The History and Psychology of Clowns Being Scary
2013 08 16

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




Related Articles
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

Equinox: Homicide In Kennewick
2014 09 19
Description text from Youtube: One of the most important and controversial archaeological finds ever made, Kennewick Man’s remains were dated to around 7000 BC. Found on the banks of the Colorado River, his facial structure, however, was unanimously reported not to be a Native American by all the scholars who have taken a close look at the remains... The implication ...
The Israeli exception to US foreign policy advocating gay rights
2014 09 19
From an op-ed by James Bamford in the NYTimes on his conversations with Edward Snowden (Israel’s NSA Scandal): Among his most shocking discoveries, he told me, was the fact that the N.S.A. was routinely passing along the private communications of Americans to a large and very secretive Israeli military organization known as Unit 8200. This transfer of intercepts, he said, included ...
Russia to ban Bitcoin by next spring
2014 09 19
RT, an English-language news outlet in Russia, reports that a top official with the Russian government has announced that a law will be passed banning Bitcoin’s exchange into real money by next spring because of Bitcoin’s use by criminals and terrorists. Deputy Finance Minister Aleksey Moiseev said to journalists in Moscow: “People can play with their chips, and they can call them ...
Ingraham to Zuckerberg: Time for Open Borders at Your Mansion
2014 09 19
Talk radio host Laura Ingraham re-iterated her challenge to debate Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and criticized him for securing his property while demanding the US allow illegal immigrants to remain in the country on Monday. “In the end, borders work for these guys. Right, I would not want to be on [Facebook board member] Marc Andreesen’s household staff if ...
MasterCard tests Orwellian national ID card on Nigeria
2014 09 19
The march toward enslaving the world’s population by a handful of globalist statists and corporations continues, with the latest chapter unfolding, of all places, in Nigeria, compliments of MasterCard. According to the website GovtSlaves.info, the credit card giant is rolling out a card in Africa’s most populous country that has the ability to retain all personal, health insurance, tax payment and ...
More News »