Poverty in American Popular Culture

Essays on Representations, Beliefs and Policy

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About the Book

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared an “unconditional war” on poverty in the form of sweeping federal programs to assist millions of Americans. Two decades later, President Reagan drastically cut such programs, claiming that welfare encouraged dependency and famously quipping, “Some years ago, the federal government declared war on poverty, and poverty won.” These opposing policy positions and the ideologies informing them have been well studied. Here, the focus turns to the influence of popular art and entertainment on beliefs about poverty’s causes and potential cures.
These new essays interrogate the representation of poverty in film, television, music, photography, painting, illustration and other art forms from the late 19th century to the present. They map when, how, and why producers of popular culture represent—or ignore—poverty, and what assumptions their works make and encourage.

About the Author(s)

Wylie Lenz is an assistant professor of English in the humanities and social sciences department at Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland, Florida.

Bibliographic Details

Edited by Wylie Lenz
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 282
Bibliographic Info: 19 photos, notes, index
Copyright Date: 2020
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6422-4
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3903-1
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Introduction: Poverty, Policy, Beliefs and Popular Culture
Wylie Lenz 1
Henry Ossawa Tanner and African American Realist Paintings of Poverty in the 1890s
Lyrica Taylor 25
Not Picturing Poverty: The New Woman and ­Nineteenth-Century Periodical Illustration
Anna M. Dempsey 41
Early Film and Child Welfare Issues: Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid
Kathleen A. Tobin 58
Agnes Smedley’s Daughter of Earth and Representations of the Social
Michael Mayne 70
Speaking the Language of the New Deal: Efficiency, Poverty and Economic Security in the 1930s Campaign Against Venereal Disease
Erin Wuebker 86
“The Language of Pictures”: Images of Poverty in New Deal America
Courtney L. Kisat 112
A Hillbilly, a Bum and an Old Woman Meet a Screwball Redhead: Lampooning the Poor in I Love Lucy
Mark Bernhardt 123
Poverty, Opportunity and Art Legacies in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Katelynd L. Gibbons 140
Precarious Mobility: Vagrancy in American Pop Culture
Wibke Schniedermann 161
Making a (Third) Space for Learning: Analyzing Urban Education in HBO’s The Wire
Chad William Timm 179
“In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World”: Poverty and Potentiality in Beasts of the Southern Wild
Lauren Riccelli Zwicky 198
A Place to See: Poverty in American Theater, 1935–2015
Mary K. Ryan 213
“What You Are About to See Will Make You Question What Matters Most”: Poverty Porn, The Briefcase and the Deserving Poor
Owen Cantrell 228
“Welcome to The First 48”: Identity, Delinquency and Reality ­Television
Jessica H. Zbeida 247
About the Contributors 265
Index 267

Book Reviews & Awards

“Lenz’s thesis that purely fictional narratives may influence our view of poverty just as strongly as fact-based ones do is well supported by the scholarship gathered here.”—Journal of Popular Film and Television