“Freak Shows” are actually still around, but much different than they used to be
“Freak shows” are usually discussed as a product of an older, darker, and uglier time, and for good reason. Showcasing physically handicapped and unusual individuals to be gawked at ridicules and dehumanizes them. However, it wasn’t all the gruesome affair that films like David Lynch’s The Elephant Man would have you believe. Many sideshow regulars made pretty decent incomes for themselves in an era when they’d have been considered unemployable by general society.
Perhaps this sort of traditional outsider camaraderie appeal inspired the recent resurgence of modern freak shows starting in the 1990s and continuing to this day. These days, most involved are extreme performance artists, folks with extensive body modification, or burlesque or gender-non-conforming performers. They swallow swords and shards of glass, breathe fire, and suspend themselves from hooks. It’s pretty much the same kind of stuff that happens at parties attended by that weird IT guy in your office who wears leather bondage bracelets and thinks nobody notices.