Welcome to the new Freak Show

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I’m sure everyone remembers going to the fair as a child. Walking down the midway, seeing the myriad games and rides of excitement and fun. Slowing your pace as you try to sneak a peek at the freak shows, wondering what kind of monstrosity lies on the other side of the curtain or wall.

If you ever got the courage and five dollars to venture into the lair of the beast, you were most certainly disappointed by what was on the other side.

The things in the cages or on display were barely freaks, maybe a poor glue job, or a simple exaggeration of the truth. It never ended in amazement, but it always began with wonder and the feeling of amazement at what you could possibly experience.

As you get older, however, the magic of the midway fades and the fair loses most of its appeal. The one thing that sticks around is the desire to see the freaks. Thanks to the Internet, that joy will never cease.

Grumpy-Cat - ivillage.comI’ve spent most of the semester extolling the virtues of the Internet. This time, there is something darker afoot. Something lurking on the Internet that puzzles even me. The meme, the Internet’s freak shows.

For those that are unaware the term meme began as a description of “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” Richard Dawkins popularized this definition memes. Most people know memes as those funny pictures with words on them.

The fascination with memes has spread all over the Internet. You see them everywhere you go. They are even being featured in ads attempting to sell you something, hoping to catch you with the new fad.

One of the most recognizable of these is the Grumpy Cat. This meme is just a picture of a grumpy looking cat, named Tard, generally captioned saying something angry. The reason the cat looks so angry is due to a physical defect. One that doesn’t affect his quality of life, but a defect anyway.

Grumpy Cat has become so popular that he has been featured on national news, and he was even recently featured at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. Why this cat has taken the nation by storm is actually pretty simple. People will always love freaks.

The same joy that we all felt as children at the thought of seeing something strange and different is magnified thanks to the Internet. People from all over can share the strange things they see, and anyone can log in and check out the strange menagerie.

Sometimes the things that are shared aren’t so bad. There are a few jokes and things that don’t focus on this freak show mentality. But most memes seem to be popular based on our desires to see something strange or abnormal.

We love to see things that appear to have some kind of disadvantage. There is something taboo about sharing images of things that aren’t like us, or things we don’t see on a regular basis.

Maybe there isn’t anything wrong with this pursuit. Maybe those featured in these meme enjoy their relative fame and notoriety.

Should we spend so much time celebrating these things that are slightly different from us? Should we point and stare and put the “freaks” on display? Maybe it’s just for fun, or maybe you still want the thrill of seeing something so out of the ordinary.

I, myself, am a fan of Grumpy Cat, so I can’t really judge anyone for their choices regarding memes. Sometimes I wonder if I really should enjoy him so much though. I can’t help but think if being a freak is something to be proud of, or if being the subject of a meme is really a good thing.

Tard seems to enjoy the spotlight, so maybe we’ll just leave it at that.