Throughout human history, we have been fascinated by those amongst us who deviate from the norm. Whether it be negatively or positively, people cannot help but react, often very strongly, when they come into contact with people who look different, sound different, or think or act differently. Amusement, repulsion, attraction, pity and confusion (a mix of more than one of the first four) are all common feelings when confronted with a “freak” of any kind. That crusty punk kid down the road, the super-tall African man on the train, the amputee you passed on the street, that girl with cerebral palsy at your kid’s school, that guy on the TV with big hair who makes jokes about his past drug and sex addictions, the junkie who had the ridiculous police photo you saw on the internet- they are not exactly like you, so you can’t help staring.
What I love most about this phenomenon is the desire to put freaks we judge to be inspirational on pedestals. Marilyn Manson is a perfect example. He looks seriously weird, not only in style, but also in stature. He named himself after a beautiful film star and a notorious crazy guy at the same time. His songs were bleak, angst ridden and aggressively nihilistic. He pissed off Alice Cooper fans, inspired a generation of kids to unleash their angst and claim the same “individuality” as their other metal-head friends, and became incredibly famous (and vaguely respected as something of a commercial-fame genius) for creating a freakish persona. Do you remember when he was in the media every week or so? Marilyn Manson has a water bottle hurled at him at the Big Day Out. Marilyn Manson marries burlesque star. Marilyn Manson inspires Columbine Highschool massacre. He was so unlike anything else going on at the time that the media, and in turn the media followers, were fascinated.
A similar scenario is the obsession that the masses have with Lindsay Lohan’s life. Everyone loves a good story about a child actor going off the rails as soon as they near the end of puberty, and our LiLo is a perfect example. Once a talented, squeaky clean, popular tiny person, she’s grown up in the eye of the discerning public. Now in her 20’s, she’s been a raging alcoholic, frequent drug user, lesbian, a stalker, and she’s done it all in front of the paparazzi. Arrests, time in prison, trips to rehab, and the public can’t get enough. I have an explanation for all the interest in child stars who fall from grace- it is natural to be, consciously or not, jealous of that privileged youth and evident talent that we never displayed, which makes her something of a freak (and yes, I genuinely believe Lindsy Lohan to be a good actress). Some pleasure can be derived from the downward spiral, from the knowledge despite the different lifestyle and career, they are flawed humans like ourselves.
I had a discussion with a friend not too long ago about our enjoyment of melancholy music. I came to the conclusion that the most likely reason that I, and many others, revel in the beauty of sadness is because it is comforting to see that, without question, other people experience pain too. And when it is sadder than anything you’ve experienced before, it is comforting to know that, in some way, someone else is worse off than you.
I think this theory can be applied to most kinds of “freaks”. It’s like rubbernecking at a car crash- we slow down, with no intention of stopping and helping, wanting to see how bad it is so that we can feel better about our own state of being. We drive away and thank the universe that we’re better off than the poor sod with his blood running all over the road. We love freaks because they remind us of our supposed normality.
It could even be a healthy attitude to occasionally indulge in; certainly more healthy than idolising normal people, purely because they are what we deem to be normal. As I once screamed at an exboyfriend in the middle of an argument: normality is a statistical average, not a virtue to aspire to. Jack Johnston, Justin Beiber, any half-attractive actress that has a career purely because she’s got a good body- they’re all stains on the map of a culture that is (at least, WAS) varied and inspired. Thanks, in part, to all the freaks throughout history that have taught us something about our nature and our place in the system that is the planet we live on.
I enjoy my freakdom, and the freakdom of others, and so should we all. Forget the homogenised shit we’re told is desirable. I do tire of it so. I’d prefer pictures of bearded ladies and black metal musicians covered in corpse-paint any day.