Written By: Stacey L. Mascia
This study of literature and film is one of the triumphs over obstacles by sideshow performers with rare physical afflictions, commonly known as “freaks.” These people provide great opportunities for understanding those outside normative culture. Many have used their physical conditions to educate the public, which has been the function of sideshow since its inception. In fact, cultural analysis through gaze theory supports the argument that freaks are not merely objects of the gaze to be considered as victims. Instead, it suggests that members of mainstream society can learn about ourselves in our reactions to these performers; learn to respect people who are considered “other;” and accept these differences with understanding and compassion for those who do not pity themselves. I will examine three paradigms of the gaze both in sideshow literature and film depictions, by which I consider the negative and positive readings of these constructs: panoptic, clinical, and educative.