“Earth Porn”: How to Consume One Planet At the Age of Social Media

Canary Sky Time lapse Video by Daniel Lopez  - Time-lapse video are a growing form of “earth porn” many places – from cities to countries – use to promote themselves on the internet

What it is called “Earth Porn” is hard to miss on the web. Our social media timelines are invaded by “most beautiful pictures of earth” posts,  ”27 surreal places to see before you die” slideshow and more “unbelievable cool places that really exist“. It is pretty nice to see people having some curiosity for landscapes, exotic places and other kinds of environments. It is also fantastic to be able to virtually see so many places our ancestors probably never had a chance to know about in their entire lifetime.

It remains however a very superficial and consummating way of “seeing” the earth. Every picture has to be more “amazing”, “fantastic” and “unbeliveable” than the previous one. As soon as you’ve looked at one photo set, the only thing you want to do is to click for more. “Places” can go viral one day, be seen and “liked” by hundreds of thousands of people and be completely forgotten, “out of date” the next day.

Once the picture has been seen, the place has been consumed. It is time to move on to the next one.

 

If the picture is not “new” anymore, it becomes useless to social media users, all fighting to get some attention and followers by posting continuously “amazing picture” photo streams. So, it is a photo contest more than a competition between real places.

“Earth porn” reduces places to pictures.

 

On those pictures, places are emptied of all their meaning, historical and cultural context. What people “like” (when they click on the so-called button) is not a real place – no one really cares about where it is, for that matter – it is a product, a brand, a feeling of adventure that is embedded in a photoshoped poster.

Places are not the real heroes of those pictures. They are just like sexy models posing on perfume ads: selling arguments. There are many meanings implied in such pictures, mainly emphasizing the positive aspects of travelling and adventure. “Making the world your amusement park” is pretty much the message.

Just like feminists fighting against smooth and edited pictures of unrealistic perfect women, geographers (and anyone who cares) should be aware of the possible damages “earth porn” can cause to real places, and real people. It is great to have access to such beautiful images, be able to share them, get inspired by them, but we must remember they are just pictures. They are the canvas on which we project our dreams and our feelings when looking at them… so the place on the picture becomes much more than just a random beautiful place to the viewer. Thing is, real places are never neutral. 

Real places have a history, people with a specific culture and specific concerns that might not leave a lot of space for yours when you will get there, dreaming about that one picture you saw online.

 

At some point, the main risk here is to end up with people transforming places to make them fit the picture. That is what happened to any spot where the Lord of the Ring was shot in New Zealand, to name just one example.

Don’t get this wrong. Of course, “earth porn” seems pretty harmless. Sharing pictures of beautiful waterfall in Mexico does not hurt anyone… but it does spread a vision of our planet as a catalogue of sexy “postcard” destinations, always sunny always perfect, always accessible, always “buyable”. Yet, places are not always like this. Just like the people who are making them, they change, and everyone coming here will take a different picture of it, that probably wont match with the catalogue one.

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