96. Balls.

This unfortunate soul was Joseph Merrick, better known as “The Elephant Man”


He had the misfortune of being horribly physically deformed in Victorian England. He could find no employment, and was rejected by his father and stepmother after his mother died. But all was not lost. Because in that less sensitive age, people would pay good money just to come and look at him. He became a sideshow freak. He was not alone. There were the original Siamese twins, Chang and Eng.


And others. There were lobster people,




People covered in fur,


The works.


If you were unfortunate enough to be born different or unusual, you became a commodity; something for the P. T. Barnums of the world to set up in darkened tents at fairs and markets for the more fortunate to pay to “Ooh!” and “Ah!” at in order to scrabble together a meagre existence in an uncaring world.

Things were no better if you suffered from a psychological disorder. If you were sufficiently unsound, you would essentially be imprisoned in a lunatic asylum, where the wealthier classes would pop in for an afternoon’s entertainment. For a handful of coins, you could laugh the day away as desperately unstable and untreated crazy people would smear their excrement on walls or try to chew through their own limbs. Good times.


It’s hard to imagine the desperation and alienation these people must have felt. They were exhibits. Circus animals to be packed up once the show was over and shipped on to the next crowd of breathless, laughing gawkers.

Merrick actually arrived late in the game. The tide was turning against the good old fashioned freak-show. People had become more understanding, more caring. The idea of paying to wonder at someone else’s misfortune had become distasteful, and people like this were treated with more compassion and understanding.

There are still freak-shows out there, but they tend to be peopled by the sort of weirdoes who split their tongues in two and get their eyelids tattooed because their mothers didn’t love them enough.

Look at me! Looklooklook! Mememememe!

Look at me! Looklooklook! Mememememe!

These days, the idea of parading some poor unfortunate soul around for money or ratings would be seen as horrifying. We are better people now. We care. We try to help. We would never even dream of setting some poor, deformed victim of nature’s vagaries up in a tent and paying to gape at them in morbid fascination. We have finally understood what it means to be compassionate towards these people.

We have become good. Thank god. On a completely unrelated note, there’s a new show starting on the Learning Channel this month. It’s called “The Man With The 132 Pound Scrotum”. This unfortunate soul is Wesley Warren Jr.


He has a rare condition called scrotal lymphedema, which has caused his scrotum to swell up to the level of the grotesque. He is very nearly immobile, and instead of wearing pants, he has to wear converted hoodies to cover his misfortune. Simple tasks like getting into bed are clouded by gasping agony and shattered dignity. And you can watch it all later this month, because it’s got him a TV deal.

Do not, for one second, think that The Learning Channel is airing a freak-show. Part of the deal is that the unfortunate Mr Warren will receive free surgery. This show will be all about dignity, sensitivity, and the triumph of the human spirit, because we are good people now. It will not be all about HOLY SHIT THE MAN HAS 132 LB BALLS!


We will all be tuning in to share in the joy, the relief, the redemption of a fellow human being who has also suffered from desperation and alienation. The idea that a TV channel would try to cash in on something so horrific in this day and age is unthinkable. It’s more of a medical documentary than anything else, but CHRIST, HAVE YOU SEEN THOSE THINGS? HE HAS TO CARRY A MILK CRATE AROUND TO REST HIS GIGANTIC BALLS ON!

It’s hard to imagine the decisions this man must have had to make. He is clearly not well off enough to afford the medical attention he so desperately needs. To get it, he has had to share his affliction with the world. He has had to let the cameras into his most private places, to watch him flash his butt-crack to the world as he desperately hoicks his massively swollen “private” parts up onto his bed like a bag of bowling balls in order to get some sleep. He has had to exchange his dignity for his freedom from his own body. But that’s OK, because EVERYONE HAS TO COME AND CHECK THIS OUT! BALLS! 132 LB BALLS! RIGHT HERE ON THE LEARNING CHANNEL! MONSTER BALLS!


It’s not like the The Learning Channel has decided to take us back to the bad old days. I’m sure this is just a one-off, a glimpse into a shattered life to help us all to learn. Or maybe not. Over the last year or so, I’ve seen shows about pregnant dwarves, “the tree man” (a man so covered in tumours he could hardly function), a boy with a tumour for a face, morbidly obese people who can no longer move, children with progeria and child beauty show contestants with parents straight out of “Deliverance”.

Can you hear the banjos?

Can you hear the banjos?

These are not about learning. They’re not about redemption, or healing, or compassion. They’re freak-shows, plain and simple. And we should all be ashamed to find them in our midst. Because we have forgotten something that people understood a hundred years ago. Freak-shows aren’t nice. It seems that we still have a way to go before we can call ourselves good.

This, good people, is not entertainment.

This, good people, is not entertainment.

But holy shit! Did you see the size of those balls?

53 thoughts on “96. Balls.

  1. narf77 says:

    You forgot the conjoined siamese twins in the U.S. with their own show about “hope, and choices and sticking-it-to-the-man” where they are heading off to college and life is rosy and everything… absolutely EVERYTHING is going swimmingly for them. Tha’ts why I point blank refuse to watch any reality TV that involves people selling their souls in a desperate attempt to become “normal” (whatever the hell that is). I understand why they do it, I just hate that they have to. In saying that…Honey Boo-boo is an exception…MAN am I addicted to that show! Making Steve “sketti” for tea tonight…cheers for the recipe June…

    • 23thorns says:

      Mercifully, I have never stumbled across the conjoined twins show. The same can not, unfortunately, be said for Honey Boo-Boo. I watched it once and said “this show is a blight on the conscience of humanity”. Mrs 23thorns watched it once and said “This is my new favourite show!”

      • narf77 says:

        Mrs 23 Thorns is alright by us! “Hey Tracy…there’s a new series of Honey Boo-Boo starting this Friday night! We will provide the beer and the chips, you just have to wear something fetching to take the rubbish out to the bin ok?”…I think June is going to teach us how to open cans and make gourmet dinner…Can’t wait!

  2. Hangings were an afternoons entertainment if you go back just a little further in time.
    I think the only difference about the “olden days” and today is that back then there were some things we just didn’t share or view. Not much but some things were deemed private. Nowadays we have just as little compassion as back when freak shows were fun but now we have the attitude (belief?) that EVERYTHING is fair game. There really is no business like showbusiness I guess. 😦

    • 23thorns says:

      Yup. In the old days, we could pay our money to go and check people out in sideshows, but we couldn’t set up cameras in their bathrooms. Isn’t progress wonderful?

      • Once upon a time we despised the idea of cameras everywhere too. Now there are people clamouring to live in a house full of cameras. And we pay for cable or sit online 24/7 to watch them! Progress is glorious. Just let me know when we actually make some progress.

  3. Truly sad commentary on humanity’s fascination with drive-by tragedy (someone else’s).

  4. Spy Garden says:

    My little sister has a freak case of lymphadema in her left leg. It is concerning to me that she has to explain to every annoying person why her leg is swollen and wrapped in compression hose. And who would ask, really? If I saw someone with a nail sticking out of their forehead I’d avoid the Question until (and only IF) they brought it up. When I’ve seen huge scrotums (I’m in healthcare) I pride myself on not making a deal (and scrotums can get swollen for reasons other than rare lymphademas fyi) hahah. I mean there’s The Person and then there’s The Swollen Body Part or other Health Condition. Its, A Thing, but its not, the person. I so appreciate the lymphadema education for the “annoying” masses ;)! Way to go!

    • 23thorns says:

      I don’t know, sometimes I think that kids have the right approach. Maybe a frank, open question gets the awkwardness out of the way, and gets rid of those surreptitious stares and whispered conversations behind your back.

  5. mariekeates says:

    We’ve come such a long way haven’t we?

  6. smallpebbles says:

    On the other hand, for the more noble, compassionate view, check out the medical ship Africa of Mercy – travels to the poorest African nations to serve people who have no access to medical care. Among their many medical heroics, they remove huge benign tumors that overtake the face, all due to dental plague that in most countries is removed with proper dental care.
    Africa of Mercy is the epitome of love in action. Peace…

    • 23thorns says:

      Yep, We’ve got an organisation out here that gets doctors to operate on poor kids with cleft palates, and another that does the same for children with burns. And we don’t have to parade them around on television like six legged goats for the good work to be done.

  7. menomama3 says:

    Make us laugh, make us cry and you’ve got us by the balls, metaphorically speaking in my case. Excellent post.

  8. sisteranan says:

    You know, those deformed people are just going about living their lives, as we all struggle with our little shortcomings… that is normal. The people who have to view them at a distance to reassure themselves that they are, in fact normal have a fear that makes themselves grotesque.
    I won’t even talk about the entirely voluntary sickness some have that causes such a base disrespect for all of humanity that they would sell one ‘freak’ to another for a profit.

    • 23thorns says:

      I just find it hard to believe that this guy was walking around with this horrible but entirely treatable affliction for so long. He was from Las Vegas, not Malawi.

  9. Jocelyn Hers says:

    Your post gave me to think. It isn’t just freaks, it’s the concept of “the Other” that fascinates. Hence Heat, People, Royalty, and to a certain extent, National Geographic magazines.

  10. In a world of humiliating reality shows that are driven by a ratings war, it’s no wonder we’ve devolved back to a time that knew no shame. I’m amazed that anyone watches what passes for entertainment on the TV nowadays.

    • 23thorns says:

      There are some good shows out there if you take the time to look for them. Last night, I saw a show in which a team of highly qualified experts informed us that the extinction of the dinosaurs was caused by ancient aliens, who were making room for an intergalactic shopping mall that sold humans as gold-mining sperm-donor slaves. I kid you not.
      The high point came when a shiny little man with shock therapy hair informed us tat coelocanths had in fact gone extinct millions of years ago, and had recently been reintroduced by aliens as a sort of dinosaur reintroduction pilot project.
      But you’re right. Most of the other stuff on TV is crap.

      • I guess it’s no stranger than the book series I’m currently re-reading – Julian May’s 1980’s sci-fi series, Saga of the Exiles, that uses a similar plot, which holds forth the theory of humans being an alien /human/ ramipithecine mixture. Lol
        All fiction, of course, but no stranger than your show I guess – although your’s has some added humour with the shopping mall thing, and it’d be fun to watch for that alone but, as I’ve always preferred to read, rather than watch TV, my books win hands down for me 🙂

  11. Lyn says:

    Then of course, there is the programme called “Embarrassing Bodies,” which deal with just about every weird deformity of every body part known to man. The idea is the same, the show says, “we’ll fix your triple butt hole and make it into one neat one if you let us film the whole procedure and show it on prime time TV and make lots of money out of your rare and sad condition.” They even went to far as to have a “Children’s Embarrassing Bodies” version where parents brought their children in and put them through the same horror. The poor little kids have no say in who gets to see them naked, embarrassed and operated on. Voyeurism is, sadly, very much alive and well.

  12. kelloggs77 says:

    When I saw the title of this post, I have to admit I had my fingers crossed that it was about testicles. And boy, did you deliver. But in all seriousness, you amaze me in the way you can delicately balance intelligent poignancy and humor. It takes some balls to walk that fine line.

  13. Jennwith2ns says:

    Well said, friend. Well said.

  14. holmesr64 says:

    Well played, thornburger.

  15. I know this is a crazy idea, but we could all stop watching television. From what I understand, it seems the humanoid lineage developed for about 4 million years until the most recent family member, homo sapien sapien, invented tv and started devolving…

  16. da_truth36 says:

    I saw the movie The Elephant Man when I was a child. 33 years later, it still haunts me as the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.
    As far as the freak shows non-existence, has anyone watched The Learning Channel lately?

  17. Ashana M says:

    Yes, we got rid of freak shows. Then we invented the internet. Just look up “weird.” There’s your freak show.

    I grew up with a kid with progeria. It always felt very tragic to be playing tag with someone who knew he would die. Not that the rest of us wouldn’t, but we could forget about it.

    • 23thorns says:

      They always look so desperately sad. I’m nobody’s moral crusader, but it does kind of make you look at your own life and pull yourself towards yourself when you see someone denied the simple pleasure of being a child.

  18. johnjroberts says:

    “I cut an inch off of every straw I see, just to make the world suck a little less.
    ― Jarod Kintz, This Book Has No Title

    I would love to see the demographic data on our population that drives this type of programing. No, actually I’d be distraught if I thought it existed.
    With a world view that apparently drives producers and programmers to conclude that their audiences really prefer this excrement, they must be on serious medication to prevent them from slashing their own wrists.

    • Mary Southon says:

      It’s economics. Reality shows like this cost a whole lot less than scripted programming with equity actors.

    • |{3ÑZ!3 says:

      It started in the 70’s with a pretty popular psych study. Apparently those executives are still around pumping out hits.

    • 23thorns says:

      Whoever came up with the saying “Where there’s muck, there’s brass” had humanity pretty much covered. You cannot sell something if there’s no-one buying it.

  19. Mary Southon says:

    It’s shameful these people cannot get medical care unless they sell their privacy. As for Honey BooBoo and her mother, that’s just tasteless pandering.

  20. colemining says:

    Yes. This. I’ve become convinced that programmes like this one that you described so eloquently, on a channel that purports to be about ‘learning’, are representative of an insidious trend that is leading us in horrible directions. Great post!

    • 23thorns says:

      I don’t think it’s leading us anywhere. We’ve always been there. But you would have thought we would have tried to lead ourselves away by now…

  21. Buzzwordz says:

    I notice you didn’t say 60kg BALLS! Even you were going for the freak show value by using the higher number that pounds would give you. Of course it’s nice that you refrained from calling them 2112 OUNCE BALLS!! But I guess in retrospect that would really be mean! Good post.

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