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Acts of Conspicuous Compassion

Performance Culture and American Charity Practices

Sheila C. Moeschen

Publication Year: 2013

Acts of Conspicuous Compassion investigates the relationship between performance culture and the cultivation of charitable sentiment in America, exploring the distinctive practices that have evolved to make the plea for charity legible and compelling. From the work of 19th-century melodramas to the televised drama of transformation and redemption in reality TV’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Acts of Conspicuous Compassion charts the sophisticated strategies employed by various charity movements responsible for making organized benevolence alluring, exciting, and seemingly uncomplicated. Sheila C. Moeschen brokers a new way of accounting for the legacy and involvement of disabled people within charity—specifically, the articulation of performance culture as a vital theoretical framework for discussing issues of embodiment and identity dislodges previously held notions of the disabled existing as passive, “objects” of pity. This work gives rise to a more complicated and nuanced discussion of the participation of the disabled community in the charity industry, of the opportunities afforded by performance culture for disabled people to act as critical agents of charity, and of the new ethical and political issues that arise from employing performance methodology in a culture with increased appetites for voyeurism, display, and complex spectacle.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. 1-17

“How fabulous is that?” purrs Ina Garten, referring to the steaming contents of the casserole dish held captive between her oven mitt–clad hands. Known more widely under the moniker the Barefoot Contessa, Garten is one of a stable of Food Network culinary superstars. Like her contemporaries...

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Chapter 1. Dramatizing Distress: Sentimental Culture, Melodrama, and Nineteenth-Century Reform for the Deaf/Dumb and Blind

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pp. 18-48

The Connecticut Asylum for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb opened its doors to the public in April of 1817. The first of its kind in America, the crusade to instruct deaf/dumb individuals how to read and write flourished in the early decades of the nineteenth century under the efforts of the Reverend...

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Chapter 2. Spectacular Benevolence: Theatricalizing the War on Polio with the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP), 1934 - 1945

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pp. 49-87

On January 31, 1940, New York City’s lavish Waldorf Astoria Hotel literally became a three-ring circus. The Saints and Sinners Club erected the “Society Circus” in the main ballroom, transforming the elegant event space into a massive circus tent featuring performers such as clowns, minstrels,...

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Chapter 3. Wheelchairs and One-Liners: Televising Need in the Charity Telethon

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pp. 88-127

It is hour fourteen in the 1976 twenty-four- hour Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon, broadcast from Las Vegas, Nevada, the glittering city turned perpetual slot machine and bastion to late capitalism. For the past thirteen hours telethon host comedian Jerry Lewis has sung, danced, and performed...

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Chapter 4. Acts of Conspicuous Compassion: Charity in the Reality TV Era: "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"

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pp. 128-151

The twenty-first- century charity imperative begins with a long camera shot that captures the outline of a stark, rugged Montana mountain range cut out against a supernova sunrise washed in orange, pink, and magenta hues. A closeup of wheat, the proverbial “amber waves of grain,” shivering in the...

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pp. 152-165

A pink bloom spreads across the ten-foot- wide wall of the home store Bed, Bath & Beyond like a psychedelic fungus. The unnatural fauna come in the form of nearly every gadget invented: spatulas, mixing spoons, pizza cutters, garlic presses, can openers, vegetable peelers, rubber oven mitts, measuring...


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pp. 167-181


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pp. 183-203


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pp. 205-209

E-ISBN-13: 9780472029273
E-ISBN-10: 0472029274
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472118861
Print-ISBN-10: 0472118862

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 9 B&W illustrations and 1 color illustration
Publication Year: 2013