Kate sent along an article this morning about the death of Bruce Snowdon, the last sideshow fat man. Mostly she was boggled by this bit:
Until the mid-1960s, traveling carnivals frequently featured fat acts. But sideshows declined in popularity as waistlines expanded and obesity became less of a laughing matter.
As the years went by, spotting a man who weighed more than half a ton was not that unusual – and that was bad news, if you were in Snowdon’s line of work.
As Kate pointed out, um, isn’t a ton 2,000 pounds? “More than half a ton” is 1,000+ pounds in English, 1,102+ pounds in metric, and people who weigh that much are still actually pretty fucking unusual. Unless we are talking about people who WOULD weigh more than half a ton IF THEY WERE STANDING ON THE SUN, in which case, okay. If that’s not what you mean, I suggest that your fact-checker commence vigorous head-desking.
Anyway, I was ready to spin that off into a rant about how NOBODY KNOWS WHAT WEIGHT LOOKS LIKE, MY GOD, DO PEOPLE REALLY THINK THAT “60% OVERWEIGHT” MEANS THAT FOLKS WHO WEIGH 1,000+ POUNDS ARE SWANNING AROUND ALL OVER THE PLACE, but meh, we’ve done that post, and it’s Friday. Instead, I want to call your attention to the part of the article I really loved, where they reproduced some of the talker’s patter about Snowdon:
“He’s so big and so fat, it takes four girls to hug him and a boxcar to lug him,” Hall would say of Snowdon at shows.
“When he dances you’ll swear he must be full of jelly, ’cause jam don’t shake that way. And you know, girls, he is single and looking for a wife. He’ll make some lucky girl a fine husband. Why, he’s so big and fat, he’ll provide you with a lot of shade in the summertime, keep you nice and warm in the wintertime, and give you lots of good, heavy loving all the time.”
I kinda love that! I am not averse to talking (even in a fluff post) about the sideshow phenomenon and whether it’s okay that parts of it have been reclaimed, but I do think it’s interesting that as far as I know, patter about carnival fat men and fat women was generally othering but positive. People were there to gawk, yes, but not in an unfriendly way — the talker draws attention to Snowdown as a curiosity but not as a grotesquerie. In fact, the rhetoric is about him being attractive, even sexually attractive. Now, in the modern era there’s probably some irony operating there — the audience assumes a fat man is grotesque, and the patter feeds off of that assumption by turning it on its head. But I still find it appealing.
And really, we’re all curiosities in a way — not necessarily because of our bodies (though I will freely admit that I, for instance, am upsettingly double-jointed), but because of everything that makes us singular and unique. So, Shapelings, what would it look like if you wrote your own sideshow patter? Would it focus on your warmth and heaviness, like Snowdon’s, or your skills and talents, or your personal flair, or your tiny superpowers? What’s the script for the guy outside the Shapely Prose ten-in-one?