Telethons: Spectacle, Disability, and the Business of Charity

ISBN : 9780190262075

Paul K. Longmore
360 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Nov 2015
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Looking back at postwar US history, it seems that a telethon accompanied every social ill, disability, disease, and natural disaster. A unique combination of entertainment and charity, this form of fundraising became a fixture in American life not long after NBC broadcast the first one, hosted by Milton Berle, in 1949. Conceived specifically for the new medium of television, the telethon-a portmanteau of "television" and "marathon"-became the fundraising vehicle of choice for the nation's leading charitable organizations. Marshaling two decades' worth of painstaking research, Telethons provides the first cultural history of the popular phenomenon. It charts the rise of the telethon as a result of five influential charities (most notably, the Muscular Dystrophy Association) and profiles the key figures-philanthropists, politicians, celebrities, corporate sponsors, and recipients-involved. The book also serves as a chronicle of disabilty history in the postwar US, as Longmore shows the changing depiction of the disabled-from objects of pity in the Fifties and Sixties to figures of empowerment in the late twentieth century. A significant portion of the book analyzes the various clashes between telethon-producing charities and activists in the disability rights movement that have become increasingly frequent since the 1970s. Throughout, Telethons explores familiar staples of the genre such as "poster children," the comedic emcee, and the concept of "conspicuous contribution."


Editors' Note
Chapter 1. Charity Professionals: Ambivalent Generosity and the New Business of Philanthropy
Chapter 2. Neither Public Nor Private: Telethons in the U.S. Health and Welfare System
Chapter 3. The Hidden Politics of Telethons: Where Volunteerism, Government, and Business Meet
Chapter 4. "They've Got a Good Thing with Us and We've Got a Good Thing with Them":
Telethons and Cause-Related Marketing
Chapter 5. Givers and Takers: Conspicuous Contribution and a Distinctly American Moral Community
Chapter 6. Dignity Thieves: Greed, Generosity, and Objects of Charity
Chapter 7. Suffering as Spectacle: Pity, Pathos, and Ideology
Chapter 8 "Look at Us We're Walking": Cure-Seekers, Invalids and Overcomers
Chapter 9 American and Un-American Bodies: Searching for Fitness through Technology and Sport
Chapter 10. Smashing Icons: Gender, Sexuality, and Disability
Chapter 11. "Heaven's Special Child": The Making of Poster Children
Chapter 12. Family Burdens: Parents, Children, and Disability
Chapter 13. Jerry's Kids Grow Up: Disability Rights Activists and Telethons
Conclusion: The End of Telethons and Challenges for Disability Rights

About the author: 

Paul K. Longmore, until his death in 2009, was Professor of History at San Francisco State. His books include The Invention of George Washington. Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability, and the coedited volume, The New Disability History: American Perspectives.

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