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Is American Horror Story: Freak Show Exploitative?

Image credit: FX


In the new season of American Horror Story, the viewers follow the lives of a 1950’s “Freak Show” troupe of performers, and a dark entity, which terrorizes a small town in Florida.

This season includes quite a few interesting characters. In the first episode, we meet “Lobster Boy,” played by the fan-favorite Evan Peters, who in other seasons of American Horror Story has been depicted as young and handsome. In Freak Show, he is fitted with overgrown fingers stuck together like lobster claws. Bette and Dot, conjoined twins kidnapped from a hospital after their mother was brutally murdered, are the troupe’s newest act. “Ma Petite” is the shortest women in the world—in the show and real life. Finally, Elsa Mars, the cunning leader of the troupe, is secretly deformed.

The show has received a bit of backlash, particularly from Buzzfeed. The writers criticize how Elsa treats the performers. She calls them her “little monsters,” and sexually exploits many of them for their deformities or disabilities. For example, “Lobster Boy” brings in extra cash by working on call for “lonely housewives”. Elsa kidnaps a girl that volunteers at a hospital, who becomes hooked on opium and is videotaped while engaging in vulgar acts with performers. Ma Petite is referred to as an “exotic wonder” and is carried around as if she were a baby, despite her being a grown woman. The show is criticized for making a mockery of people who have disabilities and deformities and for trivializing them through crude exploitation.

However, this new season is set in the 1950s, a time in which women received little respect and African Americans hardly any whatsoever. In addition, people who suffered from deformities, such as the ones portrayed on the show, were especially mistreated. The show is quite accurate, which is what makes it realistic and contributes to the appeal.

All in all, Freak Show is another wonderful installment of American Horror Story. The casting and treatment of people with deformities and disabilities is merely a reflection of the time, and only adds to the intense reality of the show.

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