The History and Psychology of Clowns Being Scary
By Linda Rodriguez McRobbie | Smithsonian
You aren’t alone in your fear of makeup-clad entertainers; people have been frightened by clowns for centuries
There’s a word— albeit one not recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary or any psychology manual— for the excessive fear of clowns: Coulrophobia.
Not a lot of people actually suffer from a debilitating phobia of clowns; a lot more people, however, just don’t like them. Do a Google search for “I hate clowns” and the first hit is ihateclowns.com, a forum for clown-haters that also offers vanity @ihateclowns.com emails. One “I Hate Clowns” Facebook page has just under 480,000 likes. Some circuses have held workshops to help visitors get over their fear of clowns by letting them watch performers transform into their clown persona. In Sarasota, Florida, in 2006, communal loathing for clowns took a criminal turn when dozens of fiberglass clown statues—part of a public art exhibition called "Clowning Around Town" and a nod to the city’s history as a winter haven for traveling circuses—were defaced, their limbs broken, heads lopped off, spray-painted; two were abducted and we can only guess at their sad fates.
Even the people who are supposed to like clowns—children—supposedly don’t. In 2008, a widely reported University of Sheffield, England, survey of 250 children between the ages of four and 16 found that most of the children disliked and even feared images of clowns. The BBC’s report on the study featured a child psychologist who broadly declared, “Very few children like clowns. They are unfamiliar and come from a different era. They don’t look funny, they just look odd.”
But most clowns aren’t trying to be odd. They’re trying to be silly and sweet, fun personified. So the question is, when did the clown, supposedly a jolly figure of innocuous, kid-friendly entertainment, become so weighed down by fear and sadness? When did clowns become so dark?
Maybe they always have been.
Clowns, as pranksters, jesters, jokers, harlequins, and mythologized tricksters have been around for ages. They appear in most cultures—Pygmy clowns made Egyptian pharaohs laugh in 2500 BCE; in ancient imperial China, a court clown called YuSze was, according to the lore, the only guy who could poke holes in Emperor Qin Shih Huang’s plan to paint the Great Wall of China; Hopi Native Americans had a tradition of clown-like characters who interrupted serious dance rituals with ludicrous antics. Ancient Rome’s clown was a stock fool called the stupidus; the court jesters of medieval Europe were a sanctioned way for people under the feudal thumb to laugh at the guys in charge; and well into the 18th and 19th century, the prevailing clown figure of Western Europe and Britain was the pantomime clown, who was a sort of bumbling buffoon.
But clowns have always had a dark side, says David Kiser, director of talent for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. After all, these were characters who reflected a funhouse mirror back on society; academics note that their comedy was often derived from their voracious appetites for food, sex, and drink, and their manic behavior. “So in one way, the clown has always been an impish spirit… as he’s kind of grown up, he’s always been about fun, but part of that fun has been a bit of mischief,” says Kiser.
“Mischief” is one thing; homicidal urges is certainly another. What’s changed about clowns is how that darkness is manifest, argued Andrew McConnell Stott, Dean of Undergraduate Education and an English professor at the University of Buffalo, SUNY.
Read the full article at: smithsonianmag.com
Why the Tomato Was Feared in Europe for More Than 200 Years
Latest Kinect sensors allow games to feed off your fear
Even Atheists Fear the Word ’God’, Study Suggests
The Neuroscience of Fear and Loathing
Psychopathic Kids Don’t Process Fear Very Quickly
Humans Smell Fear, and It’s Contagious
Latest News from our Front Page
UK Police Tell Subjects Not to Harm Their Attackers, Get a Rape Alarm
The latest dispatch from the United Kingdom’s ongoing campaign to eliminate all forms of armed self-defense seems too incredible to be true. Unfortunately, after tracking down the origin of a publicly distributed statement regarding self-defense products on the country’s “Ask the Police” website, we can confirm that British subjects continue to live at the mercy of their potential attackers. Even ...
Activists Plan to Burn American Flags in New York City Ahead of Fourth of July
Burning the flag in Charleston, South Carolina on June 22, 2015
A group calling for the immediate disarmament of the New York Police Department plans to burn American flags in a Brooklyn park on Wednesday, just days before the Fourth of July holiday.
“Disarm NYPD” announced the “Burn the American Flags” event on Facebook, inviting individuals to join the organization at Fort ...
Ruiz: Diversity of New York City languages makes staying involved in kidsâ€™ education difficult for immigrant parents
Immigrant parent seek better translation and interpretation services from the Department of Education at the New York Immigration Coalition.
New Yorkers, who come from every corner of the world, speak 180 languages. Not surprisingly, nearly half of public school students speak a language other than English at home.
This makes life difficult for the city's Department of Education, which, according to federal ...
Ethnic Studies to Become Mandatory in Sacramento Schools by 2016
The fourth most diverse school district in the nation is finally adding an ethnic studies graduation requirementâ€”in 2020.
The Sacramento City Unified School District's Board of Trustees unanimously approved the proposal from its Student Advisory Council on June 4. The proposal will create an ethnic studies pilot program for fall 2016.
In collaboration with community organizations, local university professors and college students, ...
It Begins: New Calls To Strip Churches of Tax Exempt Status After Same-Sex Marriage Ruling
For years conservatives and proponents of religious liberty in America have warned that if same-sex marriage became legal, the left would then pursue revoking the tax exempt status for religious institutions, particularly Christian churches, around the country.
Just days after the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that gay marriage is a constitutional right, progressive activists like Mark Oppenheimer of ...
|More News » |