A whole lotta pig

This summer at the State Fair I met a giant from Central New York, no not the Cardiff Giant, but Big Norm of Hubbardsville, NY, the world’s largest known pig. Approximately 1600 pounds, eight feet long and four feet wide, Norm is an unprecedented natural phenomenon. Interestingly, according to his first owner, Robert Peterson, Norm was originally fed no more than the other pigs at his small farm, but grew to tremendous size. Peterson, who long suffered from heart trouble, passed away in 2004 just as the Big Norm phenomenon burst onto the CNY stage. Today, Norm appears at the Fair and can be found on t-shirts, sweatshirts and other apparel and in local and national newspapers.

I must say, that personally seeing Norm is a strange event. At the Fair, they had a sizeable tent that one could enter after paying a dollar. Inside, behind grubby plastic walls were a muddy area and a single, huge pig. This beast was massive, literally comparative to an
American Bison, the largest North American land mammal.

My feelings upon viewing the pig were mixed. For one, this is uber-fair material—I can think of no display more appropriate to the State Fair than a giant pig. At the same time, I find something awkward and mildly disturbing about paying to view living beings, human and animal, on display for their own “freakishness.” We also stopped by to see ‘Tiny Tina,’ who was only something like 30 inches tall; I was even more uncomfortable here, despite the fact that I knew that this was this woman’s job (which she entered willingly) and that many ‘sideshow freaks’ have been proud of their profession over the years. Both Big Norm and Tiny Tina raised difficult questions about normalcy, the boundaries of good taste in entertainment and the commodification of ‘freakishness.’

Perhaps for me the biggest saving grace of Norm were his ties to a specific form of rural living. According to the
Department of Labor, the majority of those engaged in farming in the United States today are part-timers, those who raise a few pigs or chickens or have a farm stand based off of their overgrown gardens/small farms. Norm could not have emerged from an industrial farm that takes no pleasure in the abnormal or exceptional, but attempts to fit all production (living things) into factory-like homogeneity. A fast-growing, big-eating pig would not have survived in those conditions, just like anything that deviates from a strict definition of profitability (though at a buck a head, I’m sure Norm’s current owners are making a killing). Don’t we have a society that at the same time that it claims to celebrate individuality and diversity, instead attempts to homogenize and force our expression into a handful of areas that are easily commodified and sold? I’m thinking about fashion, music, movies, cars, computers and all of the other things that are mass-produced and sold to us so that we can feel unique and special. Norm perhaps reminds us that its possible for a creature to be special and unique without all that effort.

I suppose that in the end I will salute Norm and his kind—the freaks whose existence breaks the norm (no pun intended) and who remind us that life doesn’t always fit into little categories and that for every average size (or average anything), there are always outliers… and that the outlier, the Norm, is as legitimate an expression of that phenomenon (whether it be a pig or a piece of art) as the norm.

-Posted by Jesse
Photo from http://www.worldsbigpig.com/.

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