Struggle Street may be poverty porn, but it’s also cold, harsh reality

Andrew Hornery

www.theage.com.au

9th May 2015

Struggle1

The good and not-so-good folk of Mt Druitt realised last week that fame can be a cruel mistress, and she doesn’t always arrive with the riches and fanfare we traditionally associate with celebrity.

And while SBS has copped plenty of flak over how it has portrayed the “stars” of its new fly-on-the-wall series Struggle Street, surely even society’s “most vulnerable” are by now well-versed in the black arts of the genre we have come to know as “reality television”.

From domestic violence and poverty to rampant drug abuse and neglect, Struggle Street is not easy viewing, especially when the camera focuses on a pregnant woman sucking on a bong.

It has been 22 yeas since Sylvania Waters gave us the Donaher family and propelled the likes of the bourbon and Coke-swilling matriarch Noeline to international fame. She became so famous that, at the height of her celebrity she released her own single: a dance version of the Walker Brothers’ ’70s hit There’s No Regrets. She was even being paid to make personal appearances.

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Troubled teen Bailey and single mum Erin from Struggle Street. Photo: SBS

If only there were a few Noelines living in Struggle Street.

Unlike Sylvania Waters and all the shows that followed in its wake, Struggle Street is reality television in its most brutal and raw form, providing a truly tragic, unsettling and frustrating glimpse into a community that is all too real for those living in it.

From domestic violence and poverty to rampant drug abuse and neglect, Struggle Street is not easy viewing, especially when the camera focuses on a pregnant woman sucking on a bong. This is a show utterly lacking in the charm that made Sylvania Waters such a hot topic of discussion in its depiction of the nouveau riche.

Indeed the world in Struggle Street is about as far as you can get from the traditional audience SBS tells its advertisers it appeals too. In marketing speak that’s called an A/B demographic and SBS prides itself on being the channel of choice for those most well-off in our society.

Mt Druitt falls in the area controlled by Blacktown Council. On Wednesday Stephen Bali, the mayor of Blacktown, led a protest outside SBS over Struggle Street, flanked by representatives of Unions NSW and a convoy of garbage trucks, which attempted to blockade the broadcaster’s headquarters. They demanded SBS stop its broadcast on Wednesday night.

They failed, but not before Bali told the gathered media: “The program is garbage, so we brought garbage trucks here. This program must stop because it’s not a documentary, it’s publicly-funded poverty porn.”

While Bali’s sentiments are echoed by many other proud residents in the area who say the show is not representative of their lot, there is no denying that those people who have made it on to Struggle Street really do exist, and so do the issues they face on a daily basis.

None of the participants were paid by SBS, which also assured PS that all had signed release forms giving the network permission to use the footage it captured over a six-month period.

As SBS chief content office said following Bali’s protest: “We stand by this show. We recognise it is a really difficult topic … we recognise that these stories of the real lives of real people that we are telling are controversial and clearly polarising, but we think it is an important story to tell.”

Indeed shining a light on an ugly truth about the underbelly of Australian life that is rarely, if ever, depicted on television is a significant milestone, especially for a partially commercial network like SBS.

But surely pretending the world of Struggle Street doesn’t exist and calling for such programs to be banned is only denying the harsh reality of life for many Australians who would identify with those featured on the show?

While we may sit back and laugh at the antics of fictional shows like Fat Pizza, Housos and Upper Middle Bogan, all critically acclaimed as being searingly brilliant comic essays of modern-day Australia, watching the real thing without any of the punchlines is not such easy viewing.

And, quite frankly, nor should it be.

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Posted on May 11, 2015, in ConspiracyOz Posts. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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