Greed, Generosity, and Objects of Charity
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.
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