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From circus acts to violent clowns: The parasite as performer

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With the growing awareness of the contribution of parasites to life, their influences on humans also become clearer. The parasite's footprints can be seen everywhere, in genetics, epidemiology, medicine, history and, as this article clarifies, parasites play a vivid part in our cultural imagination surrounding popular entertainment. Drawing and expanding on Michel Serres' and Enid Welsford's discussions of the parasite as a cultural force, this article explores the line of filiation and interplay between biological parasites, circus arts and their comic emblem, the clown, in different narratives and media. It documents not only fantasies of a collaborative relationship between flea performers and their 'masters', and of the relationship between clowns and parasites, both of which are mischievous 'characters', but also circus-related imaginaries of parasitic remote control.
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Keywords: Michel Serres; biology and arts; clowns and parasites; cultural history of flea circus; parasite and popular entertainment; parasites in culture; parasitology and fiction

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000121807477 Australian National University

Publication date: March 1, 2020

More about this publication?
  • Science permeates contemporary culture at multiple levels, from the technology in our daily lives to our dreams of other worlds in fiction. The Journal of Science & Popular Culture is a peer-reviewed academic publication that seeks to explore the complex and evolving connections between science and global society.

    Working with a distinguished international board, the Journal of Science & Popular Culture aims to create a unique forum in which to analyse, chronicle, and interpret this diverse landscape through original research articles, editorials, book and new media reviews, notes and essays. The journal also provides a site where emerging and established scholars can access salient knowledge and cutting-edge research. Contributions from academics, scientists, communicators, industry professionals, and practitioners with an interest in the science and society interface are invited. Any scholarly approaches or disciplines may be used and the Journal of Science & Popular Culture strongly reinforces interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research, opening up new possibilities for inquiry across and between the humanities and sciences.

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