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Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit [Paperback]

Robert Bogdan
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 15, 1990 0226063127 978-0226063126
From 1840 until 1940, freak shows by the hundreds crisscrossed the United States, from the smallest towns to the largest cities, exhibiting their casts of dwarfs, giants, Siamese twins, bearded ladies, savages, snake charmers, fire eaters, and other oddities. By today's standards such displays would be considered cruel and exploitative—the pornography of disability. Yet for one hundred years the freak show was widely accepted as one of America's most popular forms of entertainment.

Robert Bogdan's fascinating social history brings to life the world of the freak show and explores the culture that nurtured and, later, abandoned it. In uncovering this neglected chapter of show business, he describes in detail the flimflam artistry behind the shows, the promoters and the audiences, and the gradual evolution of public opinion from awe to embarrassment. Freaks were not born, Bogdan reveals; they were manufactured by the amusement world, usually with the active participation of the freaks themselves. Many of the "human curiosities" found fame and fortune, becoming the celebrities of their time, until the ascent of professional medicine transformed them from marvels into pathological specimans.

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Robert Bogdan is professor of special education, cultural foundations of education, and sociology at Syracuse University.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (May 15, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226063127
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226063126
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #406,283 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Bogdan grew up in the Bronx and attended the University of Maine in Orono. After serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nigeria (1964-1966) he went to graduate school in sociology. He joined the faculty at Syracuse University in 1971. He has won many awards for his writing and teaching including an honorary doctorate degree from Stockholm University. Bogdan is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Social Science and Education at Syracuse University. After teaching for 35 years at Syracuse he retired to rural Vermont where he writes about real photo postcards, photography, disability and research methods.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great introduction to the sociology of deviance November 15, 1999
By A Customer
I have been using Freak Show in my Introduction to Sociology class since it has been published. I find the book to be a great way to introduce students to a qualitative approach to the sociology of deviance. Bogdan's fresh approach to the material makes the experiences of the so-called "freaks" come alive. Discussion that ensues covers the range from the construction of disabilites, how non-white "races" were constructed as "inferior," and the way modern-day "Freak shows" live on in TV-talk shows. I have frequently cast about for a newer supplemental reading to offer my students, but have always come back to Freak Show. And for all you non-professors out there, I recommend the book as a great read!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For Young and Old Alike! January 21, 2008
I was afraid that this was going to be one of those hand-wringing tsk-tsk-tsk books with pretenses to sociology. Not a bit of it! It's a well-researched and pleasant history of just what we all want to read about and see at the sideshow. It is particularly uplifting to know that many of these "freaks" are equananimous about their condition, and don't consider themselves particularly ill-treated. The belief that they are sad creatures whom fate has done poorly by, is simply our own condescension.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars freak shows in their historical context October 31, 1998
The author did an excellent job of writing about freak shows in their historical context. Even though written as sociological qualitative research, the lay person can read and enjoy this book. I am buying it for my mother who is not involved in the world of academia. It is well written and provides the reader with an appreciation of the history. I would recommend it.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars for Freak Geeks Only August 1, 2002
I loved every page of this book. It gave me the most in depth information on the development of the side show and the expoitation of human beings. Also was included little known personal information on some of my favorite oddities. A very intelligent read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Oddities on Parade June 11, 2012
One does not need to be a fan of the cirucs or amusements along those lines to be intrigued by Robert Bogdan's examination of freak shows. In "Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit," Bogdan traces the roots and heyday of freak shows with alacrity, intelligence, and respect. This thoroughly researched work is filled with pictures and artifacts (some rather gruesome in their subject) that furthers Bogdan's examination of freak show history.

Beginning in the mid-1800s to around 1940, freak shows were a staple of amusement in the United States. At a time when strange creatures and humans from foreign coutries were unknown to those in other countries it was easy to startle and entertain with these fascinating exhibits. Who now can imagine what it would be like to live in a world where a giraffe was an unknown, fascinatingly strange creature. It is so common to us today that at times it is hard to conceive how people could be taken in by some of the fabricated freaks (or gaffs as they were known as). The lack of scientific and medical knowledge allowed freak shows to propser, especially those that featured people we now know as mentally handicapped, because their conditions were unidentified at the time. True, real oddities existed - the super-tall or super-small, the armless or legless wonders, the Siamese twins - but freak shows also cast their lot in created freaks - fake "savages" from foreign lands, "wild" children, island cannibals, and tattooed marvels in a day and age when tattooing was not common, but rather a sure sign of savage heathens.

Bogdan covers the real as well as the fake, those who made themselves feaks and those who were forced to be labled as freaks.
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