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Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit / Edition 2

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Overview

From 1840 until 1940, freak shows by the hundreds crisscrossed the United States, from the smallest towns to the largest cities, exhibiting their casts of dwarfs, giants, Siamese twins, bearded ladies, savages, snake charmers, fire eaters, and other oddities. By today's standards such displays would be considered cruel and exploitative—the pornography of disability. Yet for one hundred years the freak show was widely accepted as one of America's most popular forms of entertainment.

Robert Bogdan's fascinating social history brings to life the world of the freak show and explores the culture that nurtured and, later, abandoned it. In uncovering this neglected chapter of show business, he describes in detail the flimflam artistry behind the shows, the promoters and the audiences, and the gradual evolution of public opinion from awe to embarrassment. Freaks were not born, Bogdan reveals; they were manufactured by the amusement world, usually with the active participation of the freaks themselves. Many of the "human curiosities" found fame and fortune, becoming the celebrities of their time, until the ascent of professional medicine transformed them from marvels into pathological specimans.

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Editorial Reviews

Cullen Murphy
[Freak Show is] a fine example of what has emerged as a major genre in the field of social history: the study of phenomena on the margins of society in order to illuminate developments at the core. The history of the freak show, as Bogdan shows, is intimately bound up with matters as diverse as the scramble for Africa, the theory of evolution, and the invention of mass—market advertising….In the end the story that Freak Show tells is an edifying one—the story of some extraordinary people who, against heavy odds, approached the ordinary.
Atlantic
Laurie Block
This is a cool and careful look at an inflammatory subject.
Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226063126
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/1990
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 281
  • Sales rank: 377,748
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Bogdan is professor of special education, cultural foundations of education, and sociology at Syracuse University.

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Table of Contents

Preface
1. Introduction: In Search of Freaks
I. Freak Show: The Institution
2. From Tavern to Madison Square Garden: A Chronicle of the Freak Show in America
3. Step Right Up: The World of Popular Amusement
4. Exotic and Aggrandized: Modes of Presenting Freaks
II. Profiles of Presentation
5. The Exhibition of People We Now Call Mentally Retarded
6. Illusions of Grandeur
7. Cannibals and Savages
8. Respectable Freaks
9. Self-Made Freaks
10. Conclusion: Freak Encounter
List of Abbreviations
Notes
References
Index

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