Thursday, March 18, 2010


Saw the trailer for this movie the other day.

My first impression is that this is two stories stuffed into one film: 1) a story about a freakshow and all the interesting people who work in it; and 2) a story about a boy who becomes a vampire. Even the title - Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant - reflects this division! Of the two, the former is infinitely more interesting to me than the later. I've seen enough vampire movies to last me well into my thirties. I haven't seen a 'freak' film since... well, since Freaks.

I did a great deal of 'freak theory' reading for my first chapter on celebrity grotesques. The term 'freak' is often discussed in relation to disability studies, as physical difference is key to the visual display of the freakshow. Racial 'Others' also made frequent appearances - although many were simply African American locals dressed up as 'cannibals' or 'savages' to titillate the white audience.

Theory frames the freakshow as a spectacular display of otherness that serves to reinstate the boundaries of the 'normal.' Rosemarie Garland Thomson's Freakery: cultural spectacles of the extraordinary body is a great read for anyone interested in the topic. One of the most interesting parts, for me at least, is her discussion of 'enfreakment.' This term encompasses the myriad of elements that contribute to the construction of an individual as a 'freak':

"Enfreakment emerges from cultural rituals that stylize, silence, differentiate, and distance the persons whose bodies the freak-hunters or showmen colonize and commercialize. Paradoxically, however, at the same time that enfreakment elaborately foregrounds specific bodily eccentricities, it also collapses all those differences into a 'freakery,' a single amorphous category of corporeal otherness. By constituting the freak as an icon of generalized embodied deviance, the exhibitions also simultaneously reinscribed gender, race, sexual aberrance, ethnicity, and disability as inextricable yet particular exclusionary systems legitimated by bodily variation - all represented by the single multivalent figure of the freak. Thus, what we assume to be a freak of nature was instead a freak of culture" (p10).

I like this because it shows that 'freak' is not an innate status, but an entirely contextual category into which certain individuals are placed by virtue of the technologies of representation that surround them.

Rachel Adams' Sideshow U.S.A: freaks and the American cultural imagination is another good book on the topic, while Mary Russo's The Female Grotesque has a chapter on Tod Browning's Freaks (which you can watch in full on YouTube).

Of course, identifying as a 'freak' is also a way of announcing one's alternative lifestyle and/or total groovyness these days.

And then there's this:

"I've never seen myself with a beard before."

That's what they all say.


  1. Just want to say that I liked the film Freaks, especially how the 'normal' human beings are portrayed as the real freaks -- their infidelity, greed and immorality make them disgusting.

  2. That is very true. I said there hadn't been any 'freak' movies lately, but films like the X-Men series play out the idea of a 'freakish' group estranged from society. A group whose members are presented as being much more admirable than the 'normals' who exclude them. I like the freak/normal, bad/good reversal there as well :)