116th Annual Conference - Bellingham, Washington
Friday, November 9 - Sunday, November 11, 2018

Cultural History II: P. T. Barnum and The Greatest Showman

Session Chair: 
Bill Smith, Western Washington University
Session 2: Friday 3:20 pm – 4:50 pm
Miller Hall 239
Topic Area: 


  1. Katie Weed, Western Washington University
    Recent film reviews suggest that The Greatest Showman's musical bio-pic eclipses the socio-political aspects of disability. Even the power the writers give to circus performers aligns with ableist inspirational models. The musical unquestionably redraws 19th century realities of disability for contemporary audiences, leaving them uninformed of our dark disability heritage.
  2. Cathy McDonald, Western Washington University
    While The Greatest Showman appeases modern tastes for progressive values, it nevertheless reifies an ableist view of bodies and beings outside the norm. Film representations of disability have not come very far from Longmore’s cinematic stereotypes or Barnum’s humbug. The razzle-dazzle continues.
  3. Ashley Le Feat, Western Washington University
    The song “This Is Me,” intended as an anthem for the disabled performers in The Greatest Showman to symbolize their rejection of their freak status, nevertheless belies the history of P.T. Barnum. Instead, the anthem makes a shallow conflation within the narrative between positive representation and entertainment for a modern audience.
Session Cancelled: