Continuing with the tattoo and body modification encyclopedia entries, todays’ article covers an historical aspect of tattooing (i) pertaining primarily to Western culture particularly around the 19th century. A quick overview of the the freak show phenomenon (ii)
| ‘A freak show is an exhibition of physically and visually different people in order to shock, and sometimes educate, viewers. Traveling shows in which Human Oddities were displayed alongside exotic animals, deformed animals, musicians, jugglers, and other Attractions have been popular throughout the Western world, going back to the Middle Ages. In the midnineteenth century, human oddities joined what became known as the freak show or ten-in-one, in which multiple attractions were joined together into one show, as part of a stationary or traveling exhibit. In the United States, these exhibits were found primarily in the dime museums (named because admission cost 10 cents) popular in the nineteenth century. These museums were a combination of educational enterprise and entertainment. In 1840, P. T. Barnum became the proprietor of the American Museum, bringing the freak show to prominence. Here the freak show joined the growing popular amusement industry. In the dime museum, tattooed people were exhibited alongside people with disabilities, natural wonders like wild animals, native people, and “gaffes,” “hoaxes,” or manufactured fakes. Since people had never before seen any of these curiosities, the managers and showmen were able to concoct bizarre explanations for their origins, stories which were morally and socially uplifting, as well as “educational”.
The showman was an essential component of the freak show. The exhibit, of course, could not be seen before a show and therefore needed the showman to market their particular attractions to the curiosity-seeking public. An essential part of the telling of the tale consisted of wonderfully and medically impossible reasons to explain to the audience the history of the person they were going to see. The most popular attractions were oddities with extraordinary talents, who could do supposedly normal things despite their disabilities… | full article
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