Clowns creepy, vic­tims of bad pub­lic­ity.

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - Chicago Tri­bune

Con­fess your great­est pho­bia: A) Spi­ders B) Snakes C) Clowns We can’t pro­vide help to any­one who chooses icky “A” or wrig­gling “B,” be­cause we don’t have space to an­a­lyze arachno­pho­bia or ophid­io­pho­bia. We’re here to dis­cuss your fear of clowns.

You are not alone. Clowns are weird. They’re sup­posed to be good-na­tured and silly but, by de­sign, they are freaks. Just look at the size of those shoes! Clowns mask their fa­cial ap­pear­ance with gar­ish grease paint, frozen over­size smiles and bul­bous red noses. They play the role of trick­sters. They ma­nip­u­late bal­loons. Some are mute. Where do they come from? Who does their hair? No won­der your 4-year-old burst into tears at the cir­cus.

Then came hor­ror writer Stephen King, whose novel, “It,” fea­tures an evil su­per­nat­u­ral clown named Pen­ny­wise. King said he cre­ated Pen­ny­wise af­ter ask­ing him­self, “What scares chil­dren more than any­thing else in the world?” His an­swer: clowns. Pen­ny­wise preys on chil­dren.

The movie ver­sion of “It” is a cur­rent box of­fice hit. That’s bad news for the clown busi­ness, whose jolly owner/op­er­a­tors are cry­ing on the inside. “Peo­ple had school shows and li­brary shows that were can­celed,” Pam Moody, pres­i­dent of the World Clown As­so­ci­a­tion, told The Hol­ly­wood Re­porter, about ris­ing anti-clown sen­ti­ment.

Polls have shown many peo­ple don’t like clowns, or are afraid of them. When two Knox Col­lege re­searchers did a sur­vey to iden­tify the creepi­est pro­fes­sion, clowns topped the list, fol­lowed by taxi­der­mists, sexshop own­ers and fu­neral di­rec­tors. Last year, there was a spate of al­leged creepy-clown sight­ings: peo­ple dressed as clowns jump­ing out of the shad­ows, lurk­ing men­ac­ingly near schools. It was prob­a­bly all just pranks, but even McDon­ald’s side­lined Ron­ald McDon­ald to pro­tect his im­age. Clowns are un­der siege.

The his­tory of clowns pro­vides some im­por­tant con­text that may as­suage fears. Go­ing back to at least an­cient Rome, clown­ing fig­ures were jesters and pranksters who teased the pop­u­lace and spoke im­po­lite truths. “They have al­ways been an am­bigu­ous fig­ure,” Ben­jamin Rad­ford, au­thor of the book “Bad Clowns,” told the BBC. “It’s a mis­take to ask, when did clowns go bad?” In the opera “Pagli­acci” (“Clowns”), Canio the clown kills his wife.

In 20th-cen­tury Amer­ica, clowns went G-rated, be­com­ing en­ter­tain­ers at cir­cuses and birth­day par­ties. They reached the pin­na­cle as beloved celebri­ties such as Bozo the Clown, who en­joyed a long run as host of a chil­dren’s show . ... But the clown fig­ure’s strik­ing di­chotomy be­tween whole­some and strange made the char­ac­ter an ob­vi­ous tar­get to sub­vert in pop cul­ture. The fact that se­rial killer John Wayne Gacy per­formed at par­ties as Pogo the Clown upped the pro­fes­sion’s creepi­ness fac­tor by about a thou­sand.

This sea­son of the FX show “Amer­i­can Hor­ror Story: Cult” fea­tures killer clowns. And don’t forget the Joker char­ac­ter from “Bat­man,” who was es­pe­cially ter­ri­fy­ing when por­trayed by Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight.”

So, the ver­dict on clowns: in­her­ently creepy … or vic­tims of bad pub­lic­ity? A bit of both, we think. Clowns are part of a hal­lowed en­ter­tain­ment tra­di­tion. Clowns can be fun. But they leave some peo­ple feel­ing un­easy. And be es­pe­cially care­ful when one picks up a pie.

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