Dignity Thieves

Paul K. Longmore

Edited by Catherine Kudlick

in Telethons

Published in print November 2015 | ISBN: 9780190262075
Published online January 2016 | e-ISBN: 9780190262105 | DOI:
Dignity Thieves

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  • History of the Americas
  • Social and Cultural History


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Telethons ended up tainting the civic-mindedness they claimed to renew by promoting the materialism and self-centeredness they promised to exorcise. Even while they called on viewers’ sympathy, they appealed to their avarice and self-aggrandizement. That solicitation strategy subverted the vaunted restoration of moral community. Conspicuous contribution also ritually resolved American dilemmas about class and social status by modernizing and democratizing the Western tradition of almsgiving. For more than two millennia, publicized acts of charity effected benefactors’ social exaltation as well as their spiritual and moral redemption. In the process, this beneficence marked people with disabilities as the natural objects of charity. That framing, and its annual visualization on a telethon, engrained the social role of charity recipient as one of the primary personas for disabled people. This chapter discusses that perception and the complicated motivations involved with charitable giving.

Keywords: altruism; conspicuous contribution; publicized giving; celebrity; class distinctions; social status; upward mobility; alms; telethons; objects of charity

Chapter.  5911 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; Social and Cultural History

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