I saw the 2017 version of IT at the theater, and I liked it. Pennywise was creepy as hell, and when he contorts himself out of the dirty refrigerator and does the Ric Flair-strut what self-respecting geek can’t appreciate that? I can’t say that I was ever truly frightened, though. But believe me when I say that I was in the minority; the people around me were scared than a Mutha and it got me wondering...
Why are people afraid of clowns? My first memories of the painted merry-makers are from the circus. They’d spill out of their little cars in unseemly numbers, tricking the audience with pails full of confetti that you thought were going to douse you with water. There was Bozo the Clown that I watched in the morning before school, and Ronald McDonald hocking cheeseburgers with his gang of colorful fast-food friends. I always assumed that clowns were just fun idiots.
I can kind of see the distrust for clowns…the people behind the painted faces having something to hide…but that’s a bit far-fetched. Some females wear too much make-up, but they aren’t feared by society! Unless you’re familiar with the serial killer and rapist, John Wayne Gacy and his penchant for dressing as ‘Pogo the Clown’ when he tortured his victims then why would a person assume that clowns are devious?
The current season of American Horror Story: Cult has an underlying theme of coulrophobia; the fear of clowns, and Sarah Paulson’s character could be considered the targeted age range for such a fear. I never hear any older people say they are afraid of clowns. Since John Wayne Gacy’s reign of terror lasted from 1972-1978, I would suggest that the upper age-range of Americans identifying with coulrophobia peaks at around 45. Some say that the Gacy headline inspired Stephen King’s novel.
From there, the next few decades would make the clown archetype even creepier. The original Poltergeist gave us a good look at a creepy clown doll in 1982. Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a stupid movie from the late 80s, but it's a cult classic nonetheless. It even distorts the circus experience with its macabre humor.
The Joker was always a bad guy, but not at all scary in his early incarnations in the comics or Adam West's classic Batman. But, the clown prince of crime would undergo a chilling transformation in the late 1980s in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. Tim Burton’s Batman would continue to take the clown-prince of crime into darker territory, and let’s not forget Heath Ledger’s deranged-hobo Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight.
Nowadays, maybe I would be scared of clowns if my first depiction of them was a rap group like the Insane Clown Posse, or John Lequizamo's morbidly obese Clown in that stupid Spawn movie. Krusty the Clown’s laugh is rather unsettling, and I can even remember a mischievous Doink the Clown causing ruckus in the WWF back in the day.
Remember the rash of Creepy, Killer Clown sightings back in 2016? A little boy told his mother that two clowns tried to coax him into the woods, and afterwords more creepy clown sightings were reported throughout the country. They definitely helped to ruin the reputation of clowns to little kids everywhere. I'm sure it was just a bunch of jerks copycatting the original story...there are lots of clown scares to be seen on Worldstarhiphop.com.
Movies and the media targeted the poor clowns with negative depictions and psychopathic imagery, and now everyone is scared of clowns because they are told to be. I guess being terrified of buffoons is the ‘it’ thing to do.