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Sideshows and Political Correctness

Updated on December 29, 2015

For centuries, if not millennia, people with certain deformities and people of unusual size have been showcased in circuses and freak shows around the world. Today they are called "differently-abled" individuals and are often prevented from making a good living by people who feel that they need to be protected. Unfortunately the activists haven't considered the consequences their actions have on the people they're trying to protect.

For many who would now choose to perform in sideshows, this venue has been closed. Many municipalities around the country and around the world have enacted legislation to prevent people from profiting from their uniqueness.

The long-standing Michigan penal code 750.347 Deformed human beings law is an example.

Exhibition of deformed human beings, etc.—Any physician or other person, who shall expose or keep on exhibition any deformed human being or human monstrosity, except as used for scientific purposes before members of the medical profession or medical classes, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.


Otis Jordan

Otis Jordan was born with Arthrogrypsosis Multiplex Congenita (AMC), a rare birth defect that causes permanent deformity of the joints. As an adult, he was completely self-reliant and tried many jobs, none of which were able to provide enough income to suit his needs. In 1963, A chance visit to a freak show with his friend turned into a career. Otis demonstrated his ability to roll and light cigarettes using only his mouth to showman Dick Burnett, who gave him a chance to perform. Otis' onstage persona was The Frog Boy.

In 1984, Otis was barred from performing as The Frog Boy at the New York State Fair. Disability rights activist, Barbara Baskin, argued on the basis that the exhibition of human oddities is exploitative. Mr. Jordan fought back through the courts and won his appeal.

"I can't understand it. How can she say I'm being taken advantage of? Hell, what does she want for me - to be on welfare?"

In 1987 he joined the Coney Island Sideshow and was billed as the Human Cigarette Factory. Otis was not just an oddity there, but a performer who enjoyed playing the crowd.

Otis Jordan died in 1990.

Photograph by J W Evans
Photograph by J W Evans

Mat Fraser

Mat Fraser, self-proclaimed "Seal Boy" (born a "thalidomide baby" with phocomelia of both arms), is a Renaissance man who hasn't overcome his disability, but rather embraced it and reached great heights dealing with it directly on stage, in cinema, and on television. He's a musician, actor, performance artist and an advanced practitioner of several martial arts disciplines. Because of pervasive political correctness, he sometimes must travel from his native England to find a proper venue or audience.

Mat Fraser is alive and well and very active. Visit his website for more details

From my own experience, freak shows have the opposite effect of what the disability rights activists would have you believe. Instead of looking away, as most people do in unexpected encounters with deformed or disabled people, you are forced to confront the issue head on. In that way you see the humanity and not the disability. You see the humor, self esteem, pride, and talent that the performers possess.

Who needs protection from that?


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