This article attempts to define “wellness pornography” and its impacts in the age of COVID. I’ll start with a discussion of terms, and then pivot to some examples.
Defining Wellness Pornography
In their 2019 paper, philosophers C. Thi Nguyen and Bekka Williams defined a form of junk-food communication now common online. “Moral outrage porn”, they argued, is salacious gossip about real-world horrors that users share for personal titillation.
It’s rampant in social media feeds in which users post and comment with intense emotion about political or cultural issues they are not invested in. They bewail the evils of racism and rape culture, for example, without having to commit to the hard work of finding solutions.
Why do they do it? For the pleasure of the emotion — which can bring a profit. In his parallel work on gamification, Nguyen points out the wicked calculus: if heightened emotion raises engagement, it can also raise social capital. The implication is stark: the user is able to build brand value through an absence of commitment to a serious issue.
In order to define moral outrage porn, Nguyen and Williams had to first establish the generic meaning of “porn”. They point out that while the term is now jokingly applied to a variety of obsessions, such as food, real estate, and household organization, it reveals something eerie. They write:
A representation is used as generic porn when it is engaged with for the sake of a gratifying reaction, freed from the usual costs and consequences of engaging with the represented content. We can engage with sexual pornography without the need to find and engage with a sex partner; we can engage with food porn without worrying about the cost or health consequences; we can engage with real estate porn without having to clean and maintain all that spotless gleaming wood.
I’d like to add to this list with a definition of “wellness pornography”:
We engage with wellness pornography by consuming attractive images and beguiling ideas of personal…