TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Zelenak Presents The Mass Income Tax in Popular Culture at Temple

Zelenak Lawrence Zelenak (Duke) presented The Return-Based Mass Income Tax in Popular Culture at Temple yesterday as part of its Faculty Colloquia Series:

Since the introduction of the return-based mass income tax during World War II, the income tax has played an important role in American popular culture.  This chapter explores how two popular culture genres—radio and television situation comedies, and New Yorker cartoons—have responded to the modern income tax.  I have been able to identify nearly one hundred sitcom episodes in which the federal income tax plays a significant role, and over two hundred income-tax-related New Yorker cartoons.  The episodes and the cartoons offer wide-ranging commentaries on the tax system, and suggest some notable changes over time in public attitudes toward the income tax.  

One would never guess from the evidence of the sitcoms and cartoons that the federal income tax played so modest a role in the overall American tax picture.   In both sitcoms and cartoons, the income tax is virtually the only tax; there are almost no sitcom episodes or New Yorker cartoons concerned with other taxes.  As will be apparent in the following descriptions of tax-related sitcom episodes and cartoons, the character of the federal income tax—as a return-based mass tax—explains the sitcom writers’ and cartoonists’ interest in the income tax.

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