By Sheila C. Moeschen

Acts of Conspicuous Compassion investigates the connection among functionality tradition and the cultivation of charitable sentiment in the US, exploring the certain 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 suggestions hired through quite a few charity routine answerable for making prepared benevolence beautiful, interesting, and doubtless uncomplicated.

Sheila C. Moeschen agents a brand new method of accounting for the legacy and involvement of disabled humans inside of charity—specifically, the articulation of functionality tradition as an essential theoretical framework for discussing problems with embodiment and identification dislodges formerly held notions of the disabled current as passive, “objects” of pity. This paintings provides upward push to a extra advanced and nuanced dialogue of the participation of the disabled neighborhood within the charity undefined, of the possibilities afforded via 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 technique in a tradition with elevated appetites for voyeurism, show, and intricate spectacle.

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Playwrights exploited the envisioned tragedy of these subjects, confined by the limitation of their bodies and dependent upon the able-­bodied for all of their needs. Affliction melodramas reinforced the conventional conceptions of physically disabled people while also generating a prototype for experiencing and enacting benevolence. The theatrical devices employed by several popular affliction melodramas helped to produce the “signs of distress” outlined in Reid’s essay. In the course of the melodrama, these conventions primed spectators, both emotionally and cognitively, to cultivate benevolence as the appropriate response to what was understood as the pressing problem presented by deaf/dumb and blind communities in the public sphere.

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. Smith’s observations on sympathy introduce the idea that sincerity is a malleable concept and, more important, that both the spectator and the person soliciting charity are aware of the potential for mutual insincerity to exist between them.

Enlightenment philosophers, also called Common Sense philosophers, such as Thomas Reid, David Hume, Adam Smith, Francis Hutcheson, and the Earl of Shaftesbury, generated theories on the nature of social and personal relationships, taking particular interest in the mechanics of affect. By disclosing the workings of the interior as they related to actions that impacted the public sphere, people would be able to produce a more successful, prosperous, and morally sound community. Sentimentalism as a concept and an emotional property become a pervasive element in the cultivation of charity in antebellum culture.

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