Thursday, January 15, 2004

Sideshow Stevi

I've made a decision: no matter what other wonderful, fantastic things I do in my life (being an English teacher, winning a Pulitzer, and getting an Academy Nom for Original Screenplay . . . or Adapted, I don't care) I am going to become an expert on Carnival Sideshows.

And I am totally serious.

I have a fascination with Carnie folk. The way the live their rootless lives as American gypsies, the wandering minstrels of their era. The social acceptance of treating those with unique genetic anomilies as exhibits. The endurance of the freakshow tradition. The seemingly contradictory view that the freakshow allows an outlet for such genetic anomolies to "make a living just by being themselves." The silmultaneous rise of the burlesque show as both art and entertainment. It's all fascinating.

Almost as fascinating as genuine sideshow performers is the way a "gaff" is pulled off. Half the time, customers would never know if they were seeing the genuine article or a falsification. Siamese twins were "constructed" by carnival management because the condition is exceptionally rare, and having grown twins was even more of an anomily due to the low survival rates of such conjoined siblings during the heyday of the carnival era. Hermaphrodites were constructed using prosthetics. Parasitic twins (a half-formed twin attached somewhere on the abdomen to the host twin, essentially a failed attempted at the development of conjoined twins; parasitic twins have no brains or hearts but subsist on the bloodflow of the host twin, like an extra limb) were attached with simple paste and children's dolls. People added extra limbs the same way. (People born with so-called "extra limbs" are actually a subclassification of individuals born with parasitic twins, called dypigus, meaning that the lower half of the body is reduplicated. It's like having a parasitic twin, but having one that can actually function in a near-normal way.) Then there are the fake lycans. The fake bearded ladies. The faux mentalists. And so on.

The world of the carnival sideshow is so inherently intriguging because of the blurred lines between fiction and reality. It's a social world of the past. A form of entertainment that is no longer PC. By modern standards, it must be some violation of civil rights and liberties, though most carnival showfolk joined-up willingly. I like its inherent contradictions, its mysteries, its story.

The only thing that even comes close to being a carnival sideshow in our society, is probably reality TV.

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