Why Coulrophobia? Oh My God, It's a Clown! Kill It With Fire!
Everyone knows that clowns are creepy, or at least that clowns are considered creepy now. They weren't always widely feared and didn't always make grown ass men shudder in their presence. Overall, the wide spread fear of colorfully dressed white faced balloon fuckers is a pretty new thing and I can't help but wonder why that is, especially now that we are having a 2016 craze known as "evil clown sightings."
Also, I wanted to add something to the title of this post about how killing clowns with fire is effective, because they have a phobia of fire. Then I immediately wondered, who in the hell doesn't have some kind of phobia of fire? A phobia is described as an extreme irrational fear or aversion to something. Given that, why would a fear of fire be irrational and doesn't everyone have an aversion to it? I mean, unlike dogs, or clowns, or socializing, fire will absolutely fucking kill you if left to its own devices and if it doesn't kill you, it will maim and hurt you. I just find the idea of someone saying "fire scares me" as being deserving of a label like pyrophobia a silly thing. Plus, it gave me a rant and a way of defining what a phobia is without having to be upfront and boring about it.
Now, onto the topic! The rise of the creepy clown has been interesting to witness, I can fully admit that these days, clowns creep me out, and that is totally acceptable and relatable. However, I specifically recall not being scared of them as a child, more than that, I didn't even care about them. They seemed boring and felt like a form of child's entertainment from a bygone era, if a clown showed up at a kid's birthday party in the late 80's and early 90's, kids didn't necessarily run away screaming, they groaned at the lameness of the fucking clown trying to tempt us with endless colored scarfs coming out of their sleeve and their sword shaped balloons. Now, don't get me wrong, I loved sword shaped anything as a kid, they were a great excuse to hit other people with something. I like them as an adult for the same reason, if I'm being honest.
The point is, clowns were not always these culturally acceptable creepy things like they are now, it just sort of happened. It was like the clowns of the world saw their stock falling and decided to re-brand themselves. If they couldn't be loved, they would be feared. If they couldn't be Tom Hanks, they would become Tom Cruise. If they couldn't be Kanye West the musician, they would become Kanye West the person.
It is not exactly outside the realm of possibility, there is still such a thing as a clown college and that means that there is an organization regulating clowns. I'm not saying that it actually happened, just saying that I randomly made up the conspiracy and I like the idea, so I need everyone to believe it and spread it as far and wide as you can! Go internet, go and do my bidding!
When Did It Actually Start Then?
Okay, fine, I'll actually go and find some sort of answer instead of taking the easy way out and making a bunch of shit up. Gah... actually researching, you slave-driver, me.
From the beginning of easily researchable recorded time clowns have always been a part of entertainment, getting their start in stage plays and looking far different than the ones we know of today. Their existence goes back as far as Greek and Roman theater and are referred to as the "rustic fool or Zanni." Generally portrayed as expressive and comedic foils of some kind, and using comedy and lavish costumes to catch the attention of viewers from afar. The clowns we know of today didn't really start coming into play until the 1800's when a performer known as Joseph Grimaldi decided to go white face and act a fool. It is as if he misread the racist queues of the time or was trying to make some sort of grand social statement (he wasn't).
The birthday party clown look wasn't even really a genuine thing until the 1960's when Bozo the Clown premiered on TV. Outside of the Joker from Batman, who was introduced in 1940, there isn't much in the way of evil clowns in popular media until 1980's It. Where in Stephen King wrote about an evil clown that ate children and hunted a group of young friends until they have an underage orgy that is described in great detail and strengthens their bonds as people. That is seriously a thing that happened in the book, not the movie, because Hollywood knew that some changes are necessary.
While mainly an educated guess, it does seem that Stephen King's book was the main influence that started the evil clown archetype in fiction. The idea for this archetype may have also been inspired by John Wayne Gacy, who was best known for his role as Pogo the Clown through the 70's. Oh, and for killing a bunch of teenage boys in gruesome and sexual ways. One could see where Mr. King might have received some of his inspiration, but seriously... Stephen, you could have just not had the orgy thing. They could have all become adults in a different way, like by overcoming fear and killing the beast, that is a traditional coming of age thing to do.
Anyhow, after It, the evil clown became a huge cash cow for horror fans. It may have been easy enough to portray the clown as evil since the dress of a clown was all about exaggerating facial features and body parts, hiding identity behind paint, props, and wigs to give the costumer a sort deformed look. While deformity in this manner can be used in a comedic way (as it had been for around 200 years), some small changes can easily make it horrifying as well. In general, being presented with something recognizably human, but off, is unsettling. That is why virtual people and robots still creep us out, the uncanny valley just fucks with our brains because our brains are sensitive little babies, struggling to come to terms with any new information that seems out of place with its current state of understanding. The brain is silly.
It is amazing how quickly this phobia has grown too, in the mid 1980s Clown Care became a normal practice in hospitals and was famously portrayed in the very loosely based on a true story Robin Williams movie, Patch Adams. Yet, in 2008 the University of Sheffield polled 250 children regarding their feelings on how a hospital should be decorated, and all 250 expressed a strong distaste for clowns, most of which expressing that distaste with genuine fear.
I'm pretty sure that most adults would share those kid's feelings too. It is just fascinating, isn't it? Clowns have been around in some form for 200 years and were considered entertaining, funny, and enjoyable. Then in the matter of a decade, they become a horrifying and phobia worthy phenomena.
Mass media is such a powerful thing, it has changed so much about society in such a short period, and allowed for some wide sweeping cultural changes to take place. Too bad for all those that wanted to grow up and entertain the world in white make-up, a red nose, and crazy colorful clothes that this job has now been relegated to haunted house attractions or French-Canadian acrobatic performances.