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Advocates Worried About "Freak Show" Exhibit
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 8, 2004

CROYDON, ENGLAND--Local disability groups are concerned that an exhibition featuring circus "freak shows" might glamorize the practice of exploiting people with disabilities and other differences for entertainment's sake, the South London Press reported.

"Pleasurelands", an historic exhibit of fairground history, is scheduled to run from April 24 through September 5 at the Croydon Clocktower. Organizers said that the section displaying photographs on freak shows is just one small part of the exhibit.

The show will feature photographs of such acts as conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, Lionel the 'Lion-faced Boy', and Joseph Merrick, who had Proteus syndrome and whose story was made famous by the 1980 film 'The Elephant Man'.

Freak shows were a common part of circus side shows in Britain until the 1960s when they lost favor with the public. Such exhibits still exist in some countries.

"It never was and never will be right to exploit a person's deformities," said Marc Peters, a former chairman of the Croydon Disability Forum. "This exhibition must be very careful that it does not glamorize the exploitations of the past."

Ralph Conde, vice-chairman of Disability Croydon, said: "Disabled people should not be held up to ridicule in any way."

"It won't occur to many visitors that they are taking the mickey out of real people's suffering," added Conde, who has cerebral palsy. "We too have feelings, the same as the rest of society."

The Croydon Council defended the exhibit.

"We are ensuring that the freak show element is put in balance and we are quite sure it won't cause offence," a spokesman said. "We feel people will find the experience a positive one."

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