Twin Peaks: The Abby and Brittany Story, Reexamined

(This article was featured in our print issue, which was published on Nov. 10, 2012.)

Can anyone remember the exact moment TLC went from “The Learning Channel” to “modern day freak show with a thin veneer of condescending compassion?” Was it when they started running all those dwarf shows? In any case, while the rest of America gets its cheap laughs in at “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo’s” redneck antics, I’ve been following the network’s other, deeper, more challenging new show: “Abby and Brittany.” You know, the show about the girl with two heads.

Technically they are conjoined twins, two separate people that just happen to share the same body and lower body parts. But let’s be real. Look at them, it’s two heads on one body. I’ll admit I’ve been aware of Abby and Brittany Hensel (hereafter referred to as A head and B head) for some time before the start of this series but their existence still never ceases to amaze me. Who needs unicorns when magic like this is in the real world?

As for the show itself, which wraps up its first season this Tuesday, it’s remarkable how mundane it actually is. Abby and Brittany just go around living their young adult lives. They look for jobs, go on vacation, and hang out with their friends. Theoretically it should be really boring. However, watching all of these normal things be done by such a paranormal person makes the entire show infinitely more fascinating.

When the idea of a two-headed person goes from fiction to fact, naturally boatloads of questions arise. How do they date? Do they really need two different social security numbers? Why do they keep saying the same words at the same time? It’s really creepy. Luckily, the show spends a lot of time solving these mysteries making it a valuable scientific resource if nothing else. For example, it debunked the popular rumor that B head is engaged. However, there are still a few questions left to answer. What happens if she/they start choking? Can the Heimlich maneuver be performed? Not even she/they know.

Okay, I get that this article isn’t necessarily the kindest thing in the world. In fact, it’s one big exercise in gross dehumanization. But what other reaction could a show like this illicit? Enjoying it for what it really is, not a caring look at two girls’ life struggle but an exploitative “good old stare at the freak” is cruel but at least it’s honest. There’s some kind of message in that, right?

“I’m my own kind of person,” said Abigail Hensel, or Brittany Hensel. I honestly don’t remember.

Photo by Jovike, in-text image from TLC

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