Carnegie Mellon Press Release: October 29, 2003
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Jonathan Potts

For immediate release:
October 29, 2003

Come One, Come All to Carnegie Mellon: Scholar Will Discuss History of Freak Shows

PITTSBURGH—Step right up! The bizarre and obscure history of freak shows will the subject of ""A Prurient Curiosity': The Freak in American Cultural History," a lecture by Michael Chemers, a postdoctoral fellow with the Center for the Arts in Society at Carnegie Mellon University. The talk will take place at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, November 11, in the Giant Eagle Auditorium in Baker Hall on the Carnegie Mellon campus. It is free and open to the public.

Chemers will cast a critical eye at historical research into freak shows and their performers. Too often, books about freak shows have been sensational affairs that offer knee-jerk condemnation or misplaced nostalgia and that rehash well-worn and often untrue carny-world tales.

"There is, however, a small but growing lineage of serious writings that investigate freakery as a highly specialized form of performance art featuring unique or bizarre facets of the human condition," Chemers said.

"To conceive of freaks in such a way has a magnificent potential, not only for illuminating the history of the freak show theatrical tradition in a way sympathetic to–although by no means uncritical of–its participants, but also for raising important questions about the naturalization of concepts of normal and abnormal in American cultural history," Chemers said.

Chemers holds a Ph.D. in theater history and criticism from the University of Washington, and he has taught there and at Shoreline Community College in Seattle and Iowa State University. His talk is sponsored by the Center for the Arts in Society, a multidisciplinary research and education center that brings together scholars who are interested in studies of culture and society, as well as the history and production of the arts. It is a collaboration between the College of Fine Arts and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Carnegie Mellon.


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