Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bring Back the Sideshow!

"Hi-ya lookie lookie lookie, I got it here and I'm going to show it to you free!.  Get right up to the edge of the stage cause we're gonna have a free show right here on the Midway. The management of the fair has asked that we try to keep the midway clear,so step right up.

Now I am going to bring out one of the amazing people from our show. People who are so strange you might not believe they are real, but let me reassure you they are all real, live and you'll see them all on the inside of the big Side Show tent."

That was one of the opening pitches by a sideshow talker.  He was building a"tip" or a crowd that later he would "turn"into ticket buyers for the sideshow. Today you rarely hear that call on the midway.  Sideshows and "freak" shows have fallen out of fashion and long been considered politically incorrect.  Some fairs even banned them, but never fear curiosity seekers, the freak show is alive and well on cable TV.

The 21st century freak show is "Reality TV" and though that used to be a metaphor, it is becoming a more accurate description day by day.

Now first of all I am not fond of the word freak, which used to refer to people born with spectacular deformities.  I prefer the more accurate term "special people", because aside from an abnormality through genetics or accident of birth, they are folks like you and me. 

At one time the only way for people such as these to earn a living was to put themselves on display for the curious who would pay to see them. Many special people made good livings as entertainers and moved from the sideshow to the vaudeville stage, even movies.  Today, special people are mainstreamed, and that is a good thing. They go to college, raise families and live relatively ordinary lives without the ballyhoo of the midway.

Enter television,with its voracious appetite for novelty and pretty soon the sideshow is back in full swing. Shows about little people, obese people, and yes even conjoined twins are now box office bonanzas for networks and cable outlets alike.

Even the sideshow acts that were once called "working acts"or "made freaks" are now stars of their own shows.  The tattooed men and women are the most obvious with shows about tattoo artists, but less obvious are shows with the strangest people of all, kiddy beauty pageant contestants and their "freak" parents.

Personally I liked the side show better.  The performers were honest about their role and as an audience member we were honest in our curiosity.  Now it's hidden behind the mask of education and documentary, but add some cotton candy and popcorn and you might as well be inside the big tent.

Hi-ya lookie lookie lookie!

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