September 17, 2012

Establishing "Normalcy" and the United Way in the 1950's

I thought the article Textual Practices of Erasure was interesting in the sense that the general argument of the essay was that it "contextualizes front-stage textual practices in terms of the central contradictions of the American 1950s: Underlying the celebration of American goodness expressed in charity was profound uneasiness about the presence of disabled others who were different from the American mainstream, unease that is allayed by erasure." The United Way used sympathy of people who were disabled to get funding in a world that was seen upbeat and almost perfect. People with disabilities were typically seen as less human, and although these ads did bring that division to mind, I do think it did the job in raising awareness and not ignoring the elephant in the room of someone with disabilities, so to speak. I can see where it can cause issues with exploiting people and using children to generate sympathy from an audience, but at the same time, I think it is the only way to get the job done.

The United Way relied on donations, and they had to appeal to the general public somehow to receive donations. The 1950's were a time of of establishing normalcy, so the publicity, however exploitive now, was seen as fitting for the time. Pity and praise were seen as representations of the charity, but it was also successful. It made people sympathize with the disabled and not look past them as inferior, but people who wanted to be normal too.
I have a mentally disabled brother, and although I do not support the whole "have pity for me" scheme, I do understand his sense of wanting to be normal. It's natural to want to fit in, and if one can get help to become one step closer to being normal, it is appreciated on both sides of the giver and receiver. I don't necessarily support begging for sympathy, but at least having an understanding that there are others less fortunate who would appreciate some extra care. I think back in the 1950's when disabilities were not as welcome in society, a bit more sympathy was warranted. Times do change and so do the means of reaching out to the public, so that is why the United Way was probably so successful from the start. However, there is a line and portraying ALL disabled people as "childlike, helpless, hopeless, nonfuncitoning, and noncontributing members of society," (196) is wrong and each disability should attract awareness on a case-by-case basis, not as a pool of lumped-together disabilites.

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