Sealo the seal boy. Sounds like the kind of name you’d call some kid with a passion for fish and premature whiskers in primary school. This guy, Stanley Berent, lived the dream – dude was born with arms so short that his appendages resembled a pair of flippers. Sounds like he was quite a cool guy, for a seal boy and all.

Good old Sealo was a phocomelus – a condition I came across while reading Phillip K Dick’s classic Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb. In the book one of the main characters is Hoppy Harrington, a tortured little soul consisting of a head, a torso and not much else, who has telekinetic powers and plays a pretty dark, dangerous role. At the time I figured it was just another product of Dick’s feverish imagination, but it turns out that phocomelia is a real affliction. One of the main causes of it is exposure to thalidomide, which was prescribed to pregnant mothers as an anti-nausea drug. I guess while Dick was growing up this was in the news on a fairly regular basis, and it’s the kind of thing that would influence your thinking pretty significantly, so it’s not surprising he wound up including phocomelic characters in a few of his stories.

Another famous seal boy is a dude called Mat Fraser. He actually had a one man show called “Seal Boy”. Honestly, if that was me I reckon I probably would have come up with something more original like “Flipper” or something. Anyways, he came up with a concept called “blacking up” to describe the phenomenon where able-bodied actors play disabled characters in movies and plays (and ballets I guess although I’m not familiar with any ballets about disabled people). The “black” part comes from the old idea of blackface, used in minstrel performances and old Hollywood movies. I definitely prefer watching say Sean Penn play Sam than an actual disabled guy, but then if anyone decides to make a movie about seal boys I’m all for getting some actual phocomeluses to play the parts.

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