There used to be a sad pecking order to carnival life.
At the top of the food chain were the top performers in the big name circuits. Apart from the exceptional and the lucky, their careers were usually pretty short - these were high pressure, stressful career, both physically and mentally. Those who passed their prime generally retired from performance into some other, less demanding aspect of the operation.
Those who couldn't give it up, though, slipped down to a lower status level - secondary performers off the marquee, or supports to another act. However, since these were also entry level position for newer, hungrier and younger talent, the declining ex-stars were inevitably shunted off the main circuit down to smaller, regional, less profitable tours, moving gradually to more rural, poorer circuits, lower wages, and jobs of rapidly declining prestige.
In the end, those without the capacity to leave the carnie would find themselves hopelessly slipping into roles at the bottom of the pyramid, the jobs that even newcomers wouldn't take. The muckers, the laborers - and of course, the freaks. Freak shows, now long gone, had their own pecking order. Yes, the performers were willing to exploit and exaggerate their own physical anomalies to shock and disgust the rubes. But they retained a sense of their own worth and dignity within a hierarchy all their own. And at the very bottom of that hierarchy was the Geek... a lost soul who made his living eating insects, wallowing in filth, and, as the climax of his act, biting the head off a live chicken, rat or snake.
Circuses were the viewed as the lowest form of popular theatre; sideshows were seen as the bottom rung of circus life; and Geeks were the lowest of the low, held in utter contempt by even the bearded ladies and crocodile boys. Geeks were often people who suffered from mental illness, and most were dealing with drug or alcohol addiction. It's hard to imagine a life more dismal, but they hung on, mostly because there was simply nowhere lower to sink to.
I'm not sure why I'm thinking of Dave Menzies right now...
Sunday, April 11, 2021
Freaks, geeks and Rebel News' David Menzies.
This is such a brilliant comment that I'm upgrading it ... kudos to the anonymous author, and keep 'em coming.