Limina: A Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies

Article: Boumans

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Etienne Boumans, MA, MSc, LLM, LLM.Eur

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Entertaining Australia in the Interwar Years: Cultural Representations of Proportional Little Show People

In the 1920s-1930s, Australia hosted several companies of well-proportioned little people (‘midget troupes’) who perceived themselves as ‘perfectly normal, miniature adults’. In search of social acceptance, these diminutive artists, affected by growth hormone deficiency (GHD), rejected their impaired self and fabricated an illusion of normalcy for their audience. Contrary to short statured people affected by other forms of dwarfism, they were rarely depicted as grotesque or relegated to the freak show. Their management was not overtly exploitative, rather paternalistic, and belonging to a troupe assured them a steady income. Audiences and the press regarded them as charming and, while to some extent going along with the normative fallacy, they had a strong desire to gaze upon these human anomalies, whose appearance and acting had greater aesthetic appeal than that of other dwarfish people. This essay attempts to remedy this relatively unexplored type of Otherness in an Australian context.

Keywords: entertainment; vaudeville; midget troupe; dwarfism; growth hormone deficiency; hypopituitarism; disability rights; Lilliputian; freak show; midget village; normalcy; otherness; Australia; New Zealand; circus

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Limina: A Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies

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