Where do you stand on clowns? Were they a childhood delight or fright?
I caught the tail end of a report on National Public Radio today that said a study showed that kids are frightened by clown motifs in hospitals. The source of this report was a study by the University of Sheffield in England.
The results of this study are hardly surprising to me. Although clowns at a distance, like at a circus or at a parade, are tolerable, there’s something unsettling about being face-to-face with someone whose true identity is obscured by impenetrable layers of greasepaint and latex. Apparently others share this feeling. There’s even a name for people with “an abnormal or exaggerated fear of clowns” – coulrophobia.
I don’t know how clowns have come to get such an evil rap. Clarabelle of the Howdy Doody Show (played by Captain Kangaroo himself, Bob Keeshan) seemed pleasant enough. So did Cliffy, Nicky and Scampy, the clowns who shared a ring with hottie bandleader Mary Hartline on Super Circus. And Emmett Kelly, the perpetually sad Weary Willie, once turned down a lucrative movie role that would have required him to play a killer clown.
But bad clowns abound in modern culture. Mass murderer John Wayne Gacy used his clown identity to lure his young victims. The sadistic rowdies of the film Clockwork Orange forever stigmatized the song Singing in the Rain, the notorious Pennywise Gang terrorized kids in Boston and elsewhere in the early 1980s and Krusty the Clown of the Simpsons became a star with his own web page. And where do you suppose the band Insane Clown Posse drew inspiration for its name?
It’s not just clowns, either. Children, who apparently favor more traditionally attired adults, are often frightened by Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and sports team mascots. This has not deterred adults from perpetuating this generally perceived benign rite of passage on their offspring.
Despite their sometimes negative image, most clowns are a hard-working lot, dedicated to providing pleasure to their audiences. There’s even a code of ethics for good clowns. And Bruce “Charlie” Johnson’s essay, What Is a Clown?, presents clowning in its finest light.
Make sure you detail your own “clown experiences” in your own history and use them to shape your hopes and beliefs for future generations.