO fundraising posters, Graduate Journal of Social Science, 2 (1), 2005, p Research by VSO in Britain found that 74% of the British public believed that countries in the global South depend on the money and knowledge of the west to progress. VSO, The Live Aid Legacy, p3. See also Canadian Council for International Cooperation, Focus on Ethics: Addressing Tensions in Choosing Fundraising Images, Ottawa: CCIC, Plewes & Stewart, The pornography of poverty ; Nandita Dogra, Reading NGOs visually: implications of visual images for NGO management, Journal of International Development, 19, 2007, pp ; and David Jefferess, For sale peace of mind: (neo)-colonial discourse and the commodification of Third World poverty in World Vision s Telethons, Critical Arts, 16 (1), 2002, pp Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings , New York: Pantheon, See also Escobar, Encountering Development. 19 Stuart Hall, The West and the rest: discourse and power, in Stuart Hall & Bram Gieben (eds), Formations of Modernity, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992; and Hall, The work of representation, in Hall (ed), Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, London: Sage, Dogra, Reading NGOs visually, p 163. See also H Lidchi, Finding the right image: British development NGOs and the regulation of imagery, in T Skelton & Tim Allen (eds), Culture and Global Change, London: Routledge, VSO, The Live Aid Legacy, p3. 22 Plewes & Stewart, The pornography of poverty, p See, for example, R Wade & A Grunsell, I didn t know there were cities in Africa, Development Education Journal, 3, June 1995, pp Daniel Bell & Joseph Carens, The ethical dilemmas of international human rights and humanitarian NGOs: reflections on a dialogue between practitioners and theorists, Human Rights Quarterly, 26 (2), 2004, pp ; Dogra, Reading NGOs visually ; and J MacKeith, Raising money or raising awareness: issues and tensions in the relationship between fund-raisers and service providers, Centre for Voluntary Organization Working Paper 12, London: London School of Economics, VSO, The Legacy of Live Aid, p2. 26 Andew Darnton, Make poverty history: end of year notes from the public perceptions of poverty research program, 2006, at accessed 25 February Michael Edwards, Future Positive, London: Earthscan, 2001, p Ian Smilley, Public support and the politics of aid, Development, 42 (3), 1999, p Alison Van Rooy, Good news! You may be out of a job: reflections on the past and future of 50 Northern NGOs, Development in Practice, 10 (3 4), 2000, p Ibid, p See Development Education Association, Eliminating world poverty: the contribution of development education, response from the Development Education Association to the DFID White Paper 1487

14 JOHN CAMERON & ANNA HAANSTRA consultation document of January 2006, at 76a fcf/dea_response_dfid_mar_06.pdf, accessed 27 February 2008; Smillie, Public support and the politics of aid ; Edwards, Future Positive; and Matt Smith, Mediating the world: development, education and global citizenship, Globalization, Societies and Education, 2 (1), 2004, pp Edwards, Future Positive, pp 191, Richard Sennett, Respect in a World of Inequality, New York: WW Norton, 2004, p Cited in Marjorie Garber, Compassion, in Lauren Gail Berlant (ed), Compassion: The Culture and Politics of an Emotion, London: Routledge, 2004, p Susan Moeller, Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War and Death, London: Routledge, Smillie, Public support and the politics of aid, p Ibid, p 72; and Bruce Link et al, Public knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about homeless people: evidence for compassion fatigue?, American Journal of Community Psychology, 23 (4), 1995, pp David Fetherstonhaugh et al, Insensitivity to the value of human life: a study of psychological numbing, Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 14 (3), 1997, pp See also C Summers et al, Psychological numbing: an empirical basis for perceptions of collective violence, in C Summers & E Markusen (eds), Collective Violence: Harmful Behaviour in Groups and Governments, Lanham, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, Fetherstonhaugh et al, Insensitivity to the value of human life, p Sennett, Respect in a World of Inequality. 41 Paul Rutherford, A World Made Sexy: Freud to Madonna, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007, p Robert Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, New York: Morrow, Fetherstonhaugh et al, Insensitivity to the value of human life, p Smillie, The Alms Bazaar, pp 137, 149, 154. In 2006 top-grossing Northern development NGOs allocated between 6% and 10.6% of their total revenue to fundraising, which amounted to $88 million and $21 million in the cases of World Vision USA and Save the Children USA, respectively. See and 45 Cited in Martin Wright & Sophie Hooper, Break it down, open it up..., Green Futures: The Sustainable Solutions Magazine, 2001, at accessed 6 February Ibid. 47 Cited in ibid. 48 Wheat, Celeb appeal. 49 Cooper, Celebrity Diplomacy; Alan Cowell, Celebrities embrace of Africa has critics, New York Times (electronic edition), 1 July 2005, at 01geldof.html, accessed 29 February 2008; Julie Hollar, Bono, I presume? Covering Africa through celebrities, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), 2007, at php?page¼3119, accessed 29 February 2008; and Lee-Potter, Can celebrity endorsement save the planet?. 50 Richard Black, Millenium goals: down the pan?, BBC News (electronic edition), 15 September Mark Steyn, Hygiene s uncool? Tell the dying, MacLean s, 1 October D Gregory, Geographical Imaginations, Oxford: Blackwell, 1994, p 29, cited in Smith, Mediating the world, p 69. See also Edward Said, Orientelism, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, Lamers, Representing poverty, impoverishing representation?, p Ibid, pp Uzodinma Iweala, Stop trying to save Africa, Washington Post (electronic edition), 15 July 2007, at accessed 29 February 2008, emphasis added. 57 Darnton, Make poverty history, p The first line of the Product (Red) Manifesto states: As First World consumers, we have tremendous power. What we collectively choose to buy, or not to buy, can change the course of life and history on this planet. See 60 Lisa Ann Richey & Stefano Ponte, Better (Red) than dead: Brand Aid, celebrities and the new frontier of development assistance, Danish Institute of International Studies Working Paper No 2006/ 28, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2006, p Lamers, Representing poverty, impoverishing representation?, p 39; and A Simpson, Charity begins at home, Quarterly Photographic Magazine, 19, 1984, pp Rutherford, A World Made Sexy. 1488

15 DEVELOPMENT MADE SEXY 63 Darnton, Make poverty history, pp Richey & Ponte, Better (Red) than dead, p Rutherford, A World Made Sexy, p See for example, Seth Kalichman et al, Gender attitudes, sexual violence, and HIV/AIDS risks among men and women in Cape Town, South Africa, Journal of Sex Research, 42 (4), 2005, pp Ibid. See also UNAIDS, 07 Aids Epidemic Update, 2007, at 2007_epiupdate_en.pdf, accessed 18 March Dogra, Representing NGOs visually, p Ibid, p Ibid. 71 Matt Smith, Mediating the world, p DFID and BBC, Making sense of the world: a joint BBC News DFID study of public perceptions of television news coverage of developing countries, 2002, at makingsense.pdf, accessed 14 October Cited in Wright & Hooper, Break it down, open it up. 74 Greenpeace, Mr Splashy pants goes viral, 28 November 2007, at whales/2007/11/mr_splashy_pants_goes_viral.html; Greenpeace, You named him, now save him, 10 December 2007, at and Chris Turner, Radically goofy, Globe and Mail (Toronto), 5 January 2007, p F

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