Carny Philosophy – Man Eating Chicken

[Originally written 1.22.2004]

Was watching A&E for no particular reason, and my attention was gained by the mention of Lobster Boy. It was an entire hour on the death of Grady Stiles, and I found myself glued to screen as footage of Gibtown, Florida was shown.

One of these days I shall have to take a visit to that place. There are rides and games and animals and other cool carnival things right out in the open, all year long. The people that live there who aren’t carny folk enjoy it as well. They see the freaks as friends and neighbors who just happen to have made a living from the sideshow.

That’s the kind of place I wanna live in; a never ending carnival.

To this day, I still remember the episode of Jerry Springer where hole Stiles family made an appearance. Apparently, Jerry was trying to get them to make peace.

On Sunday, I happen to catch a program on the History Channel that focused entirely on circus freaks and sideshows. It was basically a visual time-line of how they came to be. It started with P.T. Barnum’s dime museum that bloomed into a traveling show, and eventually sideshows became a common sight in Coney Island and other places.

Despite the fact that some people may think the freaks were exploited and treated poorly, they made a damn good living. Tom Thumb [the world’s smallest man at one point] died a millionaire. Ain’t that some shit?

The sideshow gave those with physical deformities a home and an income, while the rest of society would rather shut them away in the dark. When the activists came out of the woodwork to complain, it was the freaks who spoke out against them and told them to fuck off. They enjoyed what they did, and who else would hire someone with three legs or a parasitic twin?

Now for the point of the entry. Referring to the program about Lobster Boy, a gentleman that was interviewed in Gibtown said something which I have now adopted as one of my many mantras. Carnies always keep an optimistic attitude. They may have a terrible week where they earn little or nothing, but they don’t let it get them down. Instead, they believe that they will do better next week, because you never know what can happen, and you have to keep a positive outlook.

A new phrase popped into my head while watching this terrible fascinating program. During the trial, a tape was submitted to prove that he was abusive to his family. There was no sound, so the tape showed what looked like a rather aggressive wrestling match between Grady and his son. The jury fully sympathized, until a second tape was submitted, with sound this time. Since the voices were now fully audible, what seemed like abuse turned out to just be playful wrestling, with Grady’s wife giving pointers to her son.

This is a clear case of Man Eating Chicken. If you have seen the HBO series Carnivale, then you know what I’m talking about. For those who have not, it’s quite simple.

In one episode of Carnivale [and in real life sideshows], there was a banner that simple said Man Eating Chicken with a picture of a giant chicken. Now, taken the wrong way, one would assume they were going to see a chicken eating a man, when in fact they saw exactly what the banner said they would. Of course this angered all the people who paid to be fooled. “Tell your friends,” you say, “so they have to pay as well, and the joke will be on them.”

That is the basis of Man Eating Chicken.

Thus concludes today’s lesson.

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