From Freak Shows to Pro Wrestling: America’s Taste for the Odd
We Americans have a history of appreciating some rather odd forms of entertainment. Some of us will sit glued to the TV watching the World Championships of Cornhole while others think nothing of shock jock radio and sensational TV featuring everything from Jerry Springer to the People’s Court. And don’t even get started on uber-violent horror movies and foreign films with subtitles.
Our taste for the odd isn’t new by any means. In fact, Rome’s Coliseum is a testament to the fact that human beings have sought out strange forms of entertainment from the very beginning. In America however, the oddities truly began to emerge with the freak shows of the 19th century.
The Freak Show Era
Freak shows actually date back to mid-16th century England. However, they didn’t enjoy significant commercial success until the 18th century. Here in the States, their commercial viability finally matured in the late 1800s thanks largely to the early iterations of the circus.
One of the most famous promoters of the freak show genre was none other than PT Barnum. Barnum was not only a born entertainer; he was a marketing genius. His acts included the world-famous General Tom Thumb and the Swiss Bearded Lady.
Whether you agree with the premise of the freak show or not, there is no denying that Barnum made a fortune. He also provided employment to a lot of people who otherwise would have had no work.
Freak shows are no longer acceptable entertainment to us. In fact, they haven’t been for quite a while now. But our taste for the odd continues. If you need further evidence, just take a look at pro wrestling.
The Rise of Pro Wrestling
Pro wrestling is a form of theatrical entertainment that got its start in 19th century Europe. So even though it is not quite as old as the freak show, it has withstood the test of time. Pro wrestling became a staple of sideshows and carnivals when it finally made it to the US. For a time, it was a big part of the vaudeville scene as well.
While other forms of odd entertainment have come and gone, pro wrestling has remained. It still has its legions of fans following their favorite personalities wrestling for dozens of wrestling organizations. The strange thing about pro wrestling is that some of its fans refuse to believe it is not real.
Pro wrestling’s oddities are the very characters it presents. Take Macho Man Randy Savage, for example. The late wrestler was well known in the WWF and WCW for his unique voice and flamboyant personality. He made a point of putting on a show every time he entered the arena, so much so that his showmanship was used as motivation to dislike him.
Though Savage died more than nine years ago, you can still find Macho Man T-shirts, coffee mugs, and other memorabilia online. California-based Nerd Kung Fu is just one of many sellers.
A Living Legacy
You can say that pro wrestling has left a legacy on the world of entertainment oddities, a legacy that continues to grow today. For its legions of devoted fans, there is no point in dwelling on the possibility that the performers in the ring are not really fighting each other. The action is entertaining and that is all that matters.
Our taste for the odd has produced some strange forms of entertainment over the years. Some have died, others have remained. One thing that will not change is our need for oddities. It will continue for as long as man roams the earth.