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Sideshow U.S.A.: Freaks and the American Cultural Imagination

by

Sideshow U.S.A.: Freaks and the American Cultural Imagination Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

A staple of American popular culture during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the freak show seemed to vanish after the Second World War. But as Rachel Adams reveals in Sideshow U.S.A., images of the freak show, with its combination of the grotesque, the horrific, and the amusing, stubbornly reappeared in literature and the arts. Freak shows, she contends, have survived because of their capacity for reinvention. Empty of any inherent meaning, the freak's body becomes a stage for playing out some of the twentieth century's most pressing social and political concerns, from debates about race, empire, and immigration, to anxiety about gender, and controversies over taste and public standards of decency.

Sideshow U.S.A. begins by revisiting the terror and fascination the original freak shows provided for their audiences, as well as exploring the motivations of those who sought fame and profit in the business of human exhibition. With this history in mind, Adams turns from live entertainment to more mediated forms of cultural expression: the films of Tod Browning, the photography of Diane Arbus, the criticism of Leslie Fiedler, and the fiction Carson McCullers, Toni Morrison, and Katherine Dunn. Taken up in these works of art and literature, the freak serves as a metaphor for fundamental questions about self and other, identity and difference, and provides a window onto a once vital form of popular culture.

Adams's study concludes with a revealing look at the revival of the freak show as live performance in the late 1980s and the 1990s. Celebrated by some, the freak show's recent return is less welcome to those who have traditionally been its victims. At the beginning of a new century, Adams sees it as a form of living history, a testament to the vibrancy and inventiveness of American popular culture, as well as its capacity for cruelty and injustice.

"Because of its subject matter, this interesting and complex study is provocative, as well as thought-provoking."—Virginia Quarterly Review

Review:

"Because of its subject matter, this interesting and complex study is provocative, as well as thought-provoking. Deconstructing the remembered, but not necessarily dismembered, freak, the author shows that it has no inherent meaning but has provided a stage on which 20th-century Americans have played out such pressing concerns as race, gender, disability, empire, and Self and Other. Adams provides more than an exploration of the history of human exhibition in the United States, but revises and expands Robert Bogdan's Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit (Chicago, 1988). She also considers Tod Browning's 1932 film Freaks, the photography of Diane Arbus, the criticism of Leslie Fiedler, and the fiction of Katherine Dunn, Carson McCullers, and Toni Morrison, all of whose works treat freaks as metaphor, providing a peep of a once vital form of popular culture. Most illuminating to this sheltered reader was Adams' discussion of a vibrant revival of the freak show in the last 20 years by performance artists in metropolitan New York." Reviewed by Andrew Witmer, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)

Synopsis:

A staple of American popular culture during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the freak show seemed to vanish after the Second World War. But as Rachel Adams reveals in "Sideshow U.S.A., images of the freak show, with its combination of the grotesque, the horrific, and the amusing, stubbornly reappeared in literature and the arts. Freak shows, she contends, have survived because of their capacity for reinvention. Empty of any inherent meaning, the freak's body becomes a stage for playing out some of the twentieth century's most pressing social and political concerns, from debates about race, empire, and immigration, to anxiety about gender and controversies over taste and public standards of decency.


Synopsis:

A staple of American popular culture during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the freak show seemed to vanish after the Second World War. But as Rachel Adams reveals in Sideshow U.S.A., images of the freak show, with its combination of the grotesque, the horrific, and the amusing, stubbornly reappeared in literature and the arts. Freak shows, she contends, have survived because of their capacity for reinvention. Empty of any inherent meaning, the freak's body becomes a stage for playing out some of the twentieth century's most pressing social and political concerns, from debates about race, empire, and immigration, to anxiety about gender and controversies over taste and public standards of decency.

About the Author

Rachel Adams is an assistant professor of English at Columbia University.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Acknowledgments

1. Overture: Recovering Otis

Act One

2. Freaks of Culture: Institutions, Publics, and the Subject of Ethnographic Knowledge

3. Sideshow Cinema

Act Two

4. "A mixture of delicious and freak": The Queer Fiction of Carson McCullers

5. Freak Photography

6. From Sideshow to the Streets: Performing the "Secret Self"

Act Three

7. The Black Look and the "spectacle of whitefolks": Wildness in Toni Morrison's Beloved

8. Maternal Impressions

Epilogue: Live from New York

Notes

Bibliography

Index

Product Details

ISBN:
9780226005393
Author:
Adams, Rachel
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Location:
Chicago
Subject:
Popular Culture
Subject:
Theater - History & Criticism
Subject:
Circus
Subject:
Abnormalities, human
Subject:
Sideshows
Subject:
Circus performers.
Subject:
Popular Culture - General
Subject:
Popular culture -- United States.
Subject:
Drama-Circus
Copyright:
Edition Description:
1
Series Volume:
v.98
Publication Date:
20011231
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
38 halftones, 2 line drawings
Pages:
296
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in

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Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Drama » Circus
Arts and Entertainment » Drama » Featured Titles
Arts and Entertainment » Drama » History and Criticism
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture
History and Social Science » Sociology » American Studies
History and Social Science » Sociology » General
History and Social Science » World History » General
Humanities » Literary Criticism » General
Religion » Comparative Religion » General

Sideshow U.S.A.: Freaks and the American Cultural Imagination Used Trade Paper
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Product details 296 pages University of Chicago Press - English 9780226005393 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , A staple of American popular culture during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the freak show seemed to vanish after the Second World War. But as Rachel Adams reveals in "Sideshow U.S.A., images of the freak show, with its combination of the grotesque, the horrific, and the amusing, stubbornly reappeared in literature and the arts. Freak shows, she contends, have survived because of their capacity for reinvention. Empty of any inherent meaning, the freak's body becomes a stage for playing out some of the twentieth century's most pressing social and political concerns, from debates about race, empire, and immigration, to anxiety about gender and controversies over taste and public standards of decency.


"Synopsis" by ,
A staple of American popular culture during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the freak show seemed to vanish after the Second World War. But as Rachel Adams reveals in Sideshow U.S.A., images of the freak show, with its combination of the grotesque, the horrific, and the amusing, stubbornly reappeared in literature and the arts. Freak shows, she contends, have survived because of their capacity for reinvention. Empty of any inherent meaning, the freak's body becomes a stage for playing out some of the twentieth century's most pressing social and political concerns, from debates about race, empire, and immigration, to anxiety about gender and controversies over taste and public standards of decency.
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