“Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends, we’re so glad you could attend; come inside, come inside…” Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Back in the bad old days you could go to any circus, carnival, seaside pier or state fair and enjoy an attraction called “the side show.” “Side show” is a polite term for it; it’s commonly known as the freak show. The freak show was a display of human grotesquery. If a person had a horrific birth defect, he or she could find work displaying it in the freak show. Born with dwarfism or midget? Get a job in the freak show. Have so much hair you need the full Brazilian, full Venezuelan, part of Columbia and a partial Paraguay combined? Get a job in the freak show. Covered in tattoos? Freak show! Able to swallow swords, hammer a nail into your nose or just own a swell collection of two-headed reptiles? The freak show actively recruited someone of your unique talents.
One day Americans woke up and became enlightened and sensitive individuals. This happened circa 1950 when ordinary people began protesting freak shows for exploiting the individuals they employed. In 1984 Barbara Baskin filed a disability rights case in order to free a freak show employee Otis “Frog Boy” Jordan from his human bondage. He ended up on welfare and had to fight for two years to regain his livelihood. I’m sure her heart was in the right place. By 1990, Americans were so totally enlightened that “freak shows” became side shows limited to bizarre animals and pickled punks, “retarded” became the newest taboo insult, “midgets” became “Little People,” and marijuana became something you smoked but didn’t inhale. (Yeah, I don’t buy that last one either.)
The freak show died. Rest in peace, beloved freak show. The unenlightened miss you.
Did the freak show die? Did it? Look again…
Welcome to the wonderful world of “reality” television. I put the term reality in quotes because there is no such thing as reality television. No, there isn’t. If it’s reality, why do they have writers, script doctors, dialogue coaches and editors? Yes, they do. I know you don’t all believe me, so I’ll wait till you run over to www.hulu.com and check the credits at the end of your favorite reality show. Back so soon? Okay, so let’s put our dollars in the box and visit the freak show.
I’m noticing that freaks come in five main varieties these days: Genetic Freak Animals, Breeders, Medical Atrocities, Little People and Poor Life Choices. Walk with me through the exhibit and let’s look at each of these delights.
The name says it all. We can put all of our two-headed reptiles, six-legged cows, two-headed calves, cyclops piglets and really big chickens here. The one side show attraction I saw at the Bedford County Fair in Pennsylvania was cleverly titled, “The Really Big Chicken.” Yes, in fact, the chicken was really big. It wasn’t the size of the chicken in The Hoboken Chicken Emergency, but it was really big. I was impressed. This category is the least controversial, provided you’re not a Peta member. If you’re a Peta member, too bad. There’s enough one-eyed bacon for everybody, except you. Go eat a salad and leave my tent.
Oh, yes, the religious right loves these people. I call them the “Breeders.” Breeders are people, who for some reason, felt the need to contribute their fair share to the little over-population problem we currently have on this earth. They have six, eight…maybe 19 kids give or take, and usually no real income to support all this spawn without a major showbiz contract. These people include the Quiver Full Movement, the Duggars and Jon & Kate Plus Who Gives a Fuck? You had no common sense and a fertility doctor that implanted too many embryos. That’s not entertainment, that’s a Welfare check and food stamps in progress. I guess when you have to take care of that many kids; you really do need a TV show or career as an NFL quarterback or something to support it. These people have tried praying, home schooling, raisin’ their chillins in the Lord properly, gaming the system, every thing except a fucking IUD. Don’t we have a mandatory spay/neuter program for religious nutjobs and ignorant morons in the states? Have they managed to scare every single Planned Parenthood out of town? Here’s a tip to get these jackasses to stop breeding: stop watching these stupid ass shows.
You wouldn’t spend your free time going to the burn clinic or oncology ward at the local hospital laughing at the patients for a good time. So, why are we all lining up to witness stricken individuals like this?
Yeah, we’re so enlightened now. There are too many of these types of shows for me to mention. We’ve had the girl with no face, the girl with eight legs, monstrous tumors of every size, shape and weight, giants and misshapen limbs of all sorts. Before 1950, these people’s only hope for an income and some financial independence was to join up with the traveling freak show and display their bodies for money. Thank God we’ve come so far since then. Oh, wait, maybe we haven’t. See, television makes us all able to enjoy the traditional freak show from the comfort of our own homes for a mere $20 a month (and up to $200+ depending on how much premium services and porn we indulge in). The freak show comes to our homes now so we can be lazy and eat ice cream right out of the carton and not manage to look like a bunch of gawking assholes in the process.
I’d say something cliché and stupid like, this has never happened before, but that would be disingenuous. I seem to remember a story about a man who had to resort to displaying his disfigured form waaaay back in, uh, well… I don’t know. If I could only remember his name…
Little People (LPs as they like to be called, it has nothing to do with vinyl or a recording career) were once called “midgets.” They find this term derogatory and completely inappropriate in today’s politically correct society. I’m sure that the majority of these people are appalled at the idea of displaying themselves in a freak show for money. After all, most forms of dwarfism merely cause the person to be shorter in stature than a “normal” person. If you asked an LP these days if it was okay to put yourself on display to the public to make money, he or she would blanch at the thought. How dare you even suggest it? That’s so rude, so inappropriate, so discriminatory, so damn….
Damn. Now this is me asking this question, “How fucking cynical is that?” How about this?
Since we’re now at the freak show, I’m not even going to try to be politically correct about this. Apparently everything is better when it’s done by midgets. Hooray! Midgets can train dogs, make candy, hold a job and even make babies. Hooray! Look at those amazing midgets go! Go, midgets, go! Isn’t it fascinating, they’re almost like normal people!
Oh, wait, maybe they are. Then again, maybe they’re actually super magical beings. Maybe they just happen to have shorter limbs than “normal” people, but looking at this fantastic programming lineup, you wouldn’t know that shorter stature is the only real difference. Look, they’re so cute; you can put them in your Victorian folly and still train them to be doctors! If I were any of the people in these series, I’d be filled with ambivalence. It’s a fucking insult to their intelligence, pure and simple. However, who am I to deny somebody a good living? If they want to display themselves in the freak show, it’s their right. You go, midgets, make that money! At least they’re saved the hassle of traveling with the circus, being shot out of a cannon and possibly being squashed by an elephant.
Poor Life Choices
This is the last, but certainly not the least of all the freak show categories. Look around you. These people were not born freaks, but choose the lifestyle of their own volition. Here we see the tattooed people, sword swallowers, blockheads, pierced wonders and people who are willing to stick metal skewers through their own flesh just for shits and giggles (and occasionally cash).
Well, at least it’s not the drudgery of a 9 to 5. You, too, can become a freak in the poor life choices category. You just have to be willing to tattoo yourself from head to toe, learn how to relax on a bed of nails while someone breaks a cinder block on your stomach or light your own farts. The possibilities are endless; you just have to get creative. I might be so bold as to make a suggestion in this category. If you want originality, you might try getting all the positions of the Kama Sutra tattooed on your body in such a way that when you flex your strong man/woman muscles, it provides the viewer with some much desired live action pornography. And one and two, and lift and squat, and don’t let the kids see this one; it’s going to produce too many awkward questions…
And now, in the immortal words of P.T. Barnum, “On to the Great Egress…”
I took two years of Latin, look it up. It’s best way to get out of the tent, believe me.