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Deadbeat Dads and Daytime Television: “Worthless” Men in a Neoliberal Logic of Failure

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Abstract:

In 1998, President Clinton signed the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act into law. This law made it a federal criminal offense for a parent to “willfully fail” to pay child support for a child in another state. The Clinton Administration released a “The White House at Work” memo in response to the signing of the DPPA that quotes President Clinton as saying, “This bill today is a gift to our children and the future. The quiet crisis of unpaid child support is something that our country and our families shouldn’t tolerate. Our first responsibility, all of us, is to our children.”

This paper posits that President Clinton’s discursive construction of a “quiet crisis of unpaid child support” is highly problematic but also emblematic of a neoliberal rationality that frames a father’s first responsibility to his children as financial. This same move refigures the struggles of single-parents (most often mothers) and their children as satisfied through child support collections. I suggest that we can see this rationality play out through the “spectacle of indebtedness” by looking at representations Deadbeat Dads on daytime talk shows and court shows such as Maury and Divorce Court. There is a visual culture that often mirrors the policy rhetoric of the Deadbeat Dad. These programs rely on a cultural logic of paternity, at once reaffirming issues of (female) dependency and (male) responsibility. Men who are unable or unwilling to meet that responsibility are constructed as failures (failed fathers, failed partners, failed men).

This paper goes on to argue that the Deadbeat Dad is actually a valuable and necessary subject under neoliberalism, indeed he is a construction of neoliberal welfare policies, which are then reinforced through daytime television’s spectacle of indebtedness. His failure validates the men who play by the rules, who pay for their children so that they are not reliant on the state. And so these men represent constitutive failures. In doing so, they also obscure other ways we might imagine how we meet our responsibilities to “our children and the future.” They must be marked as loathsome and as failures in order to hide the failure of this logic and its focus on the biological father to meet the needs of children. Instead Deadbeat Dads serve as a slight-of-hand to distract attention from neoliberal economic policies, which are often the very force undermining families in the first place. We can instead blame fathers and mothers for their failure as individuals to live up to the image of the ideal family. This in turn puts pressure on the family, as an individual unit, to meet and maintain all the needs of its members so that “we” (the taxpayer) don’t have to pay for “your” child.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p657008_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Razzano, Kathalene. "Deadbeat Dads and Daytime Television: “Worthless” Men in a Neoliberal Logic of Failure" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Washington, Washington, DC, <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p657008_index.html>

APA Citation:

Razzano, K. "Deadbeat Dads and Daytime Television: “Worthless” Men in a Neoliberal Logic of Failure" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Washington, Washington, DC <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p657008_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: In 1998, President Clinton signed the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act into law. This law made it a federal criminal offense for a parent to “willfully fail” to pay child support for a child in another state. The Clinton Administration released a “The White House at Work” memo in response to the signing of the DPPA that quotes President Clinton as saying, “This bill today is a gift to our children and the future. The quiet crisis of unpaid child support is something that our country and our families shouldn’t tolerate. Our first responsibility, all of us, is to our children.”

This paper posits that President Clinton’s discursive construction of a “quiet crisis of unpaid child support” is highly problematic but also emblematic of a neoliberal rationality that frames a father’s first responsibility to his children as financial. This same move refigures the struggles of single-parents (most often mothers) and their children as satisfied through child support collections. I suggest that we can see this rationality play out through the “spectacle of indebtedness” by looking at representations Deadbeat Dads on daytime talk shows and court shows such as Maury and Divorce Court. There is a visual culture that often mirrors the policy rhetoric of the Deadbeat Dad. These programs rely on a cultural logic of paternity, at once reaffirming issues of (female) dependency and (male) responsibility. Men who are unable or unwilling to meet that responsibility are constructed as failures (failed fathers, failed partners, failed men).

This paper goes on to argue that the Deadbeat Dad is actually a valuable and necessary subject under neoliberalism, indeed he is a construction of neoliberal welfare policies, which are then reinforced through daytime television’s spectacle of indebtedness. His failure validates the men who play by the rules, who pay for their children so that they are not reliant on the state. And so these men represent constitutive failures. In doing so, they also obscure other ways we might imagine how we meet our responsibilities to “our children and the future.” They must be marked as loathsome and as failures in order to hide the failure of this logic and its focus on the biological father to meet the needs of children. Instead Deadbeat Dads serve as a slight-of-hand to distract attention from neoliberal economic policies, which are often the very force undermining families in the first place. We can instead blame fathers and mothers for their failure as individuals to live up to the image of the ideal family. This in turn puts pressure on the family, as an individual unit, to meet and maintain all the needs of its members so that “we” (the taxpayer) don’t have to pay for “your” child.


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