10/22/2014 09:57 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A World Where "Normal" Is Freaky: Freakshow Redefines "Normal"


My seventeen-year-old Olivia is to be thanked for this piece. Last week she was checking out some back episodes of AMC's TV series "Venice Beach Freakshow" on Netflix. Becoming enamored by the cast, with their unique personalities, their "skills set" and their thoughts on life, she insisted that I start watching it with her.

I only had to watch the commercial trailer for the show, and "Uhhh... I... uhhh, no... I don't think so." She's not one to take no for a serious answer, and when she wants to drive a point home, she draws from her own set of persuasion tactics. I swear, I think schools are actually encouraging our kids to develop their critical thinking skills.

"Why are you being so judgmental? You haven't even seen it, and you didn't even listen to what they have to say. How can you make a snap decision about something without knowing what it's about? Forget the hook going through Morgue's nasal cavity into his mouth... They have a real message, Mom...!"

Well, that's all it took, because I am so-o-o not judgmental... While the trailer failed to accomplish its task effectively, Olivia succeeded at hooking my attention on the show. And after just one episode, it was the cast that commanded my intrigue and reeled me in ~ hook, line and sinker. I love people, all kinds of people. I am fascinated by human behavior, always wondering why we do the things we do and who we do them for. Searching for the motivation or function of a behavior is like going after hidden pleasures that turn up unexpected treasures.

So after watching about four episodes together, Olivia and I decided that Todd Ray, his family and their extended family should be part of our own family. We felt an instant kinship with very unique people who seemed more than strangely familiar. From the time I was very young, I felt like I must have been an implant in my mother's womb. And even though I have joked, "I can do normal," it never felt quite natural to me, not if normal meant having to eat certain foods, cut my hair a certain way, wear certain brand name clothes, or embrace a religion that makes no sense. No, I just could never do that brand of normal. So now we were going to Venice Beach to reunite with my "alien" relatives from another time and place in space ~ beautiful and unique souls who chose to be on an abnormal planet living abnormal lives.

Venice Beach, October18th, by 2:00 or so, we stroll up to the front of the Freakshow's mini-museum, stocked with wonders, or miracles, as Todd Ray would refer to them. Todd is outside on the boardwalk, with his two two-headed turtles serving as bait to hook and reel more heads into the human audience. For hours on end he talks at crowd after curious crowd of googly-eyed onlookers, luring them in to see more specimens from his world-renowned, anomalous collection of two-headed creatures. With his Barnum and Bailey ringmaster tone, he beckons us to take a peek at the turtles and then swoops his hand across his chest and upwards towards the stairway, motioning past the world's smallest gangster, the bearded lady and the wolf man.

"Come on in and see the show...! We have Morgue the sword-swallowing shock artist and the tiniest couple in America..."

I look him straight in the eye and say, "We came to see you!"

"Well then, come and get a hug!"

I am intrigued by the cast and their ethos and by the genuine love they share with each other, their guests and their audience. While it may be argued that they are performers and it's all just entertainment, there is a lot to be said for the behind-the-scenes reality, looking into the performers' eyes and seeing through them, rather than looking at them. And as I looked and listened through them through my heart, each of them revealed their own nature in light of Absolute Truth. They were each expressing their unique purpose in life to let the world know that they have found their place and purpose ~ to bring joy, wonder and magic to others and to prove that if they can accomplish the impossible, then anyone can accomplish their dreams.

Now, in light of the fact that I have always thought outside the box and the circle, I have often felt like an undercover freak among normal people, I have forced myself to reflect on the meaning of normal. As an adjective, to be normal means conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural. And then in various fields of study ~ Psychology, Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics, normal refers to a set of standards we have devised to measure our characteristic traits and our behaviors against one another or against what most find desirable. At what point during the course of our human development did we determine and impose on others how normal should look, sound, behave or think?

As Todd himself discloses his own take on normal, he captures the essence of how there really is nothing normal about our planet or its inhabitants, with humans being the most abnormal creatures on it. So why not do more than simply tolerate and embrace our differences? Why not celebrate them? Following this same trail of logic, if freaky means strange or unusual, then being normal is actually freaky. Were the Stepford Wives normal? (Seeing the movie is a prerequisite for answering that question). I rest my case.

Cheers to Living a Freaky Life,

Joanne of Frank