Breaking the Stereotypes: Exploring Control and Self-Expression of Modern-Day Freak Show Performers

Detta är en Master-uppsats från Lunds universitet/Sociologi; Lunds universitet/Sociologiska institutionen

Sammanfattning: Abstract Author: Dana Štěpánková Title: Breaking the Stereotypes: Exploring Control and Self-Expression of ModernDay Freak Show Performers Supervisor: Sébastien Tutenges Master’s Thesis SOCM04, Cultural Criminology, 30 credits Department of Sociology, Spring 2023 Freak shows have been historically depicted as dehumanizing spectacles exhibiting individuals with physical anomalies. Over time, these shows faded away, but human curiosity and fascination with difference and deviance have brought them back in a new form. The format and the content of these performances varies greatly from the traditional scene focusing on showcasing the behavioral differences of human fears and hidden desires. This research specifically focuses on the motivations, experiences, and risks associated with performers engaged in practices such as body modifications, body suspension, BDSM, and Shibari. Drawing upon theories of play and edgework, the study aims to explore the complex dynamics of contemporary freak performances. Through a qualitative research approach with ten freak show performers this thesis provides rich and nuanced insights into their lived experiences. The findings reveal that freak show performers are affected by the constraints of the modernized world leading to feelings of disconnection from themselves, others, and society at large. They are thus driven by a desire for self-actualization, self-realization, and personal growth. The performances embody a unique blend of pleasure, challenge, and catharsis, allowing individuals to explore their boundaries and challenge societal norms. This research highlights the significance of understanding the agency and subjective experiences of freak show performers, challenging stigmatization, and societal perceptions of difference and deviance. This thesis contributes to the existing literature on play, edgework, and freak shows in the form of cultural resistance. Keywords: freak; freak shows; BDSM; body suspension; edgework; dark play; subculture

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