Freak Show!

IMG_9191It was our last day in Europe and we were just strolling along the banks of the Thames River in London. After 30 days of travel the idea of a museum or other such attraction was less than appealing; we were too tired really to do anything that would require engaging our brains.

However, I find it almost impossible not to think about and analyze what is going on around me. Especially when we reached the freak show.

I had thought such things were relics of the past; popular nineteenth century traveling sideshows that exploited humans with various conditions not of their own doing. I thought shows featuring the bearded lady or the elephant man had been abandoned because in the 21st century we know better, or I thought we did.

There was a barker out front of Sideshow Wonderground with one of the “freaks” helping bring people in, in this case “Stretch – The Elastic Skin Man” who showed his rubbery skin to passers-by in the hopes of enticing them to see the show. I wasn’t tempted; curious yes, but not to the point I would part with money to see anything more.

"Stretch," the elastic man shows off his skin.

“Stretch,” the elastic man shows off his skin.

I would distinguish between a learned but odd skill, such as sword swallowing or fire eating, and an attraction that is based on a physical deformity. But am I hasty in judging? Perhaps there is no other way for some of these people to make money – I doubt 19th century midget Tom Thumb would have made a good farm worker.

According to Wikipedia there has been somewhat of resurgence in the idea of the freak show in recent years. I’m not sure what that means. Certainly our schools are vigilant in cracking down on children who bully others by making comments about race, intelligence or physical deformities. So what does it say to them when they can see such sights in the downtown core of England’s capital? How do we explain “Goliath, the world’s smallest strongman”? Or “Sealo the seal boy”? I don’t know what “Donny Vomit, Gentleman Oddity” does in his act, and I don’t think I want to. I do wonder why “The Lizard Man, modified marvel” has chosen to modify his body to the point where people will pay to see it. How was his self-image and self-esteem before the modifications?

I was always under the impression that freak shows fell out of fashion because we as a society came to better understand the dignity that comes with being human. Standing on the banks of the Thames I had to wonder if we are losing that. IMG_9193


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