charity:water helps us imagine New York City’s water supplies are like much of the developing world. If you want water, you pick up your jerry can and walk for miles to get it out of the Central Park reservoir. And the water is dirty.
I have to enthusiastically say, I do love the creative approach where we get to put the privileged of the world in unprivileged circumstances. It has the same appeal as last-man-alive-in-the-world scenarios, like The Quiet Earth (below). WaterAid did a campaign using this approach, where Londoners had the toilet facilities of the developing world. I forever imagine a man in a suit with a brief case stumbling though an Ethiopian wasteland.
I like this approach for a number of reasons. It’s always a bit surreal – or near-future sci-fi. And it’s emotional. There is the sense of indignity demanded by the circumstances, but there is also empathy for anyone in these circumstances. Since it appears we need to empathize before we can help others, the job of the film is helping the viewer to concretely imagine what it is like to be in the shoes of another. Instead of suggesting, “Imagine you are in their shoes,” the film can simply show us: “you are in their shoes.”
A more typical approach will focus on the people we want to help, rather than the people we want help from. It would describe the problem in a realistic rather than imaginary way. And viewers would need to work harder to empathize. They don’t share the same circumstances or social context. It’s easier to think: this wouldn’t ever happen to me. (I have actually met people, who argued: I cannot respect the destitute (they smell bad) because I could never be destitute myself.)
I also like the way charity:water call this a PSA, or Public Service Announcement. It’s not a commercial for charity:water. It’s a public service: by the way, a billion people don’t have clean water and you can help. (And someone has left their lights on in the parking lot.) Why not? It’s a good attitude to take. Of course, on TV, it’s a direct response commercial restricted to web response. And on the web, it’s a direct response film. It tells you what charity:water do and links to their web site. (Imagine if you could click a link on a TV ad!) It’s a PSA more consistently than it is anything else.