Is AMC’s “Freakshow” Bad?

December 3, 2012 — 14 Comments

Today I was made aware of a new TV show coming to AMC in February of 2013.

It’s called “Freakshow” and this is what the website says about it: “AMC’s Freakshow is the new unscripted series that follows Todd Ray’s quirky family business — the Venice Beach Freakshow. Leaving behind a successful career in the music industry, Todd was finally able to realize his true passion: bringing together all things bizarre and unique, including two-headed animals, strange artifacts, eccentric performers and human oddities. Located on the Venice Beach Boardwalk, spectators gather to see truly exceptional people, specimens and creatures. Todd and his wife Danielle open their home and hearts to the extraordinary people who proudly call themselves ‘Freaks.’ Normal is relative.”

There’s been quite a reaction within some of the limb-different community due to the fact that a couple of the people in the show are limb-different themselves.  One has no arms and one, no legs.  As a voice in this community, I want to share my thoughts.

My goal with LOH is to help those with limb-differences, especially kids, to embrace and celebrate who they are.  I do that through humor, mostly.  And by sharing my life with you all.  The important things, you know, like how I put toothpaste on my toothbrush or peel a banana.  And I love words.  I love the power they hold.

So, I get the crux of the anger here.  I really do.  People are concerned that a program called “Freakshow” will enable folks to call limb-different people “freaks.”

Let me explain why I’m not as angry about this…yet.

First, the show doesn’t air for another two months.  We haven’t seen it.  The only video clip is fifteen seconds long.  My stance is to wait until I have a better understanding of what they are trying to accomplish.  It seems to me, from what I’ve seen and read, that they are actually trying to flip the word “freak” on its head.  They are showing people who have accepted themselves for who they are (they are not being called freaks; they are calling themselves freaks – somewhat ironically it seems to me) and aren’t afraid to show “normal” people that their perceptions need to change.

I actually feel like this is kind of what I do.  I’ve put myself out there as “that one-handed guy” and I try to change perceptions.

Second, the word “freak” certainly has a negative connotation, but it only has power if you give it power.  The concern about this word hits close to home because I recently launched a new graphic that says, “Different Is Awesome!”  As a relative newcomer to the limb-different community, it’s been eye-opening to see what words offend people so deeply.  I thought long and hard about using the word “different” because of this.  Personally, I’m a proponent of claiming the words for myself.  A lot of people don’t like being “labelled” as different, but the fact is, we’re all different!  So, I embrace it.  To me, insisting that I’m not different is like saying (in regards to race), “I’m colorblind.”  It’s just not true.  I see that we’re different, so why not talk about it and celebrate it?

So, my stance on “Freakshow” is this: Before I decide to be against it, or its creators, I’ll wait to see what it’s all about.  Perhaps it will be eye-opening for people all over the country to see limb-different people being awesome!  Maybe it will spark really good conversations about our place in society and how we’re thought of and treated.  And you know what?  Maybe it’ll be horribly offensive.  But, I don’t know that yet.  If it is, you bet I’ll be first in line to get it off the air.  I’m hopeful, though, for the former.

If you’re angry about it and have your reasons, by all means, voice your opinion.  Email AMC and let them know your concerns.  But, what might even be better would be to ask them questions.  Ask them what their goal is.  See what they say.  Let them tell their side, too.


Email us.

And please, when using your voice, remember who you’re representing.  My goal is to stay respectful, to sound intelligent and to err on the side of love.  I refuse to wish ill-will on people I don’t know and have not met.  They have their story, too.

I think this is a fantastic discussion and an important one to have.  I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment below.

This feels weird to write, but it’s true…I love you guys.  Thanks for being so awesome.


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I'm a husband, a father, an author, a speaker, a friend...all kinds of things, actually.

14 responses to Is AMC’s “Freakshow” Bad?

  1. Ryan,

    I appreciate your “seek first to understand, then be understood” approach. (Credit to Dr. Stephen Covey on that phrase). My favorite part of your narrative is, “… but it only has power if you give it power.” This rings true in so many areas.

    If you ever have parents to ask about bullying, I encourage you to investigate and possibly recommend Dr. Izzy Kalman’s teachings follow the same principal that you have spoken of here. The only way we can be offended by a bully’s comments is if we allow it to offend us. In his seminars, he role plays with people teaching them to say nice things back to people when they say negative things to us. It is really powerful.


  2. Elizabeth Stinson December 4, 2012 at 11:29 am

    My cousin said something similar to your post, this was my response.
    I agree different is good, but from the names I have been called I feel that this show will only reinforce the notion in people that it is ok to call someone a freak or worse. I do not personally know any one with a limb difference who considers themselves a freak or abnormal. People who get tattoos or piercings know that they will be looked at differently and expect it. People who are born different do not ask for the attention, yet society seeks to judge and label us based on something we have no control over. People with a limb difference are extraordinary, admirable, awesome, different, unique ect. We are not freaks and do not wish to be labeled as such. The show should be renamed if their true intention is to showcase how being different is wonderful.

  3. Hi all,

    My name is Andrew S., Age: 32, Profession: Performance Artist, Entertainer, SideShow, FreakShow, “Working Act” what ever term you want to use to understand what i do. I just got done filming an episode for this TV show. The name of the show is made to get your attention and i can see that it worked.

    All of my “Natural-born”(freaks) friends/family think the soft & P.C. euphemisms are silly at best. Most of them are performers.

    Tone of voice, demeanor and context are some of the things that give meanings to WORDS.
    I think words are one of the least developed forms of communication.

    Trying to control other peoples language or actions is a step on the destructive path. Being concerned for the youth is natural but harmful when you “fear for them”. Leading by a positive (happy) example works better.
    When some of the indigenous people of Papua New Guinea were told by outsiders that having more than one wife was “EVIL”, some of the men killed and ate their extra wife so they could become a “good” person. What is good in your home might be sickening in others.

    We should all practice dissolving hate and pity, either projected or received.

    I am also interested to see the over all tone of the show. I bet it will show lots of

    Andrew S.

  4. Andrew, kudos to you for your positive self-image. I am certain you are hopeful that your involvement on the show will bring about a positive effect on the viewing of those with limb-loss. If this show continues to air, I pray it does as well. I cannot imagine the pain a 5 year old little girl with no arms will go through when she is kindergarten and is called a freak on the playground. Are recommending to organizations that serve the limb-different community, in particularly, children, begin at an early age of calling or labeling them as freaks and other similar terms in order to prevent this? If we lived in a society where words like freak had only a humorous connotation and were not harmful to others then there would be no effort on my part or the many others in the limb-different community to protest the existence of such a term and limb-different in the same light. We are protesting because of this: We believe in the power of reality programming to influence the pop culture of America. We watch Duck Dynasty in our home. Our family, as has millions more, have included “happy, happy, happy” & “Hey, Jack” in their daily conversational language. Because of that powerful influence, we don’t intend to take a “wait & see” approach to find out if your participation in the programming and acceptance of the term “freak” has a positive or negative impact on children living with limb-loss. We feel we cannot, in good faith, serving the community we do, take that chance without calling on AMCTV, Freakshow & members of the cast, like yourselves to try and understand our position. I applaud your right to embrace the label. I support your use of humor and acceptance of your difference as a slap in the face of those who might see you in a negative light. I and our organization, NubAbility Athletics Foundation, however stand on our premise that the term “FREAK” has no place in the labeling of anyone with limb-differences regardless of the age. We are an athletic organization. We teach kids with limb-loss who want to be involved in mainstream competitive sports. Our goal is that people begin to see them not as the one-legged amazing soccer player or the incredible pitcher with one arm, but as the darn good soccer player and the kid with the slider that makes batters look silly.

    I personally disdain most PC dialogues, but in this case, it just doesn’t make sense to us to find it necessary to recreate the definition of a term when the effects could potentially be so harmful to children by creating an environment that condones name calling.

    So, Andrew, we are all for you using your entertainment skills in promoting self-empowerment. Really we are. And we get the use of controversial titles in the industry to create attention. We just don’t agree with the choice of the title or the label. Are you ok with calling a child with down-syndrome the “R” word? I would hope not. This is no different in the eyes of most parents who have children with limb-differences.

  5. I think there is a big difference with embracing our differences and embracing the term “Freak”. I love the fact that we are different..having one arm has made me look at things different, conquer daily challenges by finding creative solutions has been in many ways a plus in my development..this is why “different is amazing”, because it enriches our culture…it does not have the negative “derogatory” connotation that “freak” has. Humor is a good strategy to loosen up some prejudice true..but you need to be sensitive and need to know how far you go and what could be the immediate consequences. It just don’t make sense to accept this labeling..because it might have at the end a positive effect..we know how people can use it and abuse it…is like starting a show about obese people and calling it “PIGS”, or a program about people with autism and calling it “Retarded” and thinking is ok because we want this label to loose its meaning and create more understanding…come on…this is not a good argument in any way..we know the purpose of AMC is just rating…is getting people to watch it. The content can be positive yes…and if so why can’t they use an empowering tittle? Oh yes..rating..
    I don’t think kids should have to go through this period of “Let’s see what happens”..just because AMC feels the tittle captures so much attention..then is good. No, is not ok to do so.

  6. I was in Venice Beach this summer and saw Todd Ray’s show, it is actually a show of empowerment. None of the people we saw were missing limbs, the 10 minute show we saw had Todd Ray’s daughter, Asia, who swallows swords and is also known as Rubber Girl. We also saw Morgue, who has many piercings and puts nails up his nose. This is not just about people with missing limbs. My daughter was born with all her limbs, but is not “normal” for many reasons. I told her when she was 4 year-old that if anyone ever called her weird, she should say “Thank you” because who wants to be “normal” anyway. Normal is average, mediocre, and nothing special. I tell her she is AWESOME, because I honestly think she is, not because I am her mother and trying to protect her. When she was 8 years old, 3 girls walked up to her and called her a “freak of nature.” My normally quiet daughter let those kids know that the only “freaks” were them simply because they thought they were better than everyone else. I hope this show is not taken off the air before it has a chance because of PC thinking. There is already a petition on to keep the show off the air. Ironically, there is also a petition by Ray to “Say No to Normal.”
    Like people who want to ban books and movies based on what they THINK they will contain, I hope people will give the show a chance before condemning it.

  7. Well my $.02. This program is called “freakshow” a title that is synonymous with the business of this type of entertainment. It is not called “freaks”. It gives you a inside look at alternitive entertainment. It does not seek different people in ordinary lives. It shows extraordinary people living extraordinarily. Face it, some people are going to judge you by the way you look period. there is no changing that. To let anyone effect you by whatever words they choose is giving them power over you. Then they are controlling you. In my world, you can insult me all you want. For it to affect me, you opinion has to matter, and that is a very, very small group of people.

  8. You know what?!…..AWESOME! I thought I was more informed than I was. I saw all the hoopla too and I was like “if Elam didn’t have 2 fingers on his right hand, would I care?” NO! So I thought well everyone else in the limb different community is talking about it so I probably should too. BUT I never saw that part where the family took them in….and whatever else you said. You are right!! Who knows what will come of it. It could be positive. I wasn’t even sure how much I would “fight”with AMC because ultimately I am responsible for teaching Elam and those around me that different is good. I guess my immediate fear was that something like this could perpetuate the ignorance associated with limb differences and other differences. But no more excuses, I have my soap box and I need to focus on using it for good. I can only do so much. We each can only do so much. So we better do it well!!! Thanks for your post. Wish I saw it earlier before I decided to blast AMC on my personal page:)

    • Oh, man…this is awesome, Amber! Thanks for commenting! “But no more excuses, I have my soap box and I need to focus on using it for good.” Love it!

  9. My cousin Jim is the no ARM wonder!!! He does amazing things even I camt do!!! We have always loved him for who he is and now teach my kids the same thing!!! They think he’s famous because he’s going to be on tv.

  10. This show shows you how important a carnival barker is as part if the show. The guy in this show is no Jim Rose.

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