Few people like the circus as much as David M. Earle. He likes it so much that he is studying to become an expert on the subject.
Currently Earle teaches an American Studies course focusing on the sideshow and other cultural oddities.
In his own words, Earle believes modern American society and the history of the country can be explained by the odds and ends one finds in the sideshow.
Studying the circus is Earle’s passion.
“The space of the sideshow is to show how the norm in today’s society is reinforced by sensationalism or spectacle,” he said, “I draw a parallel between that and today’s culture.”
Earle said he focuses his lectures on what society considers to be abnormal. He then uses the information to determine what is considered to be “normal” in America.
“What I’m interested in is what constitutes a freak,” Earle said.
Throughout the semester, Earle has used sources such as the movie Freak from 1933, pulp magazines, paperbacks and modern texts. His students explore subjects ranging from tattoos to Michael Jackson to bodybuilders.
“It all forces students to re-evaluate what we consider normal and challenge those things,” Earle said.
Earle, 35, said he has been collecting comic books since he was 12.
He received his B.A. in literature from Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio and spent about eight years traveling and bartending before deciding on his course of study.
Earle said he spent time in various locations in Europe and the United States and eventually did graduate work at the University of London, Cleveland State University and UM.
He will return to Cleveland State in the spring to teach and work on his thesis but will defend his dissertation in Miami in April. His thesis deals with much of what his class deals with: American history, pop culture and the way Americans construct images of themselves through the lens of the American sideshow.
“The sideshow is so obviously a construction, so obviously marketing and so obviously fake,” he said. “You can learn a lot about culture through what society considers ‘different.'”
Jillian Bandes can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.