After a thoroughly depressing week, I thought Friday might be the right time for freaks -- to lighten the mood, startle some prudes, and generally make things a little less bleak.
Ripley's Believe It or Not! -- that venerable purveyor of weird, unsettling facts -- is hosting an online contest seeking the freakiest person in America to serve as an attraction at the company's Times Square venue, where they will be on display at the Odditorium. Contestants just have to submit a video to Ripley's Web site, where viewers will vote on them; the videos are simultaneously hosted (and open to voting) on Facebook. The contest began March 7 and is open for submissions until March 25.
Just to be clear, this doesn't necessarily mean they are looking for a "freak" in the traditional circus sideshow sense, which probably isn't P.C. nowadays: the contest solicitation reads, in part, "Are you super flexible? Can you do amazing things with your voice? Can you perform odd feats of strength, shock-and-awe, or willpower that amazes your friends and family?"
If you want to get technical about it -- and you know I do -- in a traditional circus sideshow people with unusual talents or weird (but not tragic) physical attributes might be classified as "living human curiosities" or "human oddities," whereas Princeton's online dictionary defines a freak as "a person or animal that is markedly unusual or deformed," while a geek is "a carnival performer who does disgusting acts."
Unsurprisingly, some of the submissions are from professional or semi-professional human oddities, including for example "Lucky the Painproof Man," who lets people break cinderblocks over his groin, staple dollar bills to his chest, hammering a nail into his skull through his nose -- the usual stuff.
It's worth noting that there Ripley's is also very careful about not incurring liability in encouraging people to demonstrate their, um, "talents." Thus, underneath a video showing a guy pulling a woman seated on a wagon around with chains attached to his eyelids, the fine print reads "These stunts are performed by seasoned professionals and have the potential to be extremely dangerous; Ripley's does not encourage contestants to attempt these acts unless professionally trained."