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