We’re Back!

The Digital Literature Review is back, and we are eager to receive your submissions for our upcoming issue on Monsters! Last year, we researched freak shows and other forms of human exhibits in our society and culture as a whole.

This year, in preparation, we’ve been reading a wide variety of articles and narratives about both monster’s themselves and what it means to be a monster. Some of our texts have included Dracula by Bram Stoker, Monster Verse by Tony Barnstone and Michelle Mitchell-Foust, and articles on monster theory by authors like Kelly Hurley, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, and Sigmund Freud.

We are redesigning our Facebook , Twitter, and blog to fit this year’s theme. Feel free to explore all of these pages to see all of our new posts focusing on monsters and their societal and culture significance.

If you’re an undergraduate interested in our research, look over our call for papers and submit your related work to our journal. If you’d rather not write an essay, you can submit a shorter post for possible publication here on our blog. Email us at dlr@bsu.edu with any submissions or questions.

We’re very excited to delve deeper into this topic, and we hope you enjoy the content we post as we work to expand the conversation surrounding monsters.

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Introducing the Robert Bell Ball! — Ball State English Department

Finals week may be getting close, but the end of the school year also brings with it warmer weather (though we’re never sure in Indiana) and the Robert Bell Ball. The Robert Bell Ball is a social event and department awards ceremony we’re hosting on April 29 from 4-5pm. At the ceremony, 11 different scholarships will be awarded … Continue reading Introducing the Robert Bell Ball!

via Introducing the Robert Bell Ball! — Ball State English Department

Come check us out at this “magical” event!

“People are Alike All Over”: On the Universality of the Gaze

By: Kathryn Hampshire

“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”

The Twilight Zone, Season 1 opening narration

thetwilightzonelogo

Title card for the 1959 series The Twilight Zone

One of the most iconic shows of the twentieth century, The Twilight Zone remains popular despite the fact that the last episode aired over fifty years ago: it is still part of many families’ holiday traditions to watch reruns on the New Year’s Eve marathon on the SyFy channel each year. Under the guidance of creator/head writer/host Rod Serling, this show presented audiences with a combination of horror, mystery, science fiction, drama, suspense, fantasy, comedy, and superstition. What Rosemarie Garland Thomson has said of the freak show is also true of the Twilight Zone; it is a place where boundaries are blurred and category crises explored, a “middle ground” between categories, as the opening narration states.

 

According to Arlen Schumer, author of Visions from The Twilight Zone, episodes of the show focus on five themes: suburban nightmares, a question of identity, science and superstition, the time element, and the obsolete man. When discussing the last theme, Schumer states that Serling’s “most recurring theme” was “alienation of the individual through bigotry, prejudice, racism, and corporate and technological oppression.” The show includes episodes like “Eye of the Beholder” and “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You,” which emphasize the subjectivity of normalcy and the enforcement of extreme conformity; they also delve into the world of aliens (for example, “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”) and the topic of racism (like “The Shelter”). In these ways, The Twilight Zone has never shied away from  topics of otherness.

The episode, “People are Alike All Over,” features a literal human zoo in order to explore issues of otherness and the power of the gaze. It suggests that there is a human tendency toward this type of cruelty. This episode takes the concept of alienation, noted by Schumer, and explores it in relation to the act of staring and the sensation of being stared at. In this compelling episode, two men venture into space to discover the unknown, but one of the men thinks he knows exactly what they will find… and he turns out to be right.

Sam Conrad and Mark Marcusson are travelling to Mars, and their attitudes couldn’t be more different: while Marcusson is excited at the prospect of new discoveries, Conrad is apprehensive about what they’ll find in the unknown. Marcusson has what he calls “a philosophy about all people,” and he predicts that they will find that Martians are just like Earth’s human beings. When they crash land on the planet and Marcusson dies soon after, Conrad finds himself the only human on a planet full of aliens; however, their apparent ability to speak his language (when he is, in fact, speaking theirs), humanoid appearance, and guise of good manners put him at ease. They welcome him to their planet and prepare a place for him to stay that seems just like a home on Earth. However, soon after settling in to what he thinks is a temporary guest house, he discovers the terrible truth: it is actually a cage in this world’s version of a zoo, complete with a sign outside stating, “Earth creature in his native habitat.” The episode ends with Conrad bemoaning the fact that Marcusson was correct, after all: “Marcusson, Marcusson… you were right… you were right…. People are alike… people are alike everywhere.” In this moment, it becomes apparent to the audience members–people themselves–that they are included in this frightening observation.

This episode fits into two of Schumer’s categories: obsolete man, and science and superstition. According to Schumer, Serling uses this episode “as a front for his more personal, serious theme… writing against prejudice and racism on earth/America thinly disguised as a plea for interplanetary understanding. Indeed, this sentiment is never clearer than when Marcusson says in his dying breath, “People are alike all over—I’m sure that when God made human beings, he developed them from a fixed formula. As long as they’ve got minds and hearts, that means they have souls… That makes them people, and people are alike,” a hopeful sentiment that points toward the inherent goodness of mankind.

However, this theme takes a darker turn as the episode progresses. Schumer observes, “His surviving astronaut partner does find out, to his chagrin, that people, whether on earth or other planets, were indeed alike, in their capacity for evil as well as good.” More specifically, this episode points to how people have not only the capability of, but also the propensity toward, freakifying otherness throughout history.

It goes without saying that Conrad finds himself in a human zoo because he is different from the Martians. The fact that the episode makes great efforts to first demonstrate their similarities (as well as the similarities between all humans involved: the audience members, the explorers, and the aliens) creates a situation that viewers perceive as ridiculous. It calls into question the validity of exhibiting human beings—and, more subtly, othering them—on earth, especially because every person who has historically been exhibited has, in fact, originated on the same planet as those exhibiting them. By pointing out the absurdity of this fictional situation, this episode serves to bring to light the same quality in human exhibition throughout history as well as issues of racism during the show’s time period.

By utilizing freak show conventions, “People Are Alike All Over” makes audience members acutely aware of the gaze throughout the episode, from the moment that the aliens first encounter the human being to the end with their blatant stare at the new exhibit. According to Rosemarie Garland Thomson, staring creates a power dynamic between the object of the stare and the person doing the staring. She identifies four different visual rhetorics that govern the representation of people with disabilities, three of which she finds othering. These same rhetorics are employed in the representation of “others” in this episode.

When Conrad steps out of the mangled spaceship, he encounters a veritable wall of alien beings staring at him as he stares back. This creates the first example of the gaze as a method of othering, in the way that viewers would expect. He seems to be engaged in the visual rhetoric of the wondrous, expressing “amazement and admiration,” the type of stare that people would expect from a human being toward an alien race. At the same time, though, the aliens stare at him through an exotic lens, seeing him as “alien, distant, often sensationalized, eroticized, or entertaining in their difference” (Thomson 59, 65). Thomson’s examination of the exotic continues, saying that it “fascinates, and seduces with exaggeration, creating a sensationalized embellished alien” (66). The way the aliens look at Conrad is the way that we would expect human beings to look at an alien if one were to crash land on our own planet. Additionally, by placing him in a cage at the end, they complete their engagement with the exotic rhetoric by exemplifying it to the extreme: in this setting, they make it very clear they intend to use him as a source of amazement and fascination, complete with the embellishment of quaint living quarters and a sign labeling the exhibit.

This combination of fascination and fear we see in the eyes of the other aliens when faced with this “Earth creature” is very different from the combination we see in a female of their species named Tinia’s eyes: she looks at Conrad with a combination of discomfort with the actions of her peers and pity for this poor, pathetic earthling. Thus, the way that she looks at him throughout the episode engages with sentimental visual rhetoric.

These sentiments come together in the end of the episode when Conrad stares out at the crowd of aliens staring at him, and meets Tinia’s eyes, full of pity, before she turns and runs away from the spectacle, her discomfort overcoming her in that moment. Although her gaze seems to be the least harmful of those in this episode, the sentimental stare is problematic in its own right: it “diminishes” its subject into either “the sympathetic victim or helpless sufferer” (Garland-Thomson 63). Instead of seeing Conrad as a being of equal dignity to herself, her gaze turns him into an object of pity.

Before this analysis comes to a close, it is important to consider one other important gaze at work here: that of the viewer. Even though the content may lead an audience to side with one of the three different points of view discussed above, the way that Serling frames the story creates an opportunity for viewers to instead see it through the one lens that Thomson does not find othering, realistic lens. According to Thomson, the realistic visual rhetoric “minimizes distance and difference by establishing a relation of contiguity between viewer and viewed” (69). The main point of the episode, that “People Are Alike All Over,” invites members of the audience to question their own similarities to the characters, motivations, and actions happening on screen. Although it is impossible that anyone could relate directly to these fantastical experiences, the concepts of otherness, freakification, racism, and the gaze (both being the starer and the stared at) are relatable to the general audience and important to consider long after the episode’s credits roll.

At the end of each Twilight Zone episode, Serling wraps up the story with a closing narration that summarizes the main themes while simultaneously planting another seed for contemplation in the minds of audience members. This episode is no different: in the following excerpt, Serling points out the subjectivity of personhood by placing the label of “animal” upon Conrad and transitively on the audience members themselves.

“Species of animal brought back alive. Interesting similarity in physical characteristics to human beings in head, trunk, arms, legs, hands, feet. Very tiny, undeveloped brain. Comes from primitive planet named Earth. Calls himself Samuel Conrad. And he will remain here in his cage with the running water and the electricity and the central heat as long as he lives. Samuel Conrad has found the Twilight Zone.”

The Twilight Zone, Season 2 Episode 25 closing narration

 

Works Cited

Garland Thomas, Rosemarie. “The Politics of Staring: Visual Rhetorics of Disability in Popular Photography.” Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities. 2002. 56-75. Print.

“People Are Alike All Over.” The Twilight Zone. CBS. 25 March 1960. Television. Internet Movie Database. Web. 17 October 2015.

Schumer, Arlen. “The Five Themes of The Twilight Zone.” Twilight Zone, n.d. Web. 20 October 2015.

Ota Benga: What has Changed After a Century?

By: Lauren Seitz

In 1906, Ota Benga, a four-foot-eleven-inch “African pygmy,” began his nearly three-week long exhibition at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. The exhibit, which was viewed by thousands of people per day, encouraged viewers to see Benga in primitive and animalistic terms;  zoo officials clothed him in animal skins and kept him in a cage. They even introduced chimpanzees into the cage with him, leading spectators to create a connection between the chimps and the “pygmy,” a term which was formerly used to refer to monkeys (Newkirk, “When the Bronx Zoo Exhibited a Man in an Iron Cage”).

This wasn’t the first time that Benga had been exhibited in the United States. Two years earlier, an American named S.P. Verner had bought Benga’s freedom in an African slave market and convinced him and eight other pygmies to exhibit themselves at the St. Louis World’s Fair because they were believed to be “the lowest rung on the evolutionary scale” (Newkirk, “The Man Who was Caged in a Zoo”). Benga and his fellow pygmies were taken to the Fair’s anthropology exhibit and were housed next to a group of Native Americans. After his time at the fair was over, Benga was released to go back home to Africa, and, two years later, after finding life there unsatisfactory, he returned to the United States with Verner (Zielinski).

It was Verner who arranged for Benga to be exhibited, first at the American Museum of Natural History and, later, deciding it was too barbaric for a man to live in a museum, at the Bronx Zoo (Zielinski). Unlike many of the human exhibits at the time, Benga simply sat solemnly in his cage on a stool, glaring at the crowds—an estimated 40,000 people per day—that gawked at him. Even with no performative aspect to his exhibit, zoo-goers were fascinated by what they considered to be a different, and presumably “inferior,” race of beings, and scientists used Benga to trumpet the triumphs of Western colonization: “Benga’s exhibition on the hallowed grounds of the New York Zoological Gardens [Bronx Zoo] was not mere entertainment – it was educational. They [scientists] believed Benga belonged to an inferior species; putting him on display in the zoo promoted the highest ideals of modern civilization” (Newkirk, “The Man Who Was Caged in a Zoo”).

African-American ministers, along with a minority of white elites, protested his treatment, and it was these protests that eventually got him released after twenty days in the zoo—but this didn’t occur without a fight. The protesters hit “a wall of white indifference, as New York’s newspapers, scientists, public officials, and ordinary citizens reveled in the spectacle” (Newkirk, “The Man Who Was Caged in a Zoo”). Newspaper headlines, such as one from the New York Times on September 9, 1906, exclaimed: “Bushman Shares a Cage with Bronx Park Apes,” and the article noted “It is a probably a good thing that Benga doesn’t think very deeply. If he did it isn’t likely that he would be produ [sic] of himself…” (“Bushman Shares a Cage with Bronx Park Apes”).

At the beginning of Benga’s captivity and display, there was a sense of public indifference to the inhumanity of the exhibit; quickly, however, spectators became more outspoken, as protests from the black community, as well as white southerners who believed that Benga’s treatment was inhumane, became larger and more publicized. Newspapers from all over the country picked up the story–some in favor of Benga’s exhibit and some opposed–but the opposition began to win out. Rage was ignited in African-American communities across the country, with Reverend Matthew Gilbert writing in the New York Times: ‘“Only prejudice against the negro race made such a thing possible in this country”’ (Newkirk, “The Man Who Was Caged in a Zoo”). Benga also began to fight back more often and more aggressively against his captors, leading him to become a liability, both physically and publicity-wise, for the zoo. Bowing to intense public pressure and even the threat of a lawsuit, Benga was finally released, twenty days after he was first put on display (Newkirk, “The Man Who Was Caged in a Zoo”). Crowds around the country cheered.

We would like to think that we’ve learned lessons, both cultural and social, from Benga’s exhibition, but Stassa Edwards explains that this isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, she argues, “history has effectively silenced” Benga’s story. Edwards asserts that it’s not necessarily the story of Benga that is forgotten but the reasons it happened in the first place. When people hear Benga’s story, it elicits a response that is something along the lines of “Oh, that poor man!” We need not to pity Benga, but we should  learn from his story–lessons that have gone largely unlearned over the past century. Pamela Newkirk, who has just published a book about the trials of Ota Benga, explains, in an interview with Edwards that “[t]he racial ideology that resulted in Benga’s capture and captivity in the zoo was deeply embedded in science, in politics, media, and in American popular culture.” Racial issues such as these continue to pervade our society, as racial discrimination remains a pillar of systematic injustice.

In fact, Newkirk argues, the Black Lives Matter movement has merely taken the place of Benga as the spectacle of African American suffering in America. She states that the movement has become “the prism through which white America observes the novelty of caged black life” (Newkirk, “The Numbing Spectacle of Racism”). The movement is largely driven by the African- American community and aims to point out the violence suffered by black men and women at the hands of police officers; the larger conversation surrounding the hashtag has branched out to address the pervasiveness of racism that is embedded in our society today, from education and poverty issues to mass incarceration—a topic which bears the most resemblance to Benga’s case, as, according to the NAACP, “African Americans represent 12% of the total population of drug users, but 38% of those arrested for drug offenses…[and] serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months)”.

A large majority of white Americans, though aware of implications of this systematic racism, don’t do anything about it. Newkirk points out that “Over breakfast cereal we now watch the televised spectacle of unarmed black males in custody…. When faced with the most glaring evidence of malice, most good people concur that black lives matter—before switching the station and going on with their day” (“The Numbing Spectacle of Racism”). That a large part of the white majority continues to overlook what’s happening today just solidifies the fact that we have not learned much from the oppressive social climate during Benga’s captivity and the stigma against African Americans that allowed him to be put there in 1906.

Though, today, most would never openly exhibit humans, the racism that caused Benga to become a human exhibit in the first place nevertheless continues. Over a century has passed since Ota Benga was treated as an animal at the Bronx Zoo. If we continue to ignore the reasons behind human exhibits such as Benga’s, we cannot learn to overcome them. Are the attitudes that originated from human exhibits still present today? Yes. Do we still have a lot to learn from our shameful history of these exhibits? Yes. Should we continue to believe that society no longer operates with these motivations?  Absolutely not.

 

For more information on African American incarceration rates, click here.

 

For a New York Times book review of Pamela Newkirk’s new book Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga, click here.

 

 

Works Cited:

 

“Bushman Shares a Cage with Bronx Park Apes.” New York Times. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times. 09 Sept. 1906. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.

 

“Criminal Justice Fact Sheet.” NAACP. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 2015. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.

 

Edwards, Stassa. “Talking to Pamela Newkirk About Ota Benga, the Man Kept in the Bronx Zoo.” Pictoral. Jezebel.com, 11 Aug. 2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2015

 

Newkirk, Pamela. “The Man Who Was Caged in a Zoo.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 3 June. 2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

 

Newkirk, Pamela. “The Numbing Spectacle of Racism.” The Nation. The Nation. 01 June 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

 

Newkirk, Pamela. “When the Bronx Zoo exhibited a Man in an Iron Cage.” CNN. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., 3 June 2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

 

Richman, Joe. “From the Belgian Congo to the Bronx Zoo.” National Public Radio. NPR. 08 Sept. 2006. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

 

Zielinksi, Sarah. “The Tragic Tale of the Pygmy in the Zoo.” Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution. 02 Dec. 2008. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

“Why Can’t You Be Fat Too?”: The Use of Fat Suits in The Big Bang Theory

By: Bryce Longenberger

During the past century, fat people exhibits featured prominently in the American freak show. Although today the freak show has largely died out, the fat body continues to be on display in modern American pop culture. The issues surrounding the contemporary display of fatness can be seen when one examines CBS’s number-one-ranked television show The Big Bang Theory. Unlike the freak show, The Big Bang Theory does not include an actual fat person. In one particular episode, fat people are actually replaced by people in fat suits. This allows for the display and performance of the fat body without the presence of a fat person. In so doing, it robs fat people of the power and control to determine how their own bodies are portrayed, while also reinscribing social norms that value thinness and degrade fatness.

The historical fat lady/man exhibit reveals prevailing ideologies about the fat body. Sharon Mazer writes about Katy Dierlam, who performed as “Helen Melon” at Coney Island’s Sideshow in 1992 as a fat woman exhibit. Mazer notes that the fat body is recognized as “a common sign of personal dysfunction, of overeating” (258). She later characterizes the “overweight woman’s body” as “something men are trained to shun, women to fear in themselves” (259). In essence, the fat body represents moral and physical excessiveness, a state that is thought abhorrent by many.

This sort of negative association is known as stigma. Erving Goffman defines a stigma as a personal attribute that is “deeply discrediting” due to societal attitudes regarding it, attitudes that can lead to social shunning (257). Among Goffman’s three types of stigma, the type that pertains to the fat body is “abominations of the body,” or “various physical deformities” that are visible to others and are difficult to cover up (257). In the case of a fat person, the body has the potential to consume the identity of the person, creating a singular identity concentrated on the fat body itself. Any interaction with a fat person, then, is tainted by the stigma that others impose upon that person, denying the fat person a chance of cultivating a normal position in society.

The stigmas associated with fatness can be seen throughout The Big Bang Theory. The Big Bang Theory is a television sitcom focusing on the story of four young nerds: two physicists, Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper; an aerospace engineer, Howard Wolowitz; and an astrophysicist, Raj Koothrappali, all of whom work at Caltech. They are all geeky and socially awkward, especially when they interact with their neighbor Penny, an aspiring actress.

The only fat character in the show is Howard’s mother, Mrs. Wolowitz. Besides being fat, she has an excessive appetite, makes frequent comments about her bowel movements, and nurtures an overbearing relationship with Howard. The first problem with the portrayal of Mrs. Wolowitz is that it reduces her to her bodily identity, which is presented in stereotypical and stigmatizing terms. The second problem is that, despite the fact that the entire cast calls attention to her appearance by making fat jokes about her, Mrs. Wolowitz’s body is never shown to the audience. Instead, she always appears speaking from behind a door or from another room. Thus, there is no actual fat body present to contradict or counterbalance the stigmatized image presented in the jokes.

But the problem with the show’s portrayal of fatness goes farther than a simple lack of representation. Instead, in one episode, “The Cooper Extraction,” three of the characters don fat suits. It is on this display of the fat body without the presence of an actual fat person that I would like to focus.

In “The Cooper Extraction,” Sheldon Cooper visits Texas over the holidays because his sister is having a baby. While he is absent, the rest of the cast (including Howard’s wife, Sheldon’s girlfriend, and their friend Stuart) throw a Christmas tree decorating party and envision how their lives would be different if they had never met Sheldon.

When asked why Leonard (Sheldon’s roommate) and Raj never lived together, Raj narrates what would have happened if they had. In the imagined scene, Raj prepares dinner for the two of them. Raj takes a turkey out of the oven and says, “Come on Leonard. Dinner.” The camera then switches perspectives and focuses on Leonard, who is wearing a fat suit under his clothing. The camera shows him struggling to rise from his chair and walk slowly to the dinner table.

 

Before I describe the rest of the scene, let’s examine the issues surrounding fat suits. In her article on fat suits, Kathleen LeBesco discusses the politics of performance as it pertains to fat suits in relation to to Blackface and drag. She defines a fat suit as “a prosthesis, often made of foam and latex, which allows a thin or average sized person to appear fat” (232). Essentially, a fat suit allows a person who is not fat to present themselves visually as being fat.

The problematic nature of fat suits occurs when we consider who maintains power when a fat suit is worn. According to LeBesco, “when each group (fat and black) is imitated (through fat suits or blackface performance), their power is limited” (234). It is “limited” because the fat suit allows a non-fat person to dictate when fatness should be displayed and in what manner, essentially robbing fat people of control over their image and over beliefs about their body type.

This often leads to the denigration of the fat body. LeBesco comments that fat suits “seem to allow for a moment of recognition that fat-phobia exists, followed by a mandate that fat people must lose weight to avoid this stigma” (232). In this way, fat suits situate thinness as the preferred and dominant societal norm, while relegating fatness to deviance and undesirableness. And because fat suits display the fat body without the presence of fat actors and actresses, fat people cannot challenge these negative ideas about their body type. They have no voice because they do not control its display.

If we return, then, to the scene from “The Cooper Extraction,” we can see that the characters’ narration of the imagined scene and their use of fat suits further denigrates fatness. After the brief clip of Leonard walking to the table with his fat suit on, the scene is interrupted by Leonard in the present scene. “Hang on. Why am I fat?” Leonard asks. Raj replies, “You’d have no girlfriend to see you naked, you’d try to fill the void with food, and I’m an enabler who once deep-fried a pancake.” But Leonard merely retorts, “Why can’t you be fat too?”

In the next instant, we are once again returned to the imaginary scene, but this time Raj is now also wearing a fat suit. As they both gorge themselves on an extremely large amount of food, Stuart also walks in with a fat suit. As we return to the present scene once again, Raj asks Stuart, “What are you doing?” Stuart, who appears sad, says, “I just wanted to be in anyone’s story.” Still puzzled, Raj says, “Yeah, but why are you fat?” Stuart merely lowers his gaze and says, “Cause Leonard’s fat.”

As I stated above, the first major issue is that three thin or average sized actors are presenting themselves as fat. This portrayal is not only accomplished without a fat person  present, but it also reinforces the notion that fatness is a result of gluttony and losing control, a state that should not be desired.

The second problem is that these three characters also flippantly decide who is fat in this imaginary scene. First, only Leonard is fat; however, the plausibility of the scene cannot be maintained unless Raj is also fat. Finally, Stuart imposes fatness on himself just so he can be mentioned in someone’s story. In this way, the frivolous nature in which Leonard, Raj, and Stuart take fatness on themselves devalues the fat body and the experience of fat people.

I will not concede that fat suits are entirely destructive and harmful to views surrounding fatness. Indeed, Kathleen LeBesco states that “the power and possibility of fat drag … comes in denaturalizing the thin ‘original’ body of the actor [or actress]” (233). I would agree that if fat suits could redirect the attention away from the absent fat body and back towards the cultural norm that thinness is natural and to be preferred, while also valuing and humanizing the fat body, then fat suits could be used to some benefit.

However, as I’ve shown in this blog post, that is not usually the case. Therefore, I believe that a better course of action is allowing fat people to represent themselves, thus “win[ning] more advantageous positioning in fields of power” and gaining back their control over their own representation (LeBesco 234).

What might this look like, you ask? Well, a good starting place would be Helen Melon’s performance, which I mentioned in the beginning of this blog post. Dierlam/Melon does display her body for audiences at Coney’s Island Sideshow, but she uses her performance to confront her viewers’ beliefs about fatness and body image.

According to Mazer, Dierlam/Melon “reverses the lens of her performance” and exposes our thoughts about her as “cultural stereotypes” (260). She uses her body to directly and explicitly state what her audience is thinking about her, thus turning the tables on her audience and forcing them to confront their own prejudices about the fat body.

Another example of challenging negative fat representations can be found in the art installations created by Rachel Herrick and titled The Museum for Obeast Conservation Studies. In Herrick’s travelling museum exhibits are displayed mannequins representing the endangered “obeast,” a creature modelled on Herrick’s own body. The “obeast,” as she describes it, is simply a fat woman, but it is described as if it were a wild animal. Instead of degrading the fat body, Herrick’s fictional animal critiques the notions that fat identity is somehow dehumanizing or animalistic. She exaggerates societal norms and challenges the public to reexamine their preconceived notions of fatness.

As we watch three actors don fat suits on The Big Bang Theory, we are left with a false representation of the fat body. There may be laughter as Leonard and Raj stuff themselves with food, but we can not forget that while they can take off their fat suits, the prejudices and ideologies about fatness to which their performance contributes are not as easily taken off.

Works Cited:

Goffman, Erving. “Stigma and Social Identity.” Understanding Deviance: Connecting Classical and Contemporary Perspectives.” Ed. Tammy L. Anderson. New York: Routledge, 2014. 256-265. Print.

LeBesco, Kathleen. “Situating Fat Suits: Blackface, Drag, and the Politics of Performance.” Women and Performance 15.2 (2005): 231-242. JSTOR. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

Mazer, Sharon. “‘She’s so fat …’ Facing the Fat Lady at Coney Island’s Sideshows by the Seashore.” Bodies Out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression. Eds. Jana Evans Braziel and Kathleen LeBesco. Berkley: University of California Press, 2001. 257-267. Print.

Museum for Obeast Conservation Studies. MOCS, 2015. Web. 7 Nov. 2015.

“The Cooper Extraction.” The Big Bang Theory. CBS. CBS, New York City. 12 Dec. 2013. Television.

 

“Digital Literature Review” Issue 3: Freak Shows & Human Zoos

The Digital Literature Review is back, and we are eager to receive your submissions for our upcoming issue on Freak Shows and Human Zoos! Last year we researched slavery, but this year we’ve been studying the cultural significance and lasting impact of freak shows and other forms of human exhibits in our society and culture as a whole.

 

This year in preparation, we’ve been reading a wide variety of articles and narratives about both exhibits themselves and the people in charge of the shows. Some of our texts have included The Elephant Man, Venus, Geek Love, and the 1932 cult classic film Freaks.

 

We’ve redesigned our Facebook, Twitter, and blog to fit this year’s theme. Feel free to explore all of these pages to see all of our new posts focusing on human exhibits, show managers, and present-day conceptualizations and incarnations of the freak show!

 

If you’re an undergraduate interested in our research, look over our call for papers and submit your related work to our journal. If you’d rather not write an essay, you can submit a shorter post for possible publication here on our blog. Email us at dlr@bsu.edu with any submissions or questions.

 

We’re very excited to delve deeper into this topic, and we hope you enjoy the content we post as we work to  expand the conversation surrounding freak shows and human zoos.

Our New Theme

Hello readers. The staff of this year’s journal would like to thank you for all your support for our theme, Slavery Now. We are announcing the official transition to next year’s theme, Freak Shows and Human Zoos, as well as a small hiatus to prepare for new content. The blog will resume in August.

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We hope you have enjoyed our previous theme’s blog content and cannot wait to share our new research in the fall!