Yesterday’s New York Times carried a bizarre article about the passing of the freak shows that used to be a part of every carnival, circus and state fair. The author of the piece interviewed Ward Hall, the self-styled King of the Midway and the operator of the only freak show still in existence.
Back in the heyday, in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, a fair number of people with deformities were happy to let you look at them for a price. Not only were freak shows the draw of the carnival, they were the carnival.
Now, thanks to the advent of more popular carnival rides, the freak show is a thing of the past…except for Mr. Wards traveling band of curiosities, who include Poobah the fire eating dwarf, a sword swallower, a four-legged woman, and a man who drives nails into his head called, appropriately enough, the Human Blockhead.
Mr. Ward, bored with his retirement in Florida, decided to round up the old gang to tour North America once again. He sees the freak show business as a legitimate way for people who are different to make a decent living and blames political correctness for its demise. Says Mr. Ward:
Nowadays, it’s in the contracts: no freaks. Do-gooders run things. I’m telling you, this life was very good for freaks. These kind of people made money. They were hams, but they could never be actors. Who’s putting a bearded lady or a one-armed girl in a leading lady role on Broadway? This way they lived a great life. No more. It’s ridiculous.
As Mr. Ward was recruiting his old team for deployment he got a call from one of his former carnies:
The fat man — Howard Huge — he wanted to come out with us. But I said, ‘Howard, a fat man couldn’t sell 10 cents’ worth of fried chicken. Everybody in America’s fat.’
You want to see a fat man, try the Cracker Barrel, you’ll see a dozen at once. Same with the tattooed lady. Ditto with pierced women. Nothing special.
That’s the sad commentary on the extent of the obesity epidemic. Several decades ago morbidly obese people were so unusual that other people would actually pay just to see them. Now they are everywhere. Howard Huge may have worked to maintain his obesity, but we all work to fight our own. And I can tell you from personal experience that if I let myself go I could be of Howard Huge-ian proportions in pretty short order. I was well on my way once. And I fight it every single day.
What has changed? No one in my circle of family elders was particularly obese. And, more interestingly, no one really worked to keep from being obese: non-obesity just happened. Now, it seems, everyone fights it, and many lose the battle. I think the old eat-less, exercise-more mantra is pretty much BS and a smoke screen that keeps people from really looking too hard into what causes the real problem.
Is it fructose? High-fructose corn syrup didn’t enter the food chain until about 1970, which correlates with the kick-off of the obesity epidemic. Is it trans fats? They’ve been around for over a century. Is it the large-scale switch over to vegetable oils instead of the saturated fats we’ve been consuming for millennia? Is it that we all dine out more often than we dine in, and, in the process, lose control of our portions and what goes in our food? Is it a virus or other infectious agent? Is it an unrecognized nutritional deficiency? Is it all the nutritional gurus exhorting us to eat all carbs all the time?
I wish I had the correct answer. I have my opinions, but they’re just that: opinions. If and when it is ever figured out for sure, I imagine that it will be a combination of the above factors. Whatever the cause, I do know the best cure for the greatest number of people, and that is a high-quality, whole-food, low-carb diet.
Until more and more people recognize this cure, I think Mr. Ward will have more luck displaying the Stick Man, which, in this day and age, is the real freak.
Hurry, hurry, Ladies and Gentlemen. Step right up. One dollar buys you a look at a normal weight individual.