This summer, my mom (bless her heart) and I are going to Milwaukee for the Great Circus Parade Festival, and, of course, a few days in Baraboo to visit the Circus World Museum. The geek is me is most excited about the Library and Research Center, where I hope to get my hands on some visuals as well as some accounts of circus train wrecks (as my novel will feature one!). I am thrilled about the festival and parade itself, as I feel like I kind of need to learn more about contemporary circus culture as well as history.
Still, the more I read about and experience the modern circus, the more I'm faced with the fact that the freak show, for all of its modernization and reappropriation, is still highly marginal. It's in a different margin now, yes, functioning less as a side show and more as an independent, main attraction, but detached from the tradition of the circus (voluntarily?). While the fact that it can stand alone speaks to the empowerment afforded by the contemporary freak show, it means that it is excluded from "circus" events, festivals, etc., and stuck into its own category. I'm sure that circuses still bearing the names, and the stigmas, of old shows feel some sense of guilt or shame for the way freaks were treated, much as descendents of slave-owners feel guilt for the sins of their forefathers, but what better way to assuage the guilt than to include, and thereby acknowledge the validity of, the wronged and marginalized group?
Perhaps I'm talking out of my ass here? I won't really know until I get to the festival and the museum and see for myself if/how the freak show is addresssed.
On a lighter note, we're also headed to Chicago for a few days, where I'm hoping to get a souvenir in the form of a tattoo, a circus ticket, most likely on the inside of my right forearm, from an artist who specializes in traditional American design (read: sailor tattoos).