Wild Folk

The archetype of the "wildman" goes back to 13th-Century Europe. As early as the late-1700s in America wild men, and some women, have been displayed for profit. Many were African-American performers pretending to be exotic and uncivilized unwittingly perpetrating America's racist attitudes regarding people of color. Whether wild by association with "savage" non-white cultures, or returned-to-nature primitives who had unlearned civilization, or those who by mental deficiency are unable to display all the niceties of civilized man-- the wild man performer was a staple of sideshows up through at least the middle of the 20th-Century.

Dressed often in animal skins, loincloth, or faux fuzzy suits, the wild persons of show business were meant to speak a language you couldn't understand, or only vocalized in gibberish, and was meant to frighten and/or disgust.

Sometimes the only wild thing about the wild folks displayed was their performative or supposed visual association with a particular type of animal. Sometimes these performers purposely emulated animals, but often the association was based on a suspiciously contrived construct that had little to do with their non-costumed countenance.

(to be continued)