(Don’t watch the above IT trailer. I ain’t joking around)
Let’s get something straight. Clowns are the human version of spiders. They are, in fact, the worst things on the planet. So, when I’m doing my casual Facebook scroll, minding my own business, enjoying the prime-time memes, the last thing I want to see is Pennywise the mother-flipping freaky ass clown hiding in a gutter trying to take a child. IT trailer, I’m looking at you, buddy. Those who fear the makeup-wearing monsters, do not under any circumstance watch that trailer…I haven’t slept for days.
They aren’t funny. I still question their existence. What’s the deal with clowns and why do so many people hate them? In all seriousness, it isn’t called the “I F***king Hate Clowns” Syndrome, it’s scientifically known as coulrophobia and it’s a legit thing. Scientists are linking the hatred and fear of clowns with the idea of a mask. When clowns put on their makeup it changes their identity. The makeup hides who they really are. Their mask makes them uncanny. Familiar while strange. Uncomfortable. Coulrophobia can cause breathing problems, panic attacks, nausea, sweating and genuine distress. It is commonly triggered from a traumatic event in childhood, but is very common in adults. Some report a minimum of 12% of adults in the US suffer from full-blown coulrophobia.
Daily Telegraph writer Olivia Goldhill gives a history of clowning, dating this fear to the medieval jesters. Known for their funky hats, bright clothes and upbeat tempo, jesters were not just there for acts of comic relief. Andrew Stott, an English professor who specialises in clowning culture says that “the medieval fool was continually reminding us of our mortality, our animal nature, of how unreasonable and ridiculous and petty we can be.” Many jesters’ faces were mutilated for the face to appear more unusual and therefore more comical for onlookers.
In Shakespearean texts Stott points out that clowns/ fools are associated with darkness and death and were used to ridicule and undermine our ways of thinking. “They push our understanding to the limits of reason and they do this through joking but also through ridicule.” Shakespeare, I’m guessing, wasn’t a massive fan of these guys either.
Who do we have to thank for the creepy mask? None other than Joey Grimaldi, Britain’s first and most famous clown in the 1800’s. Grimaldi plays right into the idea of a mask hiding an identity. His reality was tragic- his wife died during childbirth and his son at 30 due to alcoholism. But the painted face hid that depressed man.
Researchers looking into this phobia believe movies such as IT, with Pennywise tormenting a group of young children, and Batman with the psychotic Joker, caused a rise in cases of coulrophobia in the 90’s. That killer clown craze that went around last year? Probably half the population’s greatest fear too – I seriously didn’t leave my house. But a serial killer clown tops them all. John Wayne Gacy was found guilty of sexual assaulting and killing 33 young men. He dressed as the clown “Pogo” for children’s parties and events and once said “You know… clowns can get away with murder.” He was notoriously known as the “killer-clown”.
For me, John Connolly’s story “Some Children Wander by Mistake” which follows a 10 year old boy’s visit to the circus and discovers the dark truth of clowns messed me up for life. (Thanks, Mum.) Also, that super lame “scary camp story” about the murderous clown poster did not help my fear, either. Thank you 2007 band camp for that.
So, how about nobody sends anymore damn clowns in. All red balloons are popped. We should never go to the circus, because coulrophobia is no laughing matter.