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Food Stamps and Fox News' Cultural Project

I’ve been thinking for a while now of the moral function of Fox News. Its critics are right when they observe that it does something other than journalism. In reality it serves as the cultural organ of a much larger project, namely the transformation of society along neoliberal lines. The way that power operates in that kind of society is through discipline. We learn from Fox how to impose that discipline on ourselves, that is, how to become self-disciplined.

In a simple and straightforward way, this is why we have “investigative reports” like this one.

It’s too simple to look at Jason Greenslate as a mere free-rider. He is a symbol of something more spiritually insidious, namely what we might call “moral enabling.” That is, he provides a visual focus for decline that allegedly happens when social programs are established. He symbolizes the encouragement over time to grow accustomed to comfort, to a life of leisure. He calls into question the virtues and cultural values that are supposed to underpin capitalism.

This leads to the second function of the story: if freeloaders like Jason Greenslate are to be the embodiment of cultural decline at the hands of what our friends at the Acton Institute call “microsocialism,” there has to be a prior discrimination, a social function that mobilizes the guilt response. His negative example not only has to stiffen our own resolve to be more virtuous, it has to do so by breaking the link of social solidarity. He has to be seen as other, as someone who takes part in what Fox here calls the “Great Food Stamp Binge.” This is strong language indeed. The implication is that those who are being actively “subsidized” by the rest of us have an even more powerful imperative to lead especially ascetic lives. In a weird inversion, they even have to be better than us; they have to deserve our assistance as exemplary moral agents. Thus we are left with a paradox: as the world of capital becomes even more brutally amoral, we are forced to become paragons of self-discipline.

About the Author

Robert Geroux is a political theorist.



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Whether you're deserving or undeserving poor, you simply can't live large on $200 a month in foodstamps. I don't think articles like this can have any kind of transformative effect on anybody when they're so obviously plain old bullshit lies. At best, these kind of articles just sing to the choir.


Out of a RECORD NUMBER of food stamp recipients, Fox (carefully discarding cases that would tug a viewer's heartstrings) found an equivalent of Reagan's Welfare Queen. What journalism! Or whatever Irene Baldwin called it.

Robert, capitalism imposes only a higher morality on us than it does on itself if we buy into the story that kind of reporting (or whatever Irene said) tells.

Roughly a hundred years ago, today's mores of capitalism were blamed on "middle class morality" by someone who could poke a hole in the pomposity better than I: "I don't need less than a deserving man: I need more. I don't eat less hearty than him; and I drink a lot more." -- Alfred P. Doolittle


If people run out of stuff to talk about at coffee break, there's always the "What I saw people with a SNAP EBT card buy in the checkout line at the supermarket" meme. When asked how they even know it's a SNAP card, they say, "Oh you can tell.  They're green".  Well, so is my bank's debit card.  But that doesn't sway them.  The bottom line is that if the person they saw bought anything less basic than dry beans or a sack of raw potatoes, it becomes an occasion to judge their purchases; "Where do they get off buying shrimp (or t.v.dinners, or fresh pineapples) on the tax payer's dime?  Come to think of it, even if they bought the dry beans, and have kids with them, it's like "Don't they know what causes that yet?" Personally, if stuck in a long checkout line I find it much more entertaining to check out the tabloid headlines, "Government cover-up of alien remains found at crash site", etc.


My family had food stamps for a while when I was a teen.  I can remember people giving dirty looks at the grocery store for buying cookies.  One of the hard things about food stamps (or it was back then) was the stuff you *couldn't* buy woth stamps, like pet food or toilet paper or soap or garbage bags.

Politics is always local. Is that true of religion also? We are on to various issues like this one (local) but are oblivious of the 51 million refugees this year who are in dire straits because of the many civil wars throughout the world. Are they not the Body of Christ also. So your concern is legitimate Robert. But is it only because it is local?

If Fox News and its followers were capable of shame, this might actually have an effect on them.

The difference between food stamp abusers and corporate tax avoidance abusers is that the latter are very capable of buying the government and tax laws that they like.


I am shocked that this blog is posted and Commonwealth cares what Fox says. Why not a story about kids who are hungry now that school breakfasts and lunches aren't available?

When ever it is my turn to preach on service to the poor, the one thing I always emphasize is to treat the mom in line with her kids at the register with sympathy and kindness. Especially true if she is using WIC coupons which make it obvious that she is poor and delays the check-out process significantly as she must sign each coupon. That is why so many women shop after dark or only at higher priced convenience stores with their WIC coupons and Food Stamp EBT cards so they can avoid being stared at, ridiculed and snubbed. Even worse, they fear the criticizing lecture from some older woman (or man) in line about the contents of her shopping cart. Until you walk for a month in their shoes and try to survive on the measly apportionment of food stamps, please do not complain.

I've asked this question before: is it necessary to watch Fox News at all?  Would we miss any cultural developments, would some necessary part of the public square's conversation be absent from our awareness, if we simply don't turn it on?  Does Fox News move any needle, anywhere?  I believe the answer is no to all these questions.  Ignore it and enjoy life the more, would be my advice.

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