Another Case of “Poverty Porn”

A recent CNN investigation revealed that a South Dakota school for Native Americans uses some highly dubious fund-raising practices. As the clip above reports, the school has raised more than $51 million sending out millions of direct mail pieces that claim to report on the rough lives of Native American children. The only problem is, the children the letters come from are entirely made up; there is no “Emily High Elk” or “Josh Little Bear.” Spokespersons for the school (one of whom is wearing a Creighton sweatshirt!) defend their actions by claiming that although there are no such children by those names, their “stories” are still true and represent real-life situations. In the clip, one critic described this sort of phenomenon as “poverty porn,” pulling on the heartstrings of gullible donors using over-the-top marketing techniques and capitalizing on our sympathies for (in this case) Native Americans. As unethical as this is, could we not look at this as just another case of—as Machiavelli would say—the ends justifying the means? Why or why not? Thanks to our colleague Fr. Don Doll for sharing this story.

Urban Outfitters’ “Distasteful” Shirt

BxlKz31CIAAyj0K.jpg-largeAs I prepared to get this blog ready for a new semester, I came across this: Urban Outfitters has apologized for selling a Kent State University sweat shirt that some feel was made to look bloodied. If you don’t know, Kent State was the site of a student Vietnam War protest on May 4, 1970, in which four student protestors were killed by members of the Ohio National Guard. The Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of the shooting (below) was taken by Kent State student John Filo.


According to NBC News, this was the company’s response: “It was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such. The one-of-a-kind item was purchased as part of our sun-faded vintage collection. There is no blood on this shirt nor has this item been altered in any way. The red stains are discoloration from the original shade of the shirt and the holes are from natural wear and fray. Again, we deeply regret that this item was perceived negatively and we have removed it immediately from our website to avoid further upset.” The shirt had been selling online for $129. Perhaps one Twitter user said it best: “Nothing says young and hip like a 43 year old massacre.” This reminds me of another case involving a massacre, La Señorita Mexican Restaurants.

Do you believe the contents of this statement, or not? Was the company’s response satisfactory?