Freak Shows and the Modern American Imagination examines the artistic use of freakishness between 1900 and 1950, mapping its rather sudden shift from a highly profitable form of entertainment to a reviled one. Throughout this period, the public reassessed freak shows, gradually seeing them as something shameful, and artists responded to this cultural shift by using the freakish body as a tool for exploring problematic social attitudes about race, disability, and sexual desire in American culture. Unlike other studies that tend to focus on the literary and visual uses of freak shows in the second half of the twentieth century, I am interested in the most volatile period for this entertainment--when those writing about freak shows had the opportunity to see them. These writers and artists were responding to the changing perception of freak performers at the time. They wanted to explore how profound contemporary events, such as the Great Migration, World War I, and the Great Depression, were shaping widespread interpretations of difference.
Thomas gives an overview of the book:
Thomas Fahy studied literature and music at the University of California at Davis, and he received a Ph.D. in literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has published ten books and currently lives in New York, where he is a professor of literature and...