On January 18th we talked about the TV show “My Strange Addiction” in class and even though I’ve never been interested in “trash shows” like that, I have to say that “My Strange Addiction” woke my interest, maybe because I’ve never seen anything like it before. The show features so many different people with so many different addictions and I’m still having my problems with the question whether you would call all of them freaks just because they have (unusual) compulsive behaviors or whether you would distinguish between different addictions and only consider some of them freakish and others not. A true freak is causing us to “feel terror and symoathy because he is one of us, the human child of human parents” and was changed by external forces that no one had or could have had any control over. As already discussed in another entry in our blog, many of us wouldn’t publicly call these people freaks because their “otherness” is not their fault, it’s not something they could have done anything about, it’s just the way they were born or something that happened to them and it would simply be considered rude to call these people freaks. If we see someone who, by choice and by conscious decision, has made a freak out of himself (e.g. being tattooed all over your body), we would probably consider him or her a freak because it seems weird to us that someone would want to alter himself because he or she wants to look different and from our point of view freakish.
Now the question that interests me is whether we would consider the people on the show “My Strange Addiction” freaks. We talked about it a bit in class but, just as deciding whether certain addictions are really addictions or just bad habits, I find it really hard to decide whether people with certain addictions can be considered freaks or not. Jazz (fingernails) is the one we already compared to the historical freak in class. She is “impaired” with her long fingernails but is still able to perform everyday tasks (like someone who eats with his feet because he lacks hands). I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while now and probably would rather consider Teresa (rats), Crystal (cleanser), and Samantha (tanning) freaks, while I wouldn’t call Jeff (strongman) and Lauren (female bodybuilder) freaks. Even though all of the addictions are more or less grotesque, I guess that freakishness is still connected with “bad behavior”. Even though excessive exercising isn’t too good for you either, I probably would call bodybuilding and strongman competition rather “good” behavior than bad one because you don’t necessarily see how it can harm your body. This is different with eating cleanser, excessive tanning and having fivty-some rats at home. If these addictions are made public, people probably automatically connect eating cleanser and tanning more than 3 times a day with bad behavior because everyone knows from his and her world knowledge that tanning (especially in excess) and eating chemicals destroys your body, maybe slowly but definitely. With the rats, it is probably different. Since most people are grossed out by rats because they are thought of to live only where it’s dirty, living together with more than 50 rats might be considered freakish just because rats are considered freakish and not real pets that you would normally keep at home. I don’t know why I would categorize some of the addictions as freakish while I wouldn’t do so with others – maybe it’s just intuitive. I’d love to know what you guys think about it. Can you even categorize? Maybe you have different opinions. I thought this topic was really interesting and I just couldn’t get it off my mind.
Thomson, Rosemarie, ed. Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. New York: New York UP, 1996.