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Sunday 16 July 2017

"The Curse of the Elephant Man"

The 1980 film, 'The Elephant Man', starring John Hurt as the eponymous hero, was an excellent portrayal of the tragic life of Joseph Merrick who, tragically deformed by a medical condition, became an exhibit in a freak show before being taken into the care of the London Hospital, where he lived out the rest of his short life in relative comfort.

A more recent documentary, The Curse of the Elephant Man, is an attempt to discover the cause of his condition, and concludes with a wonderful reconstruction of how he would have appeared had he not been so afflicted.


The tragic part of his story is that he was a gentle, intelligent and learned man, who did not respond with aggression to those who treated him aggressively, and whose true character was only revealed by Sir Frederick Treves - the surgeon who, incidentally, also safely removed Edward VII's appendix shortly before his coronation. Most people who saw Joseph until that time, judged him solely by appearance, and did not make the time to talk with him or to discover who he really was.

Nowadays, in our age of celebrity culture, where some people are famous purely for being famous, and being young(ish) and physically attractive seems sufficient to make a political leader worthy of praise, newspapers regularly publish stories of the doings of people whose sole claim to fame is their appearance, and it is bizarre that they gain a following on social media. Ironically,  Beauty and the Beast has made a big comeback, perhaps because we are tiring of the superficiality of judging solely by appearances and actually listening to what people have to say. Looking at the picture of what Joseph Merrick would have looked like were it not for his condition, it is tragic to think that behind those pensive eyes, was a man who was clearly more beautiful than all those who screamed on seeing him in the freak show. Who were the real freaks?

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