Entertaining the crowds

In Ancient Rome, the games at the Coliseum included throwing disabled children under horses’ hooves, blind gladiators fighting and dwarfs fighting women.

Disabled people have historically been figures of fun. Court jesters, such as Henry VIII’s William Somner, were often disabled, and dwarfs feature as freaks in many court pictures.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, ‘ships of fools’ containing ‘mad’ people sailed from port to port, where the public paid to come and laugh at them. The ‘fools’ were then abandoned at the end of the tour. In 18th century London, people visited ‘Bedlam’ (the Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem) to laugh at the insane.

Circuses and freak shows continued the tradition. A Freak Show is still in operation on Coney Island, USA. This curiosity/fear of the different confirms the non-disabled viewer in the security of his or her own ‘normality’. The highly successful horror film genre is founded on this phenomenon.

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Published in: on February 3, 2007 at 3:10 am  Comments Off on Entertaining the crowds  
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