Misery Memoir v’s Poverty Porn

 In pensioners, Social Life

We writers, when we are planning to write a book, keep an ear to the ground. A few years ago, the pundits told us to avoid misery memoirs like the plague, no publisher wants or is interested in them. I still have my misery memoir on the laptop, sulking because I refuse to expose it to public gaze. So, imagine my surprise at the successful publishing of Kerry Hudson’s book Lowborn. I listened to it on Radio 4’s Book of the Week recently. It was fascinating and reinvigorated the genre. But there is a new kid on the block and so it’s now misery memoir v’s poverty porn.

Which is Which?

After Cash Carraway wrote Skint Estate she was concerned that her book was called poverty porn. For certain, both her and Kerry tell an awful story and nobody comes out well. The men in their lives are violent and controlling and the mothers abusive and drunk. An identifying feature is the prevalence of drugs as well as their constant moving of rented homes, most of which are in an appalling state. The daughters, the children, all suffer. What is remarkable is that both writers pull their lives back together. It appears that poverty porn is defined as the exploitation of the poor as a way to gain attention. Misery memoir (or misery porn) is about how a protagonist overcomes abuse, usually in childhood. Consequently, my story, let’s call it abandonment porn, doesn’t quite fit these genres.

Misery memoir v’s poverty porn

One of the writers was told by a social worker that blame was misplaced, that her parents simply made bad decisions. Why is it that today we all have to be grey, that black and white are unacceptable words? Responsibility, it appears, is also a no no word. It seems that I must not exploit my father and should accept that it was simply a bad decision to run off with his mistress to Eire. He abandoned his wife and three children and she abandoned her daughter. For some of us it meant grinding poverty and abuse. Two of those children have since died and their lives were profoundly damaged by what happened. I am glad that misery memoirs and poverty porn are having a resurgence; they remind people that there are consequencies to their actions.

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