Rosie Waterland on why we all need to watch Struggle Street.
Do you want to hear something sad? As hype began to build around SBS show Struggle Street yesterday, we decided it would be a great idea to have someone from the Mamamia team with a disadvantaged, public housing background to write something about it.
Except we didn’t have anyone.
Out of an editorial team of 45 and a company staff of more than 100, we could not find one person who could write (or was at least willing to write) about having lived a similar life to that of the people featured on Struggle Street. And that is freaking sad. Not surprising, since journalism and media is hardly an industry that could be considered a shining example of socio-economic diversity, but definitely sad. There was just no one.
Well, except me. Enter Rosie Waterland, token former Houso kid. I’m absolutely not the only person with a disadvantaged, public housing background to have found some level of success, but it certainly occurs rarely enough that I was the only person at Mamamia who was willing to share any first-hand perspective.
I actually didn’t want to write about Struggle Street because, to be honest, I just didn’t really know what to say. Yes, I lived in public housing. Yes, my parents were addicts. Yes, there are pregnant girls with bongs and broken washing machines on front lawns and way too much money spent on fast food instead of fresh vegetables. Yes, I thought Struggle Street was an accurate representation of some aspects of public housing life. But that’s all I had, really. About 100 words in total – hardly enough to warrant any kind of comment from me, even if I could relate to the show somewhat more than others.
But then I heard that we were struggling to find someone else in the team to write about it, and I thought, well, there’s the angle. How sad that I’m the only person on the Mamamia team who could relate to the show on that level? How utterly tragic that people who grow up on ‘struggle streets’ all over this country rarely have the capacity to tell their own stories? They are stories that we all need to hear, and the uncomfortable shock that radiated through social media during the show’s airing last night shows that we don’t hear them enough.
There was much debate yesterday about what the whole point of Struggle Street was. It was called ‘poverty porn’ and ‘exploitative’, both terms which I think were used because people didn’t know quite what to make of the confronting footage they were seeing in the show’s promo.
But Struggle Street wasn’t exploitative, it was real. There are 16-year-old girls out there who are homeless and suicidal. There are ice addicts with children. There are people who are so broken that they get stoned instead of looking for work. There are families who can barely afford to eat, but still come together to celebrate Father’s Day. And yes, there are pregnant women with toothless boyfriends who break down doors because they’re so desperate for a cone. That’s reality. A reality that made people so uncomfortable, they decided it was easier just to get outraged and call it poverty porn.
But the life depicted on Struggle Street is a life that exists. Not far from where you’re sitting right now, in fact. And their stories are rarely told, because not enough people make it out to be able to tell them. Be it because of alcohol and drug abuse, mental health, lack of education, family violence, a lifetime of trauma… There are so many reasons that families and people like those represented on Struggle Street end up stuck in a cross-generational cycle of poverty and hopelessness. No wonder we didn’t have anyone besides me on the Mamamia team, who came from their own struggle street and was willing to offer that perspective. Disadvantage isn’t a gimmick, it’s a reality – and one that, more often than not, doesn’t end with someone having the capacity to write for a privileged website like Mamamia.
So, as someone who grew up somewhat disadvantaged, as someone who spent time living in a public housing complex nicknamed ‘the ghetto’ and as someone who was phenomenally lucky to end up sitting where I am right at this moment, I have this to say about Struggle Street:
Watch it. Everybody, just watch it. Real stories without happy endings are often the hardest to sit through, but they are always the ones that need to be heard the most. People can’t stop talking about this show today because it was filled with experiences we desperately need to see more of. Hopefully this will effect some kind of change at a public policy level, or at the very least, encourage empathy in those where there previously may have been none.
Let’s just say that if Struggle Street is indeed ‘poverty porn’, then maybe we all need to see a bit more poverty porn.
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