A while ago, I was walking through Melbourne Central station when I was buffeted on all sides. Muscular minders were pushing back a crowd of jostling fans from a red carpet. Everyone was holding iPhones above their heads. They had come to see two Hollywood stars. But Hollywood is different these days. One star was playing a mutant who could grow adamantium claws from his hands. The other, an ordinary character, happened to be a dwarf.
Such is the modern freak show, where inspiration and tawdriness are all mixed up. We gawp and giggle at parades of biggest losers and embarrassing bodies, but we also celebrate dwarf actors, paralympic heroes, and chat-show hosts with missing limbs. We don’t call them freaks or crips or fatties. Yet the virtuous admiration of the differently-abled is never far from the raucous spirit of the sideshow. Deep down, many still have the innocent curiosity and cruelty of the child.