"I must have the fat boy or the other monster"
      --P.T. Barnum in a letter, 1843.

Freak Essay
Make a Celebrity Into a Freak
Freak Pictures


      Human beings who suffer from obvious congenital deformities represent a form of monstrosity that is uncomfortable for us to confront on many levels (social, political, psychological, and even critical). This visceral discomfort is indicative of the taboos associated with mutations. The human monster or 'freak,' a result of genetic deviance, has existed for as long as the species itself has (ancient references to monstrosity occur in The Bible in 4 Ezra.5: "There shall be a confusion also in many places, and the fire shall be oft sent out again, and the wild beasts shall change their places, and menstruous women shall bring forth monsters." A culture determines a freak's status by way of its interpretation of the cause (origin) of the mutation. If a culture attributes mutation to supernatural intervention, it may construe deviancy as sacred, a mark of holiness (The Oxford English Dictionary defines a 'caul' as "the amnion or inner membrane inclosing the foetus before birth; esp. this or a portion of it sometimes enveloping the head of the child at birth, superstitiously regarded as of good omen, and supposed to be a preservative against drowning") or profane, a portent of punishment for a transgression (Cain's 'mark' received from God). Whether it is viewed as sacred, profane, or both, the mutation is taboo. A culture with knowledge of molecular genetics may attribute deviancy to an environmental (e.g., lack of proper prenatal nutrition, exposure to radioactive elements) or hereditary cause (the replication of mutated genes). For American culture, freaks, pyschologically inseparable from the sexual act that produced them, represent the ancient taboo of incest and profane alliances between incompatible sexual partners (they are 'bad seeds' in a multivalent sense). Their asymmetrical bodies compel us to reflect on our inability to master the most personal of all domains-our own bodies.