The latter end of last week, I suffered a tooth abscess, which led to half my face swelling to three times it’s size. Not a pretty sight and agonizingly painful. As I lay with a succession of ice packs on my poor face, I reflected on the popular ‘freak’ or ‘creep’ shows of yesteryear.
Beginning as far back as medieval times, these shows were the exhibition of biological rarities, referred to in popular culture as “freaks of nature”. Typical features would be physically unusual humans, such as those uncommonly large or small, those with intersex variations, those with extraordinary diseases and conditions, and others with performances expected to be shocking to viewers. Many of these people were either sold by their families, or even kidnapped, such was the monetary value of their presence on the stage. Unfortunately, many suffered abuse, while forced to ‘perform’. Not until the 1940’s, did attitudes begin to change, and these shows were officially banned in 1950.
In today’s society, many of the physical conditions can be treated with medications and freak shows are limited to performers with extreme body modifications (such as tattoos and piercings) or those that can execute astonishing physical performances like fire-eating and sword-swallowing.
To highlight better understanding of certain conditions, there have been TV shows to inform and educate the general public. One such show is Little People Big World, about a family with members diagnosed with dwarfism, a condition that in the past dictated those affected to participate in Freak Shows.
It was while researching and writing my speculative fiction novel, Life in Slake Patch, that I came across the proper protocol’s concerning dwarfism and the correct language to use. In the narrative, my main protagonist experiences a connection with little people and finds a way to help them live a better life. This included a horse riding skill show called the ‘Petite Carnival’ allowing them to travel from one patch to another.
Our current narratives reflect our era and understanding of may facets of our world, nether-to misunderstood or exploited.