April 23, 1993
When we remember that we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.
There has always been a market for the weird and unusual. State fairs and circuses often exhibited a pickled two-headed calf embryo. If a farmer had a live weird animal, it was even more attractive. P.T.Barnum made a fortune out of such things as Chang and Eng, the Siamese twins. I apologize for calling these two people things, but that is how they were marketed; not as human beings but as freaks. They were little better than the two-headed calf. The fine movie The Elephant Man, tells the real story of one of those freaks.
Not only was unusual anatomy exhibited at side shows, but unusual behavior. They also featured a geek show. "Geek" is circus talk for a drunk who was allowed to get as grubby as possible and, in exchange for booze, would put on a show as the Wild Man of Borneo. He would kill a chicken by biting its head off and perform all kinds of gyrations, growls etc. Becoming a geek is considered by circus folk, who are somewhat different themselves, as being as low as a human being can sink.
We have become, particularly in urban California, a pretty accepting society. Behavior that would have gotten a person institutionalized 30 years ago is now tolerated. I think that it is a good thing that we are tolerant --but weird is still weird and, while our freaks are no longer exclusively in side shows, they are still freaks.
Many are freaks, not because of some accident of birth, but because being a freak has become a marketable skill. If you turn your TV set on between 3 and 5 P.M., you can often view two or more modern geek shows. The Donovan show sometimes turns into a combination geek and strange celebrity show. Geraldo has always been a geek show.
Have things and people really changed? I don't think so. A circus with its side show used to reach thousands of people during a year, while television now reaches millions daily.
Weird behavior has always been with us. Its acceptance at revival meetings has been around for a long time. It is accepted in many religions as either a natural or drug-induced phenomenon.
I remember when mass insanity first became accepted --not just accepted, but mandated-- at concerts. It was with the introduction of the Beatles. The screaming of hebephrenic teen age girls was so loud that you couldn't hear the lyrics. Eventually, the volume of the music was turned up to override the screaming, so that now it can be painful to the listener. Before that, there were thousands of people screaming "Heil Hitler" in unison; and before that it was probably "Hail Caesar".
What constitutes weird depends on where you happen to be. To people of one subculture, weird is what someone in another culture does. If someone habitually appeared in a white powdered wig, he would be considered weird, despite the fact that that it would have been as normal 200 years ago as the very weird habit of wearing a tie is today. Halloween and Mardi Gras are excuses for so-called normal people to dress and act weird for one day of the year.
If you want to see geeks, you no longer have to go to a circus. All that you have to do is turn on your TV set and you can see and hear people who are so weird that you would never have guessed that such people even existed. --But don't let it go to your head; there are enclaves where they are normal and you are weird.
Return to the Psychology Home Page
Return to Ira's Home Page