Red noses, colourful baggy costumes, oversized shoes, white facepaint, wigs, bunches of balloons… and evil grins?
It seems that clowns are often portrayed negatively in popular culture. I can think of many more examples of sinister clowns than harmless ones. Maybe the fear of clowns (coulrophobia) has increased because of these associations. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a clown for real (or if I have, I don’t remember) so my experience of clowns is through their presence in films, TV, books and music. Immediately I think of a scary figure with a smile like a knife slash, deathly white makeup and murderous intent. So what is it about the clown that terrifies adults and children alike?
- Clowns’ human identities are hidden beneath exaggerated costumes and makeup.
- A blood-red, extended mouth like a crocodile’s – a fake and dangerous smile.
- The old-fashioned association with circuses, and by extension the power of the ringmaster with his whip.
- They are supposed to be amusing, their antics thrust into our faces as ‘funny’, which has the opposite effect.
- Their status as official pranksters means they can risk getting away with things.
- Trying to gain children’s trust is now a suspicious thing for a stranger to do.
- Clowns might single a person out from the crowd for humiliation disguised as fun.
All this is of course rather bad for actual clowns today, as so many people are scared of them. I imagine the clowning business is not so lucrative as it used to be. Interestingly the ‘clown’ in Shakespeare’s plays was not a silly person in floppy shoes who ran around throwing custard pies. Rather, the clown might pretend to be dim but really he had the worldly wisdom to see things clearly.
The great news for those with coulrophobia is that clowns are not very prevalent in society so the chances of encountering them frequently are not high. You’re unlikely to find them in your house, whereas sufferers of (for example) arachnophobia have it worse.
Anyone out there not scared of clowns? Let me know.