Curiosity is a basic animal instinct, and one we as humans thrive on. Through curiosity we learn what smells bad, what tastes good, what is safe and what is dangerous. Humans are also very curious about other humans and the most innocent example of this is when a baby begins to realise its surroundings. Have you ever noticed how fascinated a baby is when they see a person wearing glasses for the first time? Or when they see someone with different colour hair to their parents, or even different skin tone? There is no prejudice within their eyes, they are just soaking up something new in their world.
As we get older we begin to single out those who are slightly different somehow. The child wearing glasses becomes a target of ridicule, as will perhaps the child with red hair, and in the worst cases the child of a different skin tone. At that age, it is again usually survival instinct to be wary of difference and change. As these prejudices aid nothing toward our survival we are usually taught to accept these people as just another fellow human being and our attentions turn to those who stand out from a crowd even more so, be they extremely overweight, be they extremely tall or a complete human enigma.
Children are chastised when they stare at people with a physical disability, abnormality or extreme growth of some kind. We inform them its 'very rude to stare' and many parents are ashamed of their child's behaviour. But when a child stares at say, a woman with excess facial hair, parents should recall the entertainment such people provided in freak shows, in circuses, where they were put on display for our morbid curiosity for a price. Of course, such freak shows are very uncommon these days and those who do take part have chosen to.
So if staring at someone with any of the above is wrong, why are documentaries about such people so popular and perfectly justified? This is not to accuse anyone who enjoys these shows as sick or cruel, but how much is it looking into the world around us and how much of it is just a chance to see a 'freak' (not a term I wish to use, but I'm linking back to the shows mentioned above).
A great example of this occurred not too long ago when a media circus revolved around a thirteen year old girl from Haiti with a rare bone disease. Her face was horrifically disfigured, she could barely breath and her head was so heavy she had to hold it up. She was going to die until she was taken to the USA for ground breaking surgery. Nowadays she can breath on her own, eat and talk about what it was like to be silenced for so long. It was a miracle of science that this girl lived, but is that really why so many people were captivated? There is no denying that many people will have seen nothing like what this girls illness did to her and so will have been drawn to her story just by looking at her. After that initial glance at her face, how many people were satisfied with just that in ratio to those who wanted to see her get better? Did people stare at the poor girl out of pity or marvel at how doctors could save her?
The story above was used to end a series about extraordinary people on the television last night. Was it simply coincidence that the series ended with such a visually dramatic story? Would as many people have tuned in if the program had been about a maths genius who's enigma is not so apparent to the eye? Are these popular documentaries an easy to access way for us to learn about our world or are they nothing more than a televised freak show? I would once again like to add I am not accusing anyone who watches these shows of cruelty, for as I said at the beginning, curiosity is in our nature.