Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Elephant Man

The horribly deformed fellow above is one Joseph Merrick, born this day 1862 in Leicester, England. This is going to be difficult to explain why Mr. Merrick is a hero. He didn't solve any crimes, he didn't discover anything or anywhere, and he did not play any sport for a team I root for.

What he did is have a deformity that literally turned him into a traveling freak show, and for many years that is how he made his "living." The exact cause of his deformed nature has never really been conclusively determined, and it has been studied quite closely by a lot of people. He was given the nickname "the Elephant Man" by the owner of the freak show with which he spent many years traveling throughout England. There is an 1980 film about Mr. Merrick's life, produced by Mel Brooks of all people, and it is a very sad film. It takes some liberties with the truth, but what film doesn't?

Mr. Merrick eventually wound up at a London hospital, where he was treated by a Dr. Fredrick Treves, and was allowed to live on the hospital grounds for the remainder of his life. Dr. Treves visited him daily, and the two developed quite a close friendship. Good for Dr. Treves, good for him having the ability to look beyond the package and see the prize underneath. Merrick's speech was impaired by his deformity, and he was very difficult to understand, until you got used to it. Dr. Treves became so used to it that he would sometimes act as an "interpreter" for Merrick when people came to visit him. Of course, the way he got to be so good at understanding Merrick was by talking to him. Not gawking at him like he was some sort of fucking animal that should be in a zoo.

I suppose that is where Merrick's heroism comes into play, of all the bad hands that you can be dealt, Merrick's was pretty fucking bad. A lot of us have pretty exteriors, and can get by with just that. Sometimes pretty on the outside is all a person needs for fame and fortune to come calling. For a lot of us, the look test is the first test we give a stranger, and if they fail that test, we move on, and don't give that person a second thought. Don't mistake me, I am sure Merrick was no saint, and could be at times a real dickhead, but if had been dealt his hand, how would you act? If people think you're a monster then it is very easy to act a monster then become a monster. It's called typecasting, and we all do it, whether we mean to or not. Do you know a blonde girl? Does she have "huge tracts of land?" When she does something goofy, do you tell her she's having a "blonde moment?" Sure you do, and I am sure it is all fun and games, but sometimes, deep down in places she doesn't talk about at parties, she is probably a little bit hurt by that comment.

Maybe she shouldn't, or maybe the fat guy whose weight you "tease" him about shouldn't take those comments too seriously, but you never know. Maybe he has been "husky" all of his life, and has been getting stick about it since long before you knew him. Merrick had to hear much worse comments that the majority of us have to take. Through it all he remained the one thing that a lot of us strive for, the one thing that a lot of mental health professionals make a lot of money trying to get people to be, the one thing that all the fucking derision, all the fucking gawking, all the fucking spite, and all the fucking ignorance couldn't take away, he remained a human being.

So, for keeping his humanity when a lot of people just figured him a monster, and remaining human under such difficult conditions, John Merrick (August 5th, 1862-April 11th, 1890, at the age of 27), you are my (360th) hero of the day.

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