The legend of the Geek among Carny folk is far different from the image that is often portrayed by works of fiction. Take for example HBO’s series Carnivale, in which Henry Scudder held mystical powers and appeared only briefly in his tuxedo, which was also seen on a pitch card where the title of this article stems from. Unfortunately this part of the character was not really developed and so the man in the fancy suit and top hat holding a chicken by its feet remained elusive. In the 1940s film noir Nightmare Alley, the Geek is an alcoholic whose mental state is less than stable – he performs the act because it is all that he can do, but eventually the bottle takes control. When the ambitious Stan comes along seeking a job from the boss, jokes are made that he can assume the role left vacant by the booze-loving Pete, and it is during this scene which one of my favorite lines is delivered: “You know what a geek is, don’t you?” Katherine Dunn examines a whole other perspective of the true sideshow freak in her beautiful novel Geek Love, and I enjoy the fact that Crystal Lil recalls her time spent as the Geek.
In modern society, there is no place for an act which so eagerly portrays violence against animals. For those unaware, the Geek is one who would tear the heads off chickens [possibly other animals], or a ‘wild man’ of sorts who would sit in a pit of snakes. The closest things sideshow currently offers are the insectivore – one who eats bugs, and the human ostrich – one who eats/ingests inedible objects such as glass. Neither one are particularly pleasant but less extreme than what people used to pay for that was considered entertainment. Those with vivid imaginations and a penchant for creating myths find all sorts of reasons to twist facts into fantasy, and this alternate reality becomes what people believe. The brutal truth of the matter is that the only individuals who actually know how gruesome this act can be are those who have actually performed it. My personal experience will not be exploited for the sake of an article about fashion, though there is enough evidence scattered among the archives one would discover through careful investigation.
There are certainly questions which arise when encountering someone who deliberately subjects themselves to what is perceived as primitive behavior. This is a topic that is heavily incorporated into my novel, which takes the role of the Geek from one that is undesirable and transforms it into a position of power. While there is no denying the savagery that is presented in possessing the ability to remove oneself from all proper human behaviors, the notion that this can only be accomplished under the influence of drugs or alcohol is often hastily applied to many sideshow acts. It is difficult for people to understand what serves as motivation to perform feats which seem physically straining without any apparent outside influence, so of course other substances must be in play. Beneath the facade of the Geek that is sold to the public, is an ordinary man who makes the conscious choice to assume the role and all it entails. Therefor, one should reserve judgment without having actually participated in such an act.
An essential part of being the Geek requires that separation between mild-mannered ordinary Joe Doe who goes to the supermarket every Sunday to pick up a quart of milk and the crazed lunatic chasing a chicken around while people are screaming and tying to find the quickest way to an exit is the presentation. Leaving behind the stereotype of alcoholism and mental depravity, the aesthetic befitting of a contemporary gentlemen is composed of fabrics that are nothing but the finest fashion has to offer. All Saints’ Brocade Military Tailcoat is made of slim fitting leather – ideal for protection against the talons of angry chickens not wanting to be some madman’s next meal – and features a number of details which keep it from being mistaken for a cheap costume. A long sleeve button-down poplin shirt that has stain release, wicks away moisture and comes in a variety of rich, dark colors such as this lovely burgundy ensures that possible blood spatter is not something to worry about. In the same vein, Wrangler’s black cotton twill work pants offer both comfort and style, while also repelling stains and wrinkles. The addition of a brown leather Western style vest may seem rather redundant, but here it offers a place to keep handkerchiefs for when cleanup is needed. Two tone spectator shoes are an endless classic in Carny Style, done here in shades of black and brown to coordinate with the rest of the ensemble. Being a main sideshow attraction means having to work on a schedule, and so this mechanical skeleton silver-tone pocket watch should assist in minding the time.
For an interpretation that has less of a dark carnival aspect and can be worn to local restaurants regardless of what is on the menu, trade in the leather for a vintage 1970s dark blue velvet tuxedo suit jacket that gives off more of a casual playboy vibe. Taking a cue from the Preppy Punk style guide is this retro long sleeve turtleneck sweater, the rib knit wool adding a bit a of variegated texture to the black, grey and white argyle print. A pair of double pleated black dress pants can be useful in a professional wardrobe as well as with casual looks such as this one, while red leather pointed toe shoes and high quality men’s blue striped socks are a testament of one’s bombastic personality. Such an item is universal, however, and can also be used with pretty much any outfit to add a touch of personality. Other accessories to complete a polished appearance include this brown leather tooled center laced belt, a red long silk scarf that can either be knotted around the neck or folded neatly and tucked into the pocket of the jacket, and a smashing vintage 1955 men’s watch which will ensure you are never late for dinner no matter what is on the menu.
When traveling, one seldom has time to take a shower, never mind the proper facility in which one can have absolute privacy to cleanse, and so there are alternative methods that have to be employed. Thankfully there are companies like LUSH who understand such predicaments tend to arise, and products like No Drought Dry Shampoo that will briefly revive hair until there is time to wash it. The fresh scent is generated by lemon, lime and grapefruit oils, while corn flour and talc soak up surplus oil to give locks a soft touch. Of course there are also a line called Dirty which is ideal for an on-the-go lifestyle, where soap is replaced with Body Spray, where sandalwood battles against undesirable odor, and the fragrance of tarragon, lavender, thyme and a hint of spearmint lasts all day. Feel free to follow up a few spritzes of that with Solid Perfume, where the spearmint is the prominent note accompanied by oakmoss and the same elements found in the spray have been combined into a solid form that can be applied to various areas of the body for an instant dose of this seductive aroma. No matter what your style, do it up with plenty of Hair Cream, as cocoa butter and coconut oil moisturize and nourish, making hair soft and easy to manage, while rosemary soothes the scalp. Combat irritation with a blend of oatmilk, shea butter and honey in a Shaving Cream that will help the razor glide over your skin. It’s also another layer of the Dirty fragrance, containing thyme, tarragon, spearmint, lavender, and sandalwood. Top off this ritual with Toothy Tabs, an invigorating burst of spearmint for crisp breath, while neroli oil and baking soda help clean your teeth.
The very connotation of the word ‘geek’ has evolved from its original definition, and in a sense is reclaimed worldwide by a number of people who want to show their pride of extraordinary skill in the technical field. Among performers, the term ‘geeking’ is used in reference to things such as eating fire, though there is no actual digestion of flames which occurs and is just a gaffe for rubes who don’t know any better. The fact remains that aside from munching on things like meal worms and crickets, the fine art of being a Geek is something that gruesome campfire stories are made of. While chowing down on a squawking foul might not be suited for those without the intestinal fortitude to make it entertaining, one can certainly dress the part in good faith that the aesthetic properly represents the aristocratic tastes of Carny Trash.
Photo credit: 3 – heyrubecircus.com