Another trailer for American Horror Story: Freak Show.
A few thoughts on this particular brand of “problematic” disability depiction:
I have seen depictions of disability on TV that disturbed me, but didn’t piss me off. I generally don’t mind disability depictions that are upsetting. It’s disability depictions that feel wrong and harmful that bother me.
On paper it is a simple matter to distinguish between what’s in the actual “text” and what is “meta”. For instance, if a AHS “Freak Show” includes scenes where audiences gasp and swoon on viewing physically deformed people on display, the text itself is offensive, but the show may or may not be criticizing the behavior of the freakshow audiences, portraying them as ignorant or nasty. It's possible to have a progressive depiction of regressive behavior. But what if we, the audience at home, not only tut-tut about those old-timey rubes and their insensitive attitudes, while at the same time we also kind of join in their morbid curiosity about lookin’ at freaks? The lines blur, and writers can get away with a lot by insisting that they are just commenting on things as they are, or were.
I hope freak shows don’t become the next hipster affectation or Steampunk theme. People should know about the times, not so very long ago, when people both cynically and sincerely believed that gaping at deformed people was enlightening, like participating in science, appreciating the wonders of nature. But I don’t want people to start thinking it’s okay again, even nostalgically.