Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sensationalizing Disability and Difference

The Woman with Giant Legs, The 600 lb Virgin. Why are so many documentary titles written as promotions for modern day circus freak shows? So much for dignity.

It could be that these titles represent narratives from the people who bully/are ignorant/hateful. In this case, the titles would be written to highlight the insensitivity and ignorance. People tend to describe others by what makes them visibly different from other people. This is especially true of people with disabilities. I have often heard of people I've known with disabilities described as "the guy in the wheelchair," or "the girl with no arms and legs."

 When I watch documentaries with these kinds of titles, I don't feel that I'm watching a freak show. They usually depict the person as more than a disability or difference and highlight issues of accessibility, stigma, etc. These titles are an obvious shock tactic. What do you think is the purpose of the shock tactic? To quote the ignorant or to reinforce attitudes about those who are different?

The woman with the Giant Legs... by kterrl

I leave you with a quote by the title character, John Merrick, from The Elephant Man, "I am not an animal. I am a human being. I am a man."


  1. Excellent writing. These days, even the daily news is presented like a barker at a carnival sideshow. It is all quite pathetic, and your closing quote is perfect.

  2. Mythopolis - Thanks. It is pathetic for sure. I thought so too, about my quote. Great movie!