The absence of "poverty" in America

"Who today would write that 'In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage'?", writes Laila Lalami. While her question is about the absence of poverty as a theme in American Literature—where's today's Steinbeck?—she suggests that our culture has all but fogotten about the poor, from the Bush administration championing the repeal of the estate tax (which affects 1.2% of Americans) while ignoring the 12% of people living below the poverty line ("They can't afford the right lobbyists."), to the blame-the-victim mentality of those who ask why Hurricane Katrina victims didn't just leave. ("To these armchair inquisitors, it seemed to come as news that there are people in America who do not own cars or cannot afford a tank of gas on the 28th of the month; that a quarter of New Orleans' residents, and half of its children, live below the poverty line; and that, left with no other choices, the poor had to do as they were told — wait for help.") A snippet:
The reasons for this blame-the-victim mentality are no doubt varied, but among them one must surely acknowledge that American culture has become obsessed with the rich. Tabloids hound celebrity debutantes and teenyboppers as they shop for clothes on Rodeo Drive or Park Avenue. Radio commentators wonder whether a millionaire baseball player will take a competing team's offer or show loyalty to his fans by staying. Some of the most popular websites on the Internet are gossip blogs that closely track the love life of leading actors, the wives they left, and the girlfriends they're currently courting. MTV has a new show solely devoted to spoiled teenagers throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars on their "sweet sixteen" parties. (And, Lord help me, why do I even know about this?)
Read Lalami's "Fiction in the Age of Poverty."

Image: Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother.

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