21st Century Freak Show

In A Sedentary View, Columns, Features by Gregory Banks

Lately, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in our media, one that leaves me wondering how long it’ll be until the disabled community becomes its next target. Shows like The Insider are doing increasing numbers of so called human interest pieces on the obese.

They pick a person who is exceptionally large, tell their story in the most sorrowful and sympathetic angle they can find, play background music dripping with sadness, and then ration out their stories in small bites, manipulating the heart strings of their viewers to keep them tuned in for days, and sometimes weeks at a time.

Often we the viewers are left hanging because these stories are ongoing issues that have no conclusion as of yet. In other cases, as in the one about a mother who chose the option of surgery to aid her weight loss efforts, we are taken inside what proves to be the last tender moments with the person and their family, a moment that should have private and personal, not public fodder aired for the harvest of ratings.

Yes, I know that this sort of thing is done all the time with celebrities (Anna Nicole Smith being the most blatant example) . And yes, I know many of you wonder what this has to do with the disabled, since despite the proclamations of the ADA, the obese aren’t considered disabled by most.

But in my opinion, we’re still talking about normal people with regular lives, people dealing with real issues and afflictions, people who are being made out as freaks to be pitied and exploited for the voyeuristic pleasures of looking down at someone less fortunate than ourselves.

I believe that everything happening in this world concerns us, and in particular, those things which take advantage of, or in some way ridicule, those who are considered different. The disabled have always been the “freaks of nature,” the outcasts of the outcasts, the bottom of the outsider barrel.

The good news is that our world is becoming increasingly tolerant of those who are different, more accepting of the disabled. In my 41+ years of living, things are very different today than they were when I was a child. And yet, along with this improvement, there seems to be an accompanying sentiment of less compassion, of less concern for the feelings of others.

The only thing worse than the stares and whispers directed toward me was the pity expressed by those who felt sorry for me based on the belief that I was inferior to them, that I was flawed or less than whole.

To me, pity is a way to mentally degrade another while disguising it as compassion. They love you “in spite of” your flaws, will choose to “look past” your deficiencies even though in their minds you’ll never be “normal”.

You are like an injured puppy, a bird with a broken wing. You love and care for it because you know it’s a good thing to help something or someone that is less fortunate than yourself. I abhor this attitude.

I may have DISabilities, but I have many A-bilities as well. I may not look like everyone else, but I am unique. I may not be able to walk, but I am alive, am smart, and in many other ways, I am strong.

That’s why I don’t like seeing pity directed toward the obese as a means of getting higher TV ratings. I am sickened when I see it used as a means to draw attention to starving children in Africa. And with the disabled becoming a growing presence in today’s world, I can foresee us being increasingly exploited in the very near future…the 21st century version of the circus freak show.

Even now Little People are being given a greater presence on TV, and yet at the same time I can see times when the token Little Person is still portrayed as the “cute toy” person or the butt of the joke.

One day soon they’ll create shows that put disabled on display so people can gape at us as they go “ooh” and “ahh” within the privacy of their own homes. In a world where I fight every day to be accepted for who I am, I don’t want to go back to a time when I am reduced to nothing more than an odd, malformed “thing” shown for the enjoyment of others.

I feel the rumblings of the earth and smell the sour odor on the winds. The day is coming, and its coming soon. Be afraid, very afraid.

Or even better, stand up and voice your concerns now. Let’s not wait until there is a new mountain for us to overcome. Let’s tear the sucker down while it’s still nothing more than a molehill on the approaching horizon.

Questions or comments?
Email us at nathasha@audacitymagazine.com .