Geek Love by Katherine Dunn: Part 2

I will go full circle back into a closer text based analysis on Saturday as I feel Tuesday glossed over far too many issues. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn: Part 2 Geek Love could not exist without the strange and disturbing world of the freak show. Assuming the rough definition of an exhibition of oddities or rarities, we can safely say the earliest documented case of a freak show comes from the 1630s, where Lazarus Colloredo toured throughout Italy displaying his parasitic twin brother Joannes Baptiste. An etching follows: Peter I the Great of Russia should perhaps be credited with the earliest instance of a more familiar incarnation of the freak show in the 18th Century. He collected human oddities at Russia's first museum, the Kuntskammer. This marked the known introduction of the variety element of the freak show. The collection did not travel as we would imagine freak shows do. Popularity of the freak show did not really gain popularity in the United States until the 1840's. This was after famous "Siamese" twins Chang and Eng were exhibited in America. After a documented telling by J.G. Milligan, P.T. Barnum began touring his "human curiosities" throughout the world. Tom Thumb was the first, though he was by no means the last. The Wild Men of Borneo and Zip the Pinhead soon followed, and the Barnum museum would list 13 known "human curiosities." So called "dime museums" quickly followed Barnum's lead in providing "edutainment" through freak shows. Aimed at the lower class, wild stories were invented for countless acts like Zip the Pinhead as a false front to exhibit "human curiosities," soon "freaks," for shock and amusement. The first Philadelphia World's Fair even exhibited wild Australian Children and a fat lady as part of its festivities. In 1880, Coney Island started its first freak show. Soon, a person could hold a lucrative career recruiting freaks for various shows, real or created. By the end of the 19th Century, scientists began theorizing and investigating actual reasons for the existence of these "human curiosities." One of the earliest theories proposed that freaks were one off anomalies pulled from the early evolutionary stages of man. Scientific American, in 1908, published an article decrying the exhibition of freaks. And by the 1940s, the view that these shows were taking advantage of people with real medical conditions began to take over, slowly putting an end to the traditional freak show. While various performers have attempted to revive the traditional freak show, the acts have been met with strong opposition. An exhibition of fetuses in jars was shut down by the police; other people with medical deformities were barred from certain venues and could not rely on their physical condition to earn income. By the 2000's, a new style of freak show had developed. Self made freaks, like Enigma - a man covered in jigsaw puzzle tattoos and other body modification procedures, began touring with a more extreme variety of acts. These sometimes include suspensions - hanging from hooks through various parts of the body - and other surreal and awe inducing acts. Some of the performers, like Black Scorpion, actual have the same medical conditions as earlier freak show performers, and use these venues as a way to comment on the past and current treatment of like people. Now that we have a solid foundation of the history of freak shows, we can continue on with a closer look at Geek Love and other freak show related media on Saturday.

Labels: freak show, geek love, katherine dunn