Freak show

Freak show
Coney Island and its popular on-going freak show.

A freak show is an exhibition of biological rarities, referred to as "freaks of nature". Typical features would be physically unusual humans, such as those uncommonly large or small, those with both male and female secondary sexual characteristics, people with other extraordinary diseases and conditions, and performances that are expected to be shocking to the viewers. Heavily tattooed or pierced people have sometimes been seen in freak shows, as have attention-getting physical performers such as fire-eating and sword-swallowing acts.



A freak show in Rutland, Vermont in 1941.

Freak shows were popular in the United States from the mid 19th to mid 20th centuries, and were often, but not always, associated with circuses and carnivals. Some shows also exhibited deformed animals (such as two-headed cows, one-eyed pigs, and four-horned goats) and famous hoaxes, or simply "science gone wrong" exhibits (such as deformed babies).

Changes in popular culture and entertainment, and changing attitudes about physical differences, led to the decline of the freak show as a form of entertainment. As previously mysterious anomalies were scientifically explained as genetic mutations or diseases, freaks became the objects of sympathy rather than fear or disdain. Laws were passed restricting freak shows for these reasons. For example, Michigan law forbids the "exhibition [of] any deformed human being or human monstrosity, except as used for scientific purposes".[1] However, in many places freak shows are still popular features.

Historical timeline

The exhibition of human oddities has a long history:

Lazarus Colloredo, and his conjoined twin brother, John Baptista, who was attached at Lazarus' sternum, tour Europe.[2]
Peter the Great collected human oddities at the Kunstkammer in what is now St. Petersburg, Russia.[3]
The exhibition of a creature who "was taken in a wook at Guinea; 'tis a female about four feet high in every part like a woman excepting her head which nearly resembles the ape."[4]
Joseph Merrick, exhibited as "The Elephant Man" by Tom Norman in London's East End.[5]
Tod Browning's Pre-Code-era film Freaks tells the story of a traveling freakshow. The use of real freaks in the film provoked public outcries, and the film was relegated to obscurity until its re-release at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival.[6]
Albert-Alberta Karas[7] (two siblings, each half man, half woman) exhibits with Bobby Reynolds on sideshow tour.
Grady Stiles (the lobster boy) is shot in his home in Gibsonton, Florida.[8]
Chicago shock-jock Mancow Muller presented Mancow's Freak Show at the United Center in the Summer of 1996, to crowd of 30,000. The show included Kathy Stiles and her brother Grady III as the Lobster Twins. {Mancow Muller (with John Calkins) Dad, Dames, Demons & a Dwarf Regan Books 2004 pp. 121, 137-147}
Ken Harck's Brothers Grim Sideshow debuted at the Great Circus Parade in Milwaukee, WI. The Milwaukee run included a fat lady and bearded lady Melinda Maxi, as well as self made freaks The Enigma and Katzen. In later years the show has included Half-boy Jesse Stitcher and Jesus "Chuy" Aceves the Mexican Werewolf Boy and Stalking Cat. Bros. Grim toured with the Ozz Fest music festival in 2006,2007 and 2010.[9]
"999 Eyes Freakshow" founded, touting itself as the "last genuine traveling freakshow in the United States." 999 Eyes portrays freaks in a very positive light, insisting that "what is different is beautiful." Freaks include Black Scorpion.[10]
Wayne Schoenfeld bring together several sideshow performers to "The L.A. Circus Congress of Freaks and Exotics," to photograph sideshows folks for "Cirque Du Soleil - Circus of the Past." In attendance were: Bill Quinn, the halfman; Percilla, the fat lady; Mighty Mike Murga the Mighty Dwarf; Dieguito El Negrito, a wildman; fireeaters; sword swallowers, and more.[11][12]

Modern freak shows

Lobster Boy known as the Black Scorpion.

The entertainment appeal of the traditional "freak shows" is arguably echoed in numerous programmes made for television. Thus Extraordinary People on the British television channel Five or BodyShock show the life of severely disabled or deformed people, and can be seen as the modern equivalent of the circus freak shows.[13][14] However in order to make the shows respectable, the subjects are usually portrayed as heroic and attention is given to their family and friends and the way they help them overcome their disabilities. On The Guardian, Chris Shaw however comments that "one man's freak show is another man's portrayal of heroic triumph over medical adversity" and carries on with "call me prejudiced but I suspect your typical twentysomething watched this show with their jaw on the floor rather than a tear in their eye".[15]

See also


  1. ^ Michigan Penal Code (Excerpt), Act 328 of 1931: Section 750.347, Deformed human beings; exhibition.
  2. ^ Armand Marie LeRoi, Mutants, Penguin Books, pp. 53.
  3. ^ The History of Kunstkammer
  4. ^ Bogdan, R. (1988). Freak Show. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. pp. 25.
  5. ^ Howell, Michael; Ford, Peter (1992). The True History of the Elephant Man (3rd ed.). p. 74. London: Penguin Books
  6. ^ Missing Link reviews Tod Browning's Freaks (1932)
  7. ^ Albert-Alberta Karas, photographer unknown, Syracuse University Digital Library, retrieved May 6, 2006.
  8. ^ Grady Stiles, Jr. at the Internet Movie Database
  9. ^ Chicago Reader: Wanna See Something Really Weird?
  10. ^ "999 EYES BIO". Retrieved 2009-04-13. 
  11. ^ Wayne Schoenfeld
  12. ^ credits
  13. ^ Logged in as click here to log out (2008-02-21). "Last night's TV: Extraordinary People: The Boys Joined at the Head | Media". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-04-13. 
  14. ^ Maher, Kevin (2007-03-14). "Last Night's TV - Times Online". London: Retrieved 2009-04-13. 
  15. ^ Shaw, Chris (2006-02-20). "The lure of the weird | Media | MediaGuardian". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2009-04-13. 

Further reading

  • Martin Monestier, Human Freaks, encyclopedic book on the Human Freaks from the beginning to today. (In French: Les Monstres humains: Oubliés de Dieu ou chefs-d'œuvres de la nature)

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Freak Show — Álbum en vivo de Enrique Bunbury Publicación 2005 Grabación Entre Enero y Julio del 2005 Género(s) Rock …   Wikipedia Español

  • Freak Show — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Un freak show est l exposition d êtres humains comportant des aspects physiques sortant de l ordinaire, tels une taille très faible ou très grande, une… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • freak show — ☆ freak show n. an exhibit of freaks, as in a carnival sideshow …   English World dictionary

  • Freak show — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Un freak show est l exposition d êtres humains comportant des aspects physiques sortant de l ordinaire, tels une taille très faible ou très grande, une… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • freak show — 1. a display of people or animals with unusual or grotesque physical features, as at a circus or carnival sideshow. 2. any ludicrous, bizarre, or dehumanizing occasion, function, performance, etc.; grotesque, circuslike event: endless interviews… …   Universalium

  • freak show — show in which abnormally developed people and animals are exhibited …   English contemporary dictionary

  • freak show — noun Date: 1887 an exhibition (as a sideshow) featuring freaks of nature …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • freak show — noun An intentionally shocking exhibition of people with unusual characteristics, and which may include people who are gigantic, dwarfish, intersexed, physically deformed or who have other extraordinary diseases, conditions and talents …   Wiktionary

  • freak show — noun : an exhibition (as a sideshow) featuring freaks of nature …   Useful english dictionary

  • Freak Show (álbum) — Freak Show Álbum de estudio de Silverchair Publicación 4 de febrero de 1997 Grabación 1996 Género(s) Post Grunge Duración 52 …   Wikipedia Español

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