Clowns: Our Fascination and Our Fear
By Tiffany Apan
Throughout the ages, many creatures have served as a fascination for our imaginations while terrifying us in the process. Vampires, werewolves, black-eyed children…and clowns. Yes, that seemingly innocuous person making balloon sculptures at many a children’s party. They simultaneously bring joy and terror.
Clowns are a morbid curiosity. They also have a long history, dating back to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. They have long been associated with the term, “rustic fool” and the concept of a circus clown didn’t even arrive until the 19th century. Until then, a clown was typically a “fool” character in theatrical productions. He was often lower class, dressed in a tattered servant’s attire, and often the comedic relief in an otherwise serious plot of a play. But if clowns were meant to bring humor and joy, how did they come to have such a sinister reputation?
There are many different theories, and an article on LiveScience.com suggest that perhaps this is partly due to that even as court jesters their comedy was often quite dark. There is also suggestion of long time association with being quite otherworldly. Some examples include how they seem to be able to cram themselves into a tiny car, twenty at a time before emerging seemingly unaffected by the cramped space. They perform acts of magic and are often unpredictable in their feats and actions. This can evoke strong emotions in different individuals, and sometimes, those emotions are negative ones. Perhaps it is these seemingly supernatural abilities and such unpredictability that gives reason for authors and filmmakers to feature the clown as a malevolent character, even a killer. Many individuals suffer from coulrophobia, or a clinically diagnosed fear of clowns. While this is not the average person, clowns tend to invoke feelings of disconcert among much of the population. Even Stephen King, author of the novel “IT” which features a demonic killer clown, is quoted as saying the clowns can be quite terrifying. According to the LiveScience article (along with a few interviews by King himself):
King admitted that seeing a clown outside of the character’s typical context, such as a circus or a birthday party, could be unnerving — yes, even for him.
“If I saw a clown lurking under a lonely bridge (or peering up at me from a sewer grate, with or without balloons), I’d be scared, too,” King said.
For me, clowns are mainly harmless. But I will also agree with King, in saying that if I saw some random clown standing somewhere in a field, under a bridge, or a street corner, I would be pretty unnerved myself.
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