Brie’s Class Summary For October 5th, 2021

Word Count: 1, 150 words

Today’s class started with Professor Foss reviewing our agenda for the day and the usual humor we begin with each class period. It is often the mention of another section that we enjoy hearing about the most because we get to listen to the overall class experience of other students’ day. Professor Foss also made important announcements for our class regarding October being disability awareness month and listed extra credit opportunities for this class. Afterwards, we did a reading quiz with questions from the Poem “Symptoms,” the short story “Beasts of Burden” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” There were various important ideas and concepts discussed in this class session, but the one idea that I found myself most drawn to was the discussion of whether side shows include experiences that have exploitative or opportunistic consequences and/or significance for its participants.

The primary text or reading material we use to reflect on whether side show participants were exploited or involved the creation of a capitalistic environment is “Beasts of Burden” piece. In small groups we were asked to analyze chapters nine and ten and focus on the stories of monumental figures in the article. After analyzing the previous points, my small group discussed the stories behind each person discussed in the article. In my small group, (Zeb, Tabitha, and Mason), we focused on the stories of Julia Pastrana, Otis Jordan, Percilla Bejano and Emmet Bejano.

 The main point that is worth noting for the analysis of exploitation was the case of Julia Pastrana. Julia Pastrana was an immigrant from Mexico who was coined “Ape Woman” due to her darker complexion and hair on her body (“Beasts of Burden,” pgs.104-105). She died after giving birth at age 25 and tragically her son met the same fate. What is even more difficult to comprehend from a human rights standpoint was, her body and her son’s were objectified and used for scientific and entertainment purposes. Her husband did tours around the country showcasing his wife and son’s dead bodies due to them being deemed out of the ordinary. We mentioned in our small group how sickening it was to hear about the experience that Julia Pastrana had being outcasted and put on display in life and in death. In the case of Julia Pastrana, we concluded that she was exploited because she never truly had choice in anything that pertained to her experience in these side shows. When we were younger, as kids, we never really thought about what goes on behind the scenes of circuses like Barnum’s and Bailey’s. As children, we viewed the world with an innocence that we gradually lose. This view of the world changes as we learn about the reality of the world becoming present often makes us realize how dark society can truly become if we let it run rampant.

In our small group, Zeb posed the question of, “Is it exploitation if you are doing it to yourself? This was after reflecting on the stories of Otis Jordan and Percilla and Emmet Bejano.  Otis Jordan’s coined show name was “the Frog Boy” and in his case he created the name for himself (“Beasts of Burden p.112-113) Jordan capitalizes on his situation and pursues opportunities for himself by becoming a showman and creating shows that he participates in. Percilla Bejano was adopted into the circus as a young girl, and she eventually met Emmet Bejano who also was in these sideshows. They both put on shows as well coining themselves as the “World’s Strangest Couple.” (“Beasts of Burden p.111).  All three of these figures reassigned meaning to their names and took advantage of potential opportunities for themselves. We brought this idea back to large group discussion with a focus on agency vs exploitation in the context of not only “Beasts of Burden,” but also “Of Mice and Men.” Choice was the main idea of our large discussion, but more specifically who makes the choices of people with disabilities. In the cases included in the “Beasts of Burden” piece our professor described “how those who choose these sideshows may not consider themselves as exploited if it is a means of making a living and are doing it for entertainment purposes rather than a last resort.” Lisa brought up how some of the figures, particularly Otis Jordan “took control of his life and put all his effort into the shows that he created for himself.” We then discussed the idea of who makes the decisions for those with disabilities. Otis Jordan, Percilla and Emmet Bejano took advantage of opportunities to showcase themselves while Julia Pastrana did not seem to have a choice and did not have a choice in being paraded around after her death. We then moved on who can justifiably make choices for people with disabilities? In addressing this question, we must focus on the role of outsider. There is the possibility that someone who does not truly grasp the “lived experience,” of the person with a disability presents the outsider perspective.  It is important to mention that there are situations where the outsider does need to help a loved one with a disability make choices, but it should always be done in the best interest of the person. In “Of Mice and Men,” a student brought up the question of whether it was justified for George to make the choice to kill Lennie? When answering this question, we must think about the friendship between George and Lennie and decide for ourselves if it was mercy or something more sinister. What it all comes back to is choice and if people with disabilities can make choices for themselves, there should be guidance from caregivers, but ultimately each person should decide for themselves what is best. In our analysis of “Beast of Burden,” we can see the independence and success of Percilla Bejano, Emmet, Bejano, and Otis Jordan, but for Julia Pastrana she was never given the opportunity.

 In concluding this summary, the main idea was to focus on the idea of exploitation and agency. The overall takeaway that can be realized is exploitation occurs when people profit, take advantage of, and do not think about the best interest of a person with a disability. People with disabilities are exploited when they are showcased and cannot make decisions for themselves. As mentioned earlier, we must address that for people with disabilities who cannot make decisions for themselves and rely on their families and caregivers are in most instances not being exploited. In this summary, we are primarily speaking about exploitation surrounding the circus and its participants. When participants get to make the choices for themselves and capitalize on certain opportunities then, we can consider this agency. We finished our class with a discussion on “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and the events that occurred around Tom Robinson’s death and the multiple contrasts within the poem “Symptoms” focusing on word choice.

“ I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.”-Brie

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