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Novelty acts relied a great deal on shock, therefore performers were not revealed in the flesh to audiences until money had changed hands. Titillating publicity was crucial, as the people described in these adverts often bore little resemblance to what lay behind the curtain or turnstile. Exaggerated and stylised illustrations lent age to dwarf acts, stature to giants, and plausibility to mermaids and bear boys. The advertisers of these shows aroused the curiosity of the audience by overplaying, often entirely inventing, 'true life' stories. The public thirst for stories of adventure, struggle and hardship was quenched by the story of how each 'anomaly' came to be. The new and different had strong appeal; and difference was often judged according to popular fantasies of racial and imperial hierarchies, adventurous exploration, and scientific discovery. A boy from Central America or the South Pacific would be considered as enthralling a spectacle as a 'human cannonball' or 'frogman'.


https://www.bl.uk/learning/cult/bodies/freak/freakshow.html



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