Freak Show: Politicians Throw Woman Out of Work Because She Looked Unusual

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Credit: Longmont Times-Call

The County Commissioners of Boulder County, Colorado have thrown a woman out of work because they didn’t like the way she looked. According to the local CBS affiliate:

An “ick factor” led to the closure of “The World’s Smallest Woman” exhibit at the Boulder County Fair last week, officials said.

Visitors hoping to see an attraction starring Little Liz, who exhibitors say is the world’s shortest woman at 29 inches, were denied after Boulder County officials shut down the show following two complaints from parents.

The Longmont Times-Call first reported the story. “There was kind of an ‘ick factor’ to it. When I talked to our open space director and one of our county attorneys about it, we had the gut check of ‘This is not the sort of use we want to encourage.’ … We just didn’t feel it was appropriate to a family show,” Carrie Haverfield of the Boulder County Commissioners’ office told the Times-Call.

It’s fairly outrageous that county officials possess the ability to simply declare some people unemployed by fiat. But, that is what happened in Boulder County because, at least according to County officials, two people complained.

The County should have responded: “If you don’t like looking at small women, don’t do it.” But, in a world where it is deemed appropriate for government officials to micromanage every aspect of American life, this is seen as just another day at the County Commissioner’s office.

Little Liz, who might be scratching out a subsistence living in Haiti (where she is from)  if it weren’t for her unique talent, can now report to her relatives back home that the people of Boulder County, Colorado are so intolerant that they demanded the local government shut down her small business.

At 29 inches tall, it’s unknown how many industries Little Liz is qualified to work in, but if she finds that working in a sideshow is the most lucrative line of work for her, she wouldn’t be the first to opt for a career in separating suburban gawkers from their money.

Being a sideshow “freak” has a long and storied history in the United States. Certainly predating the 19th-century, the industry nonetheless first attained a mass market under the entrepreneurial genius P.T. Barnum who turned the sideshow into a nationwide phenomenon for mass consumption with his circus. The sideshow was very profitable and the “unusually-abled” people (performers are of diverse opinion as to whether the word “freak” is pejorative or not) were often paid well. With the rest of the circus, they toured during the warm months, and then wintered in Gibsonton, Florida, where the International Independent Showmen’s Association (and museum) is located today.

Some sideshow performers were born with their marketable unusualness, such as the bearded ladies (e.g., Jane Barnell) and Chang and Eng Bunker who with their earnings bought a plantation and slaves. Those who were skilled showmen did well financially in many cases, and lived financially independent lives, such as the famous Prince Randian, who in spite of having no arms and no legs, could roll a cigarette with his lips [1], when he wasn’t busy fathering five children with his wife in his home in Paterson, New Jersey. The fates of the so-called freaks are diverse, just as they are for any group of people, but somewhere along the line, someone had the brilliant idea that these performers were somehow being “exploited” by Barnum and other show promoters who helped create venues for performances.

Within certain left-wing circles, there remains opposition to the “freakshow” as a phenomenon that exploits the performers. Naturally, one might think it best to ask the performers themselves if they’d rather be doing something else. Often, of course, being one’s own boss as a “freak” beats being treated like an invalid and living off government checks.

Fans of the X-files  might remember that this debate was dramatized in the episode “Humbug.” In the episode, the hotel manager, a dwarf (i.e., “little person”)  is outraged when someone asks him if he is one of the sideshow performers, proudly holding up his diploma in hotel management. On the other hand, Lanny, a conjoined twin with a rather unusual look, who is now the hotel’s porter,  used to be a performer,  and loved performing. He was later “reformed,” however, and convinced he was being exploited, so now he is an alcoholic who “carries other people’s luggage” for a living.

Different people will do doubt come to different conclusions as to whether or not they wish to be included among the cast of a sideshow. In any case, the decision is best left up to them, and not to government bureaucrats who apparently think it is a heinous crime to look upon a small human being.

Notes

[1] You can see Prince Randian do this in the controversial 1932 film Freaks. Unfortunately, this clip shows him only lighting the cigarette, which is impressive all by itself.

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