After much convincing (of him), my boyfriend and I drove up to the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair last night. While I expected the canival rides, the impossible-to-win games, and the cow, goat, sheep, and (really cute) rabbit barns, I was surprised to see two circus freak sideshow tents.
I’ve studied the history of science – in which freaks of nature play a leading role during the middle ages – and I honestly never considered the possibility that these types of displays would continue to draw in customers (for the cut-rate price of only $5!).
I think that most people know that “deformities” – really just physical abnormalities that occur in the developmental process – exist in nature. Think of 6-toed cats. At the same time, most of us have probably not seen examples of this in its most dramatic form: a dog with one head and two bodies, goats with five or six legs, pigs “with human hands on all four legs.” As you walk by this enclosed tent at the Agricultural Fairgrounds, the announcer describes these “amazing” creatures.
The weird and abnormal (read different) will always fascinate people. Luckily, we no longer ascribe these creatures to the devil. We understand that development is a complex process, and that biology sometimes goes haywire. Even so, at what point will we stop demonizing things that are different?
As a society, we now understand what causes goats to grow an extra leg. While the developmental patterns are not completely understood in all their intricacies, the homeobox genes responsible for these patterns were discovered 25 years ago.
I guess I just find it strange that in 2008, I can go to an ag fair in the (far-)suburbs of DC and find a sideshow dedicated to animals that have extra body parts. More than anything else, I find the exhibits sad. I feel terrible for the dog with two bodies – it must be a painful and uncomfortable life.