Working Acts, Circus “Freaks”, Genetics!

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This motley character and his crew from Kabarett Vulgare came to the Mütter Museum to help us make a spectacle of anatomy and genetics. Same old, same old.

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We often think of sideshow “freaks” (a name some proudly claim) as wondrous genetic anomalies. While these are the most revered members of the sideshow world, our friends from Kabarett Vulgare showed us some amazing “working acts.” These are daring feats accomplished with lots of practice and a DEEP understanding of general anatomy and one’s own personal anatomy. How deep is your nasal cavity? You better find out before you try putting a nail in it, like this “human blockhead” is doing.

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The bed of nails is bit a more straightforward: how much pain can you tolerate? This is less biology than physics, because the most important consideration is the amount of surface area bearing your weight (and perhaps someone else’s if you’re as tough as our friend here). Is your weight being held up by 20 nails on your feet? 1000 nails across your whole back? The world record for this is held by a brave man who balanced himself on just TWO nails on his lower back. A little more weight and that guy might have punctured a lung or two.

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Sara gave it a try as her fellow Fellows recoiled in horror.

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Afterwards, our in-house museum educator Marcy Engleman guided us through some genetics 101, the basis for the other side of the sideshow world. What are the odds that your child might be born with some sideshow-worthy trait like extremely long limbs or knees that bend in two directions? You’ll have to break out the Punnett squares to find out.

Thanks again to Marcy and her friends at Kabarett Vulgare!

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