Mythology Of Poverty In The Great Depression: A Case For Accountable Writing Term Paper Sample
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In the 1930’s Life Magazine published an issue themed, “To Watch the Faces of the Poor” where the lives of the American rural poor were described during the onset of the Great Depression. The issue outlined the conditions of the so called “worthy poor”, predominantly Caucasian individuals whose stories are filled with controversy, tall tales, and scandal. It might have been an interesting read during the time that it was published, however, many years later at present time, the article is being criticized for the numerous inconsistencies and misrepresentations the article became infamous for (Cunningham).
For instance, the way the so called “rural poor” were portrayed clung to one sided perspective. It reflected the time when racial discrimination permeated throughout society. Only white individuals’ life stories were integral in the issue. If there was any mention of other races, the tone of description was one with derision and sarcasm. But most of all, the most distasteful aspect of the article is the fact that it reported untruths. Even if the reputation of Life Magazine is respectable, the manner of its reporting of societal stories in the purported issue constituted of ethical violations in journalism largely unacceptable today (Cunningham).
This paper is composed to shed light and to discuss the effect of distortion and misrepresentation in writing and its implications towards culture and society. It shall aim to argue against inaccuracy of information and establish the responsibilities of a good writer or a journalist.
According to the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, public insight is the harbinger of justice and the underpinning of democracy. The role of the journalist is to promote those aims through the promotion of veracity and by presenting a concise and fair narrative of stories and articles (Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics.)
A Writer’s Responsibility
Principle 1: A journalist or a writer must always and firmly stick to the truth.
It is always important to ensure that the source of information one writes about comes from a veritable origin. Professionals should always emphasize and put to daily living the values of integrity and fairness. Journalists and writers must always guard against misrepresentation by ensuring that the stories they compose are always within context. They must always examine their personal values to ensure that every opinion delivered to the public is free from bias.
Principle 2: Journalists and Writers must always do their best to minimize harm and to regard with respect.
Journalists and writers should place much emphasis in regarding subjects impartially. The craft and science of writing must be respected by delivering only truthful, interesting, and engaging stories which promote knowledge, wholesome values, and attitudes. Journalists and writers must shed away all preconceived stereotypes and biases may it be in issues of gender, race, or culture.
Principle 3: A Journalist should act with Independence and focus its concern on what the public ought to know.
In pursuit of a story, Writers and journalists should at all times be discriminating of offers to write a story or an article that places somebody or something in bad light or something larger than life. They must be serious of the responsibility of bringing pertinent information useful for the daily lives of those who would be reading their works.
Principle 4: Journalists and Writers ought to always assume the position of Accountability to the general Public.
How Literature Shapes Culture
Culture is defined as a series of conventions which are learned and that which constitutes the identity of a certain group of people (What is Culture? 47). Literature on the other hand is defined as any written work hailed as a masterpiece or as representing a factual body of knowledge (What is Literature?).
Any person studying about cultural dynamics will agree that the existence of literature facilitated in establishing the world as we know it today. In fact, not only is the written word an essential feature of culture, it is crucial for culture to thrive (Conway and Schaller 109).
An example of the power of the written word in shaping the ideology of people prevailing at a certain time comes to us from the medieval age. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the whole of Europe suffered from the so-called dark ages, when culture came to a temporary standstill. If it were not for the existence of written texts surviving in Latin, hidden away in monasteries which were later used during the advent of education and scholasticism in the middle ages, the renaissance and indeed our present culture would not have risen out of the ashes of the previous age. These writings, containing the greatest classical works of the ancient world included works by the Ancient Greeks and the Mighty Roman Empire.
Knowledge placed upon the written media is a powerful shaper of thought and opinion. Going back to the Time Magazine article allegedly describing the “rural poor” during the great depression, a contemporary individual may agree that some elements mentioned in the issue are misrepresenting, biased, as well as racially discriminating.
The Concept of Frontier
Frontier is defined as a rustic province at the boundary of a developed area (The American Frontier). In the issue, the word implied a place where people dwell that is wild and uncivilized. This would have been true, as American rural communities during that time faced harsh conditions more than their city dwelling contemporaries. However, the word “Frontier” is being argued as something inappropriately used in the issue because beyond its meaning, the word is associated with the pioneer days in America. Indeed the criticizer of the article noted that, “usage of the term implies a conceptual connection to be made between the mountaineers and their forerunners”, (Cunningham). Perhaps the writer intended to use the word to achieve drama to the otherwise light-hearted magazine issue.
In the issue, some articles featured destitute individuals for some purported promiscuousness and lack of intelligence (Cunningham). Contemptible “white trash” are so derided, for instance, by the kind of lives that they led. The issue featured a story regarding an outrageous story of a man in his twenties who married a female who is just nine years old (Cunningham). In another story, a woman supposedly had hoodwinked her husband into believing that a child she bore from an illicit affair came from a canine who brought the child to them from the woods to raise. The husband wholeheartedly believed her and the ploy would have worked like a cuckoo chick to a warbler’s nest had authorities revealed the truth to the husband and encouraged him to separate from her (Cunningham).
In another article, two individuals who receive “pension” were highlighted. One, a certain Dr. Francis Everett Townsend, perhaps a retired doctor was portrayed in a photograph sitting on a bed with a clownish expression in his face. The second, the Everetts, Mr. Everette, described as an unemployed farm worker, also received “pension”. Dr. Townsend in this article is the rightful “senior citizen” while the grounds as to why Mr. Everette’s allowance was called pension even if he hasn’t reached his retiring is quite confusing. It does not go on to explain why the Everettes received money in the first place. These are just some examples that display articles which seemed to lack a certain notch or criteria in writing. While the preceding offered examples regarding work to be criticized, returning to the principal theme of the paper shall aim to discuss further the relevance of responsible writing and its implications to culture and society.
Implications of Distortion and Misrepresentation
Distorted and misrepresented works are far from the truth, indeed, they do not reflect the truth. While the way of writing in the 1930’s can be forgiven due to the nonexistence of formal ethical standards that guide writers and journalists throughout the course of their work, nowadays, this may no longer be acceptable.
Implications of distortion of truth and misrepresentation is far reaching, implicating much on the proliferation and strengthening of negative cultural norms widespread during that time. Take for instance the case of racial discrimination. In several articles within the issue, individuals from other races were indeed treated inferiorly as compared to the “worthy white poor” (Cunningham).
The opinion of racial discrimination might’ve gained unpopularity had local media ceased on emphasizing upon the make-belief gap between people of color and traditional pioneer Americans.
Another controversy hurled against the particular issue regards with Misrepresentation of individuals as subjects. Cunningham (pg. 1) openly questions on the veracity of whether the rural region itself may be considered a “frontier” since the term has only been attributed to the earliest American settlers during the earlier centuries.
The third question lies on whether the article writers exercised all of their skills and talents to bring to the public comprehensive and well-defined information. There are gaps in our knowledge presented especially vis a vis the article on “pension”. If one will remember, question was put forth regarding clarification as to why Mr. Everette is accepting pension when he has not yet reached the fruitful age of retirement.
Everyone who engages in the craft of writing may agree to the principle of ethics and truthful seeking of knowledge. Consequences are dire when one refrains from communicating the truth.
"Accountability". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 08 Apr. 2015 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked /topic/1887607/accountability>.
Conway III, Lucian and Schaller, Mark. “How Communication Shapes Culture” psych.ubc.ca, n.d. Web 7 April 2015 < http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~schaller/Psyc591Readings/ ConwaySchaller2007.pdf>
Cunningham, Charles. “To Watch The Faces of The Poor: Life Magazine and the Mythology of Rural Poverty in the Great Depression.” Journal of Narrative Theory. Vol. 29 No. 3, 1999. Print
Society of Professional Journalists. “Code of Ethics” spj.org. n.d. Web 7 April 2015
The American Frontier. “The American Frontier”. legendsofamerica.com. n.d. Web. 7 April 2015 < http://www.legendsofamerica.com/we-americanfrontier.html>
What is Culture? “What is Culture?” highered.mheducation.com. n.d. Web . 7 April 2015 <highered.mheducation.com/sites/dl/free//loc958262_module03.pdf>
What is Literature? “What is Literature?” dlibrary.acu.edu.au/ n.d. Web 7 April 2015 <http://dlibrary.acu.edu.au/staffhome/siryan/academy/foundation/what_is_literature.htm>
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