In my previous entries, we discussed nightmares, and serial killers; now I venture further into deviance. Though I will not be discussing murder, to the dismay of many, clowns are still a source of much fear or are they? We all know someone who is terrified of clowns, just the sight of a clown nose can send them into hysterics.
I’ve seen both sides of this phenomenon. Coulrophobia is the irrational phobia of clowns, a fancy way of saying “I’m terrified by clowns”. The Oxford Dictionary also notes the origin comes from “1980s: from Greek kōlobatheron ‘stilt’ + -phobia”, though the definition and impact have been hotly debated. The image of a clown can be one of several types; circus or carnival, jester, harlequin, mime, or hobo. (I’m sure I’m missing some but these will be the types discussed here.)
The Oxford Dictionary also notes the origin comes from “1980s: from Greek kōlobatheron ‘stilt’ + -phobia”, though the definition and impact have been hotly debated. The image of a clown can be one of several types; circus or carnival, jester, harlequin, mime, or hobo. (I’m sure I’m missing some but these will be the types discussed here.)
I’d like to preface with the fact that I’m neither a psychologist nor an expert on the subject, I’m just very intrigued. I know the subject has been debated and discussed before, I just wanted to put my two cents in about the subject, this subject is fascinating to me.
The circus or carnival clown will be the typical clown that comes to mind, icons of the image with the tradition painted smile and floppy shoes for entertainment. These clowns are the most likely to be funny, ridiculous and act in such a way you can’t help but laugh -hence why they’re there- for entertainment. Jesters and harlequins are more of a testament to historical humiliation as they labeled them as fools to be put forth in front of a king or queen and made to perform. Jesters and harlequins weren’t necessarily dressed in dark or drab clothing but they weren’t the clown we know of today. Mimes aren’t that common anymore, the art dying out as years pass, but they too are considered to be a part of this satirical world of tricksters, dressing in black and white with black and white makeup like the colorful clown, only occasionally accented by colors. Then there’s the hobo, the sad clown we all think of when grabbing our things to run away. Tying a handkerchief to a stick and waiting for a train to pass so we can get swept away. OK, that could have been just me, but clowns to me were sad lonely hobo types. I grew up in Vegas and yet I still considered most clowns to the hobo types. I even grabbed bandana to tie on a stick to run away when I was eight years old.
It’s my opinion that clowns have lost popularity in the century, only recently has the popularity gained any traction. The internet is such a space for most people with paraphilia’s and taboo interests that aren’t expressed by the main stream, that you can find practically anything- I’d like to amend that statement, you can find everything even things you never thought should exist to living in the recesses of the internet. It isn’t even on the dark web, you can find it on a google search most of the time.
We can’t forget the movies, books, and shows that take advantage of this fear. We all know those movies. So why would are we afraid of them? There could be a few reasons as to why they fear clowns. The face being painted obscures and upsets the geometry of the natural face, which can be misleading. It’s difficult to discern their expression because of the trick of sight. When wearing makeup, baggy clothes, a nose, a wig, and other illusions can construe your perception of their intention. Are they happy? Are they going to pull out a knife from that baggy sleeve? You can’t always tell and for those with this phobia the thought barely has time to process before they escalate to panic.
This phobia isn’t entirely baseless, There’s the infamous John Wayne Gacy who dressed as a clown to entertain sick children in the hospital, but as a hobby lured and murdered up to 33 young men and boys. The image of Pogo the clown, his character, was terrifying to look at let alone knowing he murdered young men. Might I add the fact there is no proof he murdered any of the young men while wearing his costume? I think it’s a sensational detail that really sticks out so they can sell the papers and get the most attention for it. He’s an obvious icon, along with the “clown king and queen” of “Batman”; these are all too obvious and too recent.
Historically clowns were presented to royalty to entertain or for royalty to embarrass a peasant. You can imagine that those people that were subjected to poor treated retaliated, that reaction makes sense don’t you think? How long have people been afraid of them?
The idea of clowns being for a younger audience is a newer one.
On the other side of that coin, like everything else, there’s Coulrophilia where the sight of a clown creates the opposite effect where encountering a clown is appealing or erotic. It’s not limited to just clowns, but also to jesters, harlequins, and mimes. The sight of white face paint, red lips and eye shadow, red nose, and various accessories associated with clowns can be the source of excitement.
The phobic will burst into hysterics at the mere thought whereas the ‘philic will be excited by the mere thought. There has been some that state of a clown nature being erotic. The humiliation of it is appealing to them or the mere sight of makeup bringing about a sense of silliness that is inherently sexy to them. It’s probably the same reason we all have our vices, in which certain things and images give us a sense of comfort or excitement.
While the phobia is more common than the paraphilia, both are sensational to highlight. The paraphilia, Coulrophilia, has been on the rise judging by the search results, Pornhub cites a rise, 213%, in the search of clown porn. What about the clown could insight such excitement as opposed to the fear.
I feel like the idea that paraphilia is on the rise over the years is more surprising than the phobia, but I’ve seen weirder.
Coulrophobia is surprisingly not the most common phobia coming in at only 8-12% (depending on the stats you look at) of the population reported being afraid or “phobic” of clowns, the number one phobia is Arachnophobia, not surprisingly. Coulrophilia doesn’t appear to have a clear percentage but judging by my research, it’s more rare than the phobia.
In conclusion, clowns have always been very interesting from their Egyptian counterparts to the French and English appearances to the famed clowns of Barnum and Bailey’s, even to the current day clowns that are few and far between. The point has always been to bring comfort and laughter, but we’re people too.