Leslie Fielder’s book Freaks: Myths and Images of the Secret Self is an interesting piece of literature as it discusses abnormal beings. Fiedler calls them “freaks”. They include monsters, aliens, mutants, the deformed, and the odd. They come in a range of symbolic and physical forms from imaginary creatures of fantasy, myth, or "natural history" to the distorted shapes of actual human beings (Simon & Schuster 367).
From two-heads men and dwarfs to Siamese twins, the phenomenon of the freaks fascinated people for centuries and continues to captivate till the present day. Fiedler studies the nature of human beings’ fascination with freaks and offers an in-depth examination of man’s views on freaks from the ancient times to the 20th century (the present) (Winchell 324).
The mammoth is the "not us"; yet, it is a necessary part of our description of who we are. In its most ancient sense, the monster is "a portent, an omen, a showing forth"; in fact, it is a demonstration of what is hidden away from view in each of us.
In his analysis of these abnormal beings, Fiedler acknowledges that the key to art, culture, and society is youth. Noting that most adolescents fight with the problem of uniqueness, he points out that they are most likely to be shaken when confronted by any form of physical anomaly. As such, Fiedler seems to stand forth as a champion for youth’s access to all types of comics and permission to attend various carnivals, e.g. Halloween, so that they can be acquainted to the abnormalities. However, there is a struggle between the society and the purveyors of violence and pornography.
As it was mentioned above, among the freaks analyzed by Fielder in his book there are conjoined twins, also known as Siamese twins, and dwarfs. Herein, the two types of freaks will be contrasted.
Conjoined twins are normally identical twins who are joined in the utero. This is a rare phenomenon. Almost half of all conjoined twins are still born, and the smaller part of those who are born alive have abnormalities that are incompatible with a normal life. These could be animals as well as human beings.
Some of the earliest cases of conjoined twins in history are known from Moche ceramics from the 2nd century in Peru. They have images of conjoined twins. In the 3rd century, St. Augustine of Hippo describes a person who might be conceived to be two people in his book City of God.
Siamese twins is a label that was first used in relation to conjoined twins in Siam in the 19th century. The twins Eng Bunker and Chang travelled with a circus for years. They were joined at the torso having fused livers, a strip of flesh, and cartilage. As a result of the reality of their condition and their fame, the term “Siamese twins” is applied to all cases of conjoined twins (Simon & Schuster 367).
The Siamese twins were equally dependent on each other, with their share of the liver and the cartilage. In some cases, conjoined twins have different dependence on each other. There are twins one of which is small and inadequately formed, thus being highly dependent on the big and more formed one. Such conjoined twins, where one is more dependent on the other, are said to be parasitic twins with asymmetrical development. The Siamese twins were symmetrical; therefore, they equally depended on each other (Kellman 41). In those days, conjoined twins were a rare case or occurrence, making the Siamese twins an unusual phenomenon. The rareness of their case made them famous whenever they passed by.
Modern medical practices, especially surgery, have made it possible to separate conjoined twins. Surgery hereby ranges from easy to very difficult depending on the point of attachment and the internal organs that are shared. Twin separation is risky and life threatening. These operations can result in the death of one or even both twins, particularly if they are fused at the head or share vital organs.
In popular culture, conjoined twins have been featured in films and shows, for examples, American Horror Story, Stuck on You, CatDog, South Park, and The Simpsons among others (Simon & Schuster 367). According to Fiedler, one of the dilemmas faced by conjoined twins is answering the question “Where do I begin and end?”
Dwarfism is the retarded growth resulting in a short animal or person. A dwarf is a being with the dwarfism condition. Dwarfism results from slow or delayed growth at the early stages of a being’s development.
Dwarfs have been in existence since time immemorial. At times, they are treated with suspicion or as if they are not normal beings. From the time of Bartholomew Fair in Elizabethan England to the days of the dwarfs in the court of Catherine de Medici and later years of the last dwarf kept as a pet by novelist William Beckford in England in the nineteenth century, dwarfs have been in the society. Dwarfs serve in capacities just like normal human beings. They have served as crew and played important parts in the contemporary art and entertainment.
In the 19th century, European explorers named dwarfs from central Africa pygmies. According to them, dwarfs’ height was equal to the distance between elbow and knuckles of an ordinary human being. Earlier, dwarfs had not been seen in Central Africa, hence it appeared to be a rare occurrence. The rarity of the occurrence led to the name pygmy (Kellman 38).
Dwarfism may occur as either disproportionate or proportionate. Proportionate dwarfism is the case where all the parts of the body are proportional, but relatively smaller than those of a normal-size human being. Disproportionate dwarfism occurs when some parts of the body are not proportional, yet they are smaller than those of a normal-size person.
Disorders leading to dwarfism are classified in accordance to their particular permutations. The following are examples. Rhizomelic disorder affects bones of the upper arms or thighs; mesomelic disorder affects bones of the forearms or lower legs; acromelic affects bones of hands and feet; and micromelic one results in the shortening of all the limbs (Winchell 321).
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Conjoined twins can be separated through surgery, which is not the case with dwarfism. Dwarfism has no single cure; however, with the current medical advancement, a combination of treatments may adequately address dwarfism. Bone growth disorder can be remedied through sugery while hormonal disorder can be treated with the help of medication. With a combination of different kinds of treatment, it is sometimes possible to correct dwarfism. In cases where dwarfism is incorrigible, such people have to use specially designed goods, mostly furniture (Kellman 40).
A person with dwarfism genes may deliver offsprings of a standard height if their condition is not genetically caused or if they possess genetic disparities that cannot be transmitted to children. In countries like the United States of America, dwarfs acquire support from the Dwarf Athletic Association of America to take part in sports. In literature, art, and movies, dwarfs have hardly been related to as ordinary persons but rather as a separate class with a distinctive moral or aesthetic importance attached to their difference.
Dwarfism has been depicted on Greek urns and the olden Egyptian relics. The Bhagavat Purana, manuscript from Hindu, allots nine intervals to the exploits of Vamana, a dwarf avatar of Noble Vishnu. Dwarfism has been shown in literary works such as The Oz’s Wizard, Harry Potter as well as Gulliver’s Travels. The same has seen addressed in television series and shows like Thrones Games, Pit Boss and TV adaptations of the above-mentioned books (Simon & Schuster 367). Freaks have the freak title only to unite them despite their differences. Conjoined twins are seen as abnormal, but they are specially treated since the society views them as needing a special medical care. On the contrary, dwarfism is normally a subject of ridicule in childhood and discrimination in adulthood. While conjoined twins have no issue with this title, in some countries, people with dwarfism prefer to be called “little people” but not dwarfs. Speaking about dwarfism, Fiedler remarks that the future without dwarfs is a future deprived of wonder and wit.
In conjoined twins, except for ailing and parasitic twins, all forms of body development are relatively similar to those of normal people. However, in dwarfism, there are long periods where growth is insignificant. In fact, sexual development is often delayed or impaired into adulthood (Winchell 324). Dwarfism, in some instances, is accompanied by joint and general bone pains.
In Freaks: Myths and Images of the Secret Self, Fiedler is ambiguous about the social consequences of the horrific. He treats the abnormal as a subversive threat and an opportunity for society to heal itself. As mentioned above, today, popular culture, books, films, television shows, and comics have incorporated freaks such as giants, dwarfs, Siamese twins, fat ladies and living skeletons. These have been given various powers and personalities so that they reflect the best and the worst of human beings. Some are kind while others are evil; some are heroes, and others are villains. We and they, common and freak, have been revealed and continue to be revealed as an illusion.