The term “freak” came into popular usage during the Victorian era about people who had severe deformities (Tromp 1). The term came into popular usage because doctors and freak show producers referred to the cases of severe deformity as freaks of nature (Tromp 6). The intended meaning was that these persons had features that were unique and scary to observe.
This paper explores the current popularity of freak shows. The main proposition presented in this work is that the current popularity of freak shows arises from complex reasons anchored in society’s appetite for strange experiences and the quest for survival by persons with severe deformities.
What is a Freak Show?
A freak show was a theatrical performance organized to exhibit persons with severe deformities for the entertainment of an audience (Edmunds 14). These shows also took place as part of carnivals and in public squares. Today, many countries do not allow freak shows in theatres and in public places.
Therefore, freak shows take place online. The internet allows organizers to plan the shows anonymously without risk of arrest. For the purposes of this paper, a freak show refers to either a staged show or a filmed show that exhibit persons with severe deformities for the entertainment of an audience.
The popularity of Freak Shows
The four main reasons behind the popularity of freak shows are as follows. First, human beings have an appetite for bizarre experiences (Tromp 16). New things attract the interest of human beings in their quest to satisfy their curiosity.
Freak shows give people the opportunity to see new things. Many people are willing to pay to see the appearance of deformed persons. This appetite is what drives freak show organizers to find persons with severe deformities to satisfy the curiosity of the public.
The second reason why freak shows are popular today is the ease of access to these shows via the internet. Unlike television, the internet is user driven (Kull 44). This means that users search for what they want. This is different from television, where producers make the decisions on what content viewers can access. Television broadcasts are easier to regulate.
Broadcasters usually need licenses from regulators, and their content must meet certain guidelines. The internet lacks such regulation. Anyone who can afford a computer can turn it into an online server for the distribution of freak shows. Just like internet porn, regulating freak shows is very difficult.
This is because producers of these shows work from countries with little or no legislation governing the shows. In addition, they can shoot the shows anonymously such that no one can identify the location of the show. This limits the ability of law enforcement agencies to regulate them.
On the other side, freak shows provide persons with severe deformities the opportunity to present themselves to a society that otherwise ostracizes them (Samuels 14). Generally, persons with severe deformities find it very difficult to live normal lives. The nature of their deformities may also make it impossible for them to work normally.
Depending on the nature of their deformity, they may also have lacked the opportunity to be educated or to acquire economic skills. Freak shows provide them with an opportunity to earn a living based on the payments they earn from their appearances. However, the producers of the shows tend to exploit them (Tromp 23). In this sense, the economic realities governing the lives of persons with deformities drive them towards participation in freak shows.
Deformed persons also feel better about themselves when people pay to see them. In an awkward way, the shows allow them to be the center of attraction rather than being the target of ridicule. The attention they get from the paying audience is not similar to the attention they usually receive from the public.
The shows also give them a sense of relief because they are able to tell their stories and to share their challenges. In these ways, people with deformities find it attractive to participate in freak shows. In this way, some of the people with deformities support freak shows because they serve as an emotional outlet for them. They look at it as an opportunity to connect with society without prejudice.
These four reasons show that there is a market for freak shows. The producers know that they can make money from the shows. This motivates them. Secondly, some persons with severe deformities participate in the shows willingly for economic and emotional reasons. Freak shows will endure as long as there are producers who are willing to produce freak shows with the support of persons with severe deformities.
In conclusion, freak shows will still exist provided the shows have a market. The best way of eliminating the shows is by empowering persons with severe deformities. These persons need education and training to enable them to earn a living. Also, society needs more sensitization to eliminate the stigma associated with severe deformities.
Edmunds, Susan. Grotesque Relations : Modernist Domestic Fiction and the U.S. Welfare State: Modernist Domestic Fiction and the U.S. Welfare State. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.
Kull, Katrin. The Model of Internet-Based Marketing Communication. Tallinn: Tallinn Technical University, 2003. Print.
Samuels, Ellen. Fantasies of Identification: Disability, Gender, Race. New York, NY: New York University Press, 2014. Print.
Tromp, Marlene. Victorian Freaks: The Social Context of Freakery in Britain. The Ohio State University Press: Columbus, OH, 2008. Print.