The Changing Societal View of Freaks: Popular Culture, Medical Discourse, and Physical Differences in 19th and 20th Century



Blase, Rachel

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This thesis examines the "freak show" in American history and analyzes how shifts in medical knowledge and the public's perception of that knowledge changed attitudes about people's physical and mental abnormalities. Through a study of popular culture, medical discourse, and the freak show itself, it is possible to uncover how freakishness came to be medicalized and treated as a medical problem. In doing so, it explores the often-racialized view of freaks as well as the birth of notions of disability in the American context. As medical science progressed and revealed the causes behind human abnormalities, curiosity transformed into disability. Resulting in a change in how audiences regarded the freak shows that were once extremely popular.



Freak show, Popular culture, Medical discourse, P.T. Barnum, Human abnormalities