I’m thinking about clowns today.
My friend’s friend is doing this amazing project where she has to spend an entire year (I think?) living each week according to the schedule of a friend. This week is my friend’s schedule, and he is forcing her to become a clown. I’ve been following her adventures, which are disturbing because they are so clowny. I’ve been thinking about why it is that clowns are so near-universally hated and feared, and yet simultaneously such a ubiquitous cultural phenomenon/image? Clowns are regularly used in marketing as fun, engaging symbols of stuff that is free-spirited and/or good for kids and/or hilarious (ice cream; toys), yet I don’t know a single person in the world who isn’t filled with a real specific sense of dread when encountering a clown. I can’t think of another entity/image that has this extreme of a duality in its cultural perception.
If Crispin Glover has made a video about something, then you know it is terrifying.
Whoa. I highly recommend visiting the wikipedia entry on “clown.”
While wikipedia quotes Peter Berger as saying that “it seems plausible that folly and fools, like religion and magic, meet some deeply rooted needs in human society,” it also goes on to point out that “in slang, ‘being a clown’, such as messing things up or blowing an opportunity is generally considered to be a negative thing.”
The entry goes on to discuss the ancient Greek roots of clowning, the most well-known American clown-types (hobo, tramp and bum), and “Native American clowning.”
“When a clown joins Clowns International in England, which claims to be the oldest clown society in the world, he can register his individual make-up. An eggshell is decorated as a miniature version of the clown’s head and added to the “Egg Gallery” which then acts as sort of clown copyright.”
I love wikipedia so much. I can spend hours surfing through the links on wikipedia. You can start with “The French Revolution” and somehow end up with “vermicompost.”
For example, I present to you the word “Coulrophobia:”
“It can also be said one’s response to a clown might depend on where it is seen. At a circus or a party, a clown is normal and may easily be funny. The same clown knocking on one’s front door at sunset or sitting in a diner (see picture) is more likely to generate fear or distress than laughter or amusement. This effect is summed up in a quote often attributed to actor Lon Chaney, Sr.: “There is nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight.””
(Lon Chaney, Sr. has clearly never seen a production of Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire”—ed.)
“The British arts and music festival Bestival cancelled its planned clown theme in 2006 after many adult ticketholders contacted the organizers expressing a fear of clowns.”
The wikipedia entry on Coulrophobia for some reason fails to mention what is in my opinion a great example that demonstrates many things that are terrifying about clowns, namely, John Wayne Gacy, who famously said “a clown can get away with anything,” which, in his case, was basically true. I mean, if you can rape and murder 32 little kids and stuff them in the crawlspace under your house before anyone even suspects you of anything, I’d say you’d gotten away with something pretty major.
I deleted the rest of this entry because I kept feeling weird about writing so much about serial killers, like it was bad karma or something. I felt like the entry spiraled out of control into a really dark place that I didn’t want to put into the cosmic vibe-o-sphere. I mean, do we really need another blog entry about how scary serial killers are?
For those of you who missed it, I discussed Joyce Carol Oates (not a serial killer (that we know of)), Jeffrey Dahmer, my hatred of Sujan Stevens (which I of course realize is not universally-shared (see comments)), the phenomenon of violent rape in our nation’s prisons, and a New Yorker article about sociopaths I read awhile ago. TOO DARK, and not funny, unlike my very funny entry about September 11th, which, while dark, was mitigated by being very, very funny (now deleted).
Let’s try to keep things a bit more positive from now on. Or at least not just unmitigatedly (?) terrifying. Unless it’s about sharks. Or zombies. That’s more like good, clean fun.