Clowns. For some, they are delightful bringers of merriment in a circus setting, the comic relief to cut the tension built by the daredevil feats of acrobats, aerial performers, and jugglers of chainsaw and flames. For others, they are scary figures hidden behind face-paint with possible ulterior motives (which, at the very least, include startling you with the popping of a balloon bosom or squirting you with a trick flower.)
Clowns that Help...
I was talking with a new friend last week who seemed surprised that there are people who do not love clowns. Apparently, he has positive associations of clowns from his childhood, when his Grandpa would send him and his sister off to dreamland with an original mystery story wherein the Wise Old Clown would always be the one to know just what was going on. I had never heard any other accounts of the Wise Old Clown in my literary pursuits, and my subsequent googling of the term came up with some fascinating pathways, including the website of a Teddy Bear running for Parliament.
...and Clowns that Harm
I'm not totally sure where I stand on the continuum of feelings towards clowns. I asserted during the above conversation that clowns kind of freak me out, since I know I would make a good clown and I kind of freak myself out. Despite having a terrifying early childhood experience encountering a giant easter egg with a disembodied clown face at a springtime shopping mall photo shoot, clowns do not raise a feeling of terror in me. I can certainly understand the social conditioning that leads to a fear of clowns (known as coulrophobia) with cultural reference points including Pennywise the Clown from Stephen King's It and John Wayne Gacy's clown disguise, but this doesn't account for the fear of clowns in small children. Some postulations have been made that it is the unfamiliar and unrecognizable face that make clowns untrustworthy or downright terrifying to little ones.
So, if you are afraid of clowns...
...no problem, right? Just don't go to the circus or other places clowns tend to frequent. Unfortunately, it's not always that simple. A few years ago, back in my previous residence of Sarasota, Florida, there was quite an uproar over a fundraiser for Tidewell Hospice. Modeled on Chicago's "Cow Parade," where artists decorated plaster casts of cows to be placed in public places, Sarasota decided to play off of their circus history and make life-size plaster clowns for decoration and public display. There were quite a few vocal citizens who protested, not wanting to be subjected to the objects of their phobias. Alas, their complaints went unheeded, and the clowns themselves became outlets of vandalism and theft. Many of the organizers saw this as an unconscionable affront to their efforts of goodwill in the community, but I don't think that's what the vandals had in mind. They gave fair warning. They were afraid of the clowns. Of course, all things come to an end, and within a few months the "Clowning Around Town" project had come and gone, leaving the good people of Sarasota ready for the next divisive public art installation to come their way.
You can see the clowns hanging out downtown in this photo. There's my previous place of employment in the background to the right! Hi, Selby Library!
There's still some room for Clown Love!
There are some clowns that I genuinely like, however. I much admired the look of a punk clown at a Ringling Bros circus I saw a few years back, who had a nicely styled green shock of hair, plaid pants, and exaggerated boots and braces. I also enjoy the unique movements of the Clowning dance form developed in Compton, California by Tommy the Clown and his dancers The Hip Hop Clowns, which is a predecessor to Krumping - find out more about this scene by watching Rize, a film by David LaChapelle, or check out this video
For Scary Clowns, check out:
The Pilo Family Circus by Will Elliott
A dark, twisted tale set in Brisbane... Australia! Phew!
For Lovable Grumpy Clowns, there's always Krusty!
The Simpsons: The Complete Sixth Season
Season Six includes the episode where Homer goes to Clown College!
For Insane Clowns, check out:
Michelle K. is a Librarian at the Brisbane Library. After much consideration, she's sticking with the advice of Charles Mingus to keep in mind "Don't Be Afraid, the Clown's Afraid, Too."