Media, Performative Identity, and the New American Freak Show

  • Jessica L. Williams

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xii
  2. Jessica L. Williams
    Pages 1-11
  3. Jessica L. Williams
    Pages 13-36
  4. Back Matter
    Pages 167-188

About this book


This book traces how the American freak show has re-emerged in new visual forms in the 21st century. It explores the ways in which moving image media transmits and contextualizes, reinterprets and appropriates the freak show model into a “new American freak show.” It investigates how new freak representations introduce narratives about sex, gender, and cultural perceptions of people with disabilities. The chapters examine such representations found in horror films, including a prolonged look at Freaks (1932) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), documentaries such as Murderball (2005) and TLC’s Push Girls (2012-present), disability pornography including the pornographic documentary Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan Supermasochist (1997), and the music icons Marilyn Manson and Lady Gaga in their portrayals of disability and freakishness. Through this book we learn that the visual culture that has emerged takes the place of the traditional freak show but opens new channels of interpretation and identification through its use of mediated images as well as the altered freak-norm relationship that it has fostered. In its illumination of the relationship between normal and freakish bodies through different media, this book will appeal to students and academics interested in disability studies, gender studies, film theory, critical race theory and cultural studies. 


Freakish Bodies American Freak Show Media Representation of Disability Spectatorship and Mass Media Freak Show Film disability on screen freakish music videos circus on screen body politics body modification Marilyn Manson Lady Gaga The Elephant Man critical race theory disability studies Performative identity the freak body in cinema Horror bodies Human Monsters Feminization of Disability

Authors and affiliations

  • Jessica L. Williams
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishSUNY College at Old WestburyWestburyUSA

Bibliographic information