The traditional freak show was an exhibition of unusual sights in society.
Popular from the mid 19th to mid 20th centuries, freak shows were usually attached to a circus or carnival.
They would proudly display deformed animals or humans with unusual physical attributes as something at which to gawk and ridicule.
For decades, giants, monkey boys, conjoined twins, and even an elephant man lived in poverty at the whim of the public’s appetite for shock – until science explained these genetic mutations and the so-called freaks became objects of our sympathy.
Laws were passed that forbade these exhibitions and the exploitation of individuals for entertainment and profit.
And for a time, it seemed we had grown as a society. But not for long.
Because reality television – once just a step below the hallowed documentary – has become our modern day freak show. Instead of waiting for the circus to come to town and bearing the backlash of public disdain, we’ve let the freak shows into our home where we can ridicule and mock them in private.
The World’s Fattest Woman (or Man) is now the star of My 900-lb. Life, Big, or Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition.
Magical Dwarfs, Midgets, and Munchkins are now the focus of TLC’s The Little Couple or Little People Big World.
Bizarre behaviours are highlighted in My Strange Addition, My Crazy Obsession, Hoarding: Buried Alive, Extreme Couponing, and Strange Sex. Of course, it’s all in the name of social education.
In 2009, Larry Gomez, the circus Wolfboy who suffers from hypertrichosis (excessive growth of body hair), was newly divorced and signed to be the star of a new dating show from Zoo Productions. (I couldn’t make that up if I tried.) It wasn’t considered exploitation because … well … hairy guys need love, too.
Oh, how far we’ve come. No longer will we lock those societal mutants in a cage behind a curtain and charge pocket change to see the freaks.
Instead, we’ve been shamed into paying a monthly fee so we can view them from the privacy of our home. And is the freak factor really necessary?
Wicked Tuna, Lobster Wars and Deadliest Catch would be quite educational if they focused more on the seafood and less on the odd ducks who stay in the boat.
Weed Wars could have a lot to say in the controversial issue of medical marijuana, if producers didn’t emphasize that the folks working there are definitely customers, too.
And if you don’t have some kind of physical abnormality or bizarre peccadillo, reality TV will still give you the opportunity to behave badly on The Bachelorette, Big Brother or Dr. Drew.
We think society has come so far, become so much more socially aware. But then why is it that every time I turn on the TV, I see the Elephant Man looking back at me?
You must log in to add comments.
Create a new account
Remember me next time.