There's a fine line between 'celebrating' diversity and just ogling the freaks, and it's hard to give the Freak Shows of the past the benefit of the doubt.
It was a difficult time for people with unusual conditions or disabilities - heck, many don't have it easy even in today's world - and we can only hope that they were given the chance to earn money and travel for themselves rather than just being exploited.
Check out some striking photos of the real Freak Shows and circuses that influenced American Horror Story: Freak Show and decide for yourself...
A Love of Contrast
'Fat & Thin' or 'Short & Tall' were frequent features in the Freak Shows of old. The second image depicts a 1927 shot from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus - 'Major Mite, Smallest Man in the World' and 'Sky High Jack Earl.'
An Ensemble Cast
Just the sheer number of people involved in making even one of these side shows is staggering - no wonder the creators of American Horror Story: Freak Show had so much material to work into their characters!
Questionable Use of Animals
In some senses, seeing an elephant balance on bottles or a kangaroo boxing is 'remarkable' - but given the often dreadful conditions the animals were kept in, it's best that this vintage Freak Show / Circus practice has been left in the past.
An Entire Local Culture as an 'Act'?
Some circuses featured people from cultures different from their own as an 'act!' This photo shows a South Dakota Sioux family on display for the Sarrasani Circus in 1930. A similar fate befell the famous Pocahontas: she was shipped off to be 'displayed' around Europe after her lands were invaded.
Rare Physical Conditions and Genetic Traits
Unzie the Albino and Anita the Living Doll were successful on the carnival scene in the early 20th Century. The bottom photo shows a grown man carrying twins who were actually 36-years-old but appeared younger due to a growth condition.
From contortion to inserting sharp objects into one's face, these are the kinds of acts a modern audience finds more comfortable - despite looking a bit painful! - as they are acts chosen and developed by the performer themselves.