Acts of Conspicuous Compassion: Performance Culture and by Sheila C. Moeschen

By Sheila C. Moeschen

Acts of Conspicuous Compassion investigates the connection among functionality tradition and the cultivation of charitable sentiment in the USA, exploring the exact practices that experience developed to make the plea for charity legible and compelling. From the paintings of 19th-century melodramas to the televised drama of transformation and redemption in truth TV’s severe Makeover: domestic variation, Acts of Conspicuous Compassion charts the delicate concepts hired by means of numerous charity routine accountable for making prepared benevolence appealing, interesting, and doubtless uncomplicated.

Sheila C. Moeschen agents a brand new manner of accounting for the legacy and involvement of disabled humans inside charity—specifically, the articulation of functionality tradition as an important theoretical framework for discussing problems with embodiment and id dislodges formerly held notions of the disabled current as passive, “objects” of pity. This paintings provides upward push to a extra complex and nuanced dialogue of the participation of the disabled group within the charity undefined, of the possibilities afforded by means of functionality tradition for disabled humans to behave as severe brokers of charity, and of the recent moral and political matters that come up from applying functionality method in a tradition with elevated appetites for voyeurism, show, and intricate spectacle.

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64 The emphasis on gesture and its signifying excesses is important for several reasons: it serves as the primary form of melodramatic communication, at times very pronounced, making the action the central focus of the scene; it presents a visual complement to the sentimental signs created by the disabled body; and it produces moments where absence is made present. ”65 In lieu of vocal speech, Myrtillo manufactures a type of palpable silence or gap that authorizes the able-­bodied character to speak for the afflicted.

Figures with disabilities, specifically those characterized as deaf/dumb and blind, populated a variety of plays. These plays, distinguished here as affliction melodramas, staged the tragic plight and eventual retribution of the pathetic, physically disabled individual. Adapted from French and British sources and performed throughout the first decades of the nineteenth century, affliction melodramas capitalized on the public’s growing interest in and concern with the situation of hearing-­ impaired and blind people.

Laziness, destitution, and intemperance became the discerning traits of “dangerous classes,” which middle-­class Americans strove to define themselves against. Social historian David Wagner argues that by drawing parameters around their own perceptions of acceptable behaviors, reformers manufactured distinctive categories within which to cast the Other. ”12 People with disabilities occupied a more complicated designation in the early decades of the nineteenth century. These individuals encapsulated an array of cultural meanings that ranged from pitiful “creatures” to living abominations of God’s will.

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