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 precise 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 version, Acts of Conspicuous Compassion charts the subtle thoughts hired through a variety of charity activities liable for making geared up benevolence eye-catching, fascinating, and doubtless uncomplicated.

Sheila C. Moeschen agents a brand new means of accounting for the legacy and involvement of disabled humans inside of 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 supplies upward push to a extra advanced 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 serious brokers of charity, and of the recent moral and political concerns that come up from applying functionality method in a tradition with elevated appetites for voyeurism, demonstrate, and complicated spectacle.

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Affliction melodramas further Dramatizing Distress 31 supported these views of the disabled: deaf/dumb and blind individuals existed as unfortunate, pure souls, suffering a cruel fate, reliant upon the benevolence of able-­bodied protectors. More than literary representations, dramatic depictions engendered a dynamic of immediacy that factored into sentimental principles about instigating emotion. 39 Theater, with its claim to re-­presenting action, events, behaviors, and characters in a way that attempted approximate simulations of similar errata in the public sphere, brought the spectacle of affliction into proximity with the average patron.

Smith’s treatise also raises questions of authenticity and contrivance in his insistence that affect may be attributed to external rather than internal or innate mechanisms. If a person produces emotion comparable to the type and degree of distress he witnesses, it follows that this spectacle may be inflated, exaggerated, or completely false in order to capitalize on an individual’s sympathies. Concordantly, it is also possible for the benevolent patron to simply read and understand the signs of need and to produce an expected response.

The demonstrative quality of theater, fused with its unique emotional and formal elements, functioned as an ideal medium to fully convey the tenets of the charitable relationship. The productive contrivances of theater helped to visually and emotionally code the moral and physical characteristics of the needy and the benevolent; reified the deferential dynamic critical to charitable intervention; and, most important, gave reformers a methodology for making their causes appealing. Institutional administrators borrowed from theatrical conventions and principles to execute public performances of their deaf/ dumb and blind students, which showcased their inspiring talents and legitimized the need to publicly support reform for this disabled community.

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