Freak shows are all the same. Hollywood is essentially a carnival human curiosity exhibit on a much larger scale. The main difference between the Elephant Man and, say, Heidi Montag is time and place. How - and why - the audience reacts as they do has remained the same for over well over a century.
It's a concept that The Enigma, the sideshow performer best known for his full-body jigsaw puzzle tattoo and his appearances on X-Files and Ripley's "Believe it or Not?" , knows very intimately.
"When you can exploit your own self, then you know you have a steady product. You're in it for life," he says with a laugh. "Even people back in the day, it's the same then as it is today. It's always been a capitalist market. Those who can make an income based on what they do or their appearance even, that's what makes money, that's what draws. People want to see interesting people."
In that way, the tabloids documenting Hollywood's plastic surgery nightmares, which are appearing more frequently, are a descendent of the carnival sideshows. In the case of Heidi Montag of The Hills, who underwent dozens of plastic surgeries (and 10 in one day) to dramatically alter her appearance, the world zeroed in on her surgeries as the extreme end result of a culture obsessed with appearance.
TV programs and blog posts were dedicated to analyzing the culture that allowed this to happen. They analyzed Montag's psyche but discussed why this event was an event at all - why this was a matter of importance to the person writing the blog post.
"People love people who really are themselves," The Enigma says, simply.
He has, not surprisingly, faced his share of scrutiny. In 1992, he appeared, along with the rest of the Jim Rose Circus, a troupe of sideshow performers he co-founded in 1992, on Sally Jesse Raphael, that bastion of talk-show sensationalism where murderers, child molesters and freaks of all sorts were invited on to bear public scrutiny.
"People come up to me and they go, 'Oh you're the devil,' well that's because that's what they see in their own self. And if people come up to me and say, 'Wow, you've pursued your dream, that's awesome,' that's what they see in themselves too. You see who you are through other people," he says.
He speaks with the clarity and depth of a philosophy major, interjected with slices of black humour. He says he had no intention of tattooing his entire body. It came about as a mere flight of fancy.