Evil Clown

pennywise

el colacho

Although clowns are originally comic performers and characterized to humor and entertain people, the image of the evil clown is a development in popular culture, in which the playful trope is rendered disturbing through the use of horror elements and dark humor.

Philosopher Wolfgang M. Zucker points out the similarities between a clown’s appearance and the cultural depictions of demons and other infernal creatures, noting ‘[the clown’s] chalk-white face in which the eyes almost disappear, while the mouth is enlarged to a ghoulish bigness looks like the mask of death.’

The modern archetype of the evil clown has unclear origins; the stock character appeared infrequently during the 19th Century, in such works as Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Hop-Frog,’which is believed by Jack Morgan, of the University of Missouri-Rolla, to draw upon an earlier incident ‘at a masquerade ball,’ in the 14th Century, during which ‘the king and his frivolous party, costumed—in highly flammable materials—as simian creatures, were ignited by a flambeau and incinerated, the King narrowly escaping in the actual case.’ Evil clowns also occupied a small niche in drama, appearing in the 1874 work ‘La femme de Tabarin’ by Catulle Mendès and in Ruggero Leoncavallo’s ‘Pagliacci’ (accused of being a plagiarism of Mendès’ piece), both works featuring murderous clowns as central characters.

Stephen King’s novel ‘It’ is credited with introducing the fear of an evil clown to a modern audience. The trope had become relevant again in the 1980s after the John Wayne Gacy killings. Gacy, an American serial killer and rapist became known as the ‘Killer Clown’ after it was discovered that he performed as ‘Pogo the Clown’ at children’s parties and other events.

The evil clown archetype plays strongly off the sense of dislike caused by inherent elements of coulrophobia (fear of clowns); however, it has been suggested by Joseph Durwin of Trinity University it has an independent position in popular culture, arguing that ‘the concept of evil clowns and the widespread hostility it induces is a cultural phenomenon which transcends just the phobia alone.’ A study by the University of Sheffield concluded ‘that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found them quite frightening and unknowable.’ This may be because of the nature of clowns’ makeup hiding their faces, making them potential threats in disguise; as a psychology professor at California State University, Northridge stated, young children are ‘very reactive to a familiar body type with an unfamiliar face.’ This natural disliking of clowns makes them effective to use in a literary or fictional context, as the antagonistic threat perceived in clowns is desirable in a villainous character.

Cultural critic Mark Dery discussed the postmodern archetype of the evil clown in ‘Cotton Candy Autopsy: Deconstructing Psycho-Killer Clowns’ (a chapter in his cultural critique ‘The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink’). Tracking the image of the demented or deviant clown across popular culture, Dery analyzes Gacy, the obscene clowns of the neo-situationist Cacophony Society, the Joker (of ‘Batman’ Fame), the grotesque art of R.K. Sloane, the sick-funny Bobcat Goldthwaite comedy ‘Shakes the Clown,’ and Pennywise the Dancing Clown from King’s ‘It.’ Using Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque, Jungian and historical writings on the images of the fool in myth and history, and ruminations on the mingling of ecstasy and dread in the Information Age, Dery asserts the evil clown is an icon of our times. Clowns are often depicted as murderous psychopaths at many American haunted houses.

One Comment to “Evil Clown”

  1. they scare me more than anything in the world

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