Evil clown

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For the serial killer who was also known by the nickname "Killer Clown", see John Wayne Gacy. For the wrestler who used to work under the ring name Killer Clown, see Los Psycho Circus. For the landmark outdoor sign Florida in New Jersey, see Evil Clown of Middletown. For the 1988 comedy monster film, see Killer Klowns from Outer Space.

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 of the clown is rendered as disturbing through the use of horror elements and dark humor.

Origins[edit]

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",[1] 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."[2] 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.[3][4]

The modern stock character of the evil clown was popularized by Stephen King's novel It, published in 1986, which became the first to introduce the fear of an evil clown to a modern audience. Another one of the first appearances of the concept is that of John Wayne Gacy, an American serial killer and rapist arrested in 1978, who became known as the Killer Clown after it was discovered he had performed as Pogo the Clown at children's parties and other events; however, Gacy did not actually commit his crimes while wearing his clown costume.[5]

The evil clown archetype plays strongly off the sense of dislike caused it to inherent elements of coulrophobia; however, it has been suggested by Joseph Durwin[6] that the concept of evil clowns 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."[7][8] 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".[9] This natural dislike of clowns makes them effective in a literary or fictional context, as the antagonistic threat perceived in clowns is desirable in a villainous character.

Researcher Ben Radford, who published Bad Clowns[10] in 2016 and is regarded as an expert on the phenomenon,[11] writes that looking throughout history clowns are seen as trickers, fools, and more; however, they always are in control, speak their minds, and can get away with doing so. When writing the book Bad Clowns, Radford found that professional clowns are not generally fond of the bad-clown (or evil-clown) persona. They see them as "the rotten apple in the barrel, whose ugly sight and smell casts suspicion on the rest of them," and do not wish to encourage or propagate coulrophobia. Yet, as Radford discovered, bad clowns have existed throughout history: Harlequin, the King's fool, and Mr. Punch. Radford argues that bad clowns have the "ability to change with the times" and that modern bad clowns have evolved into Internet trolls. They may not wear clown costume but, nevertheless, engage with people for their own amusement, abuse, tease and speak what they think of as the "truth" much like the court jester and "dip clowns" do using "human foibles" against their victims. Radford states that, although bad clowns permeate the media in movies, TV, music, comics, and more, the "good clowns" outnumber the bad ones. Research shows that most people do not fear clowns but actually love them and that bad clowns are "the exception, not the rule."[10]

Interpretations[edit]

The concept of the evil clown is related to the irrational fear of clowns, known as coulrophobia. The cultural critic Mark Dery has theorized 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).[12]

Tracking the image of the demented or deviant clown across popular culture, Dery analyzes the "Pogo the Clown" persona of the serial killer John Wayne 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 Stephen 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.

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".[13]

Urban legends and incidents[edit]

Bad clowns[edit]

Researcher Ben Radford, looking at the phenomenon of bad clowns throughout history, writes that clowns are seen as trickers, fools, and more; however, they always are in control, speak their minds, and can get away with doing so. When writing the book Bad Clowns, Radford found that professional clowns are not generally fond of the bad-clown persona. They see them as "the rotten apple in the barrel, whose ugly sight and smell casts suspicion on the rest of them," and do not wish to encourage or propagate coulrophobia. Yet, as Radford discovered, bad clowns have existed throughout history: Harlequin, the King's fool, and Mr. Punch. Radford argues that bad clowns have the "ability to change with the times" and that modern bad clowns have evolved into Internet trolls. They may not wear clown costume but, nevertheless, engage with people for their own amusement, abuse, tease and speak what they think of as the "truth" much like the court jester and "dip clowns" do using "human foibles" against their victims. Radford states that, although bad clowns permeate the media in movies, TV, music, comics, and more, the "good clowns" outnumber the bad ones. Research shows that most people do not fear clowns but actually love them and that bad clowns are "the exception, not the rule."[10]

Phantom clowns[edit]

The related urban legend of evil clown sightings in real life is known as "phantom clowns".[14] First reported in 1981 in Brookline, Massachusetts, children said that men dressed up as clowns had attempted to lure them into a van.[15] The panic spread throughout the US in the Midwest and Northeast. It resurfaced in 1985 in Phoenix, Arizona; in 1991 in West Orange, New Jersey;[16] and 1995 in Honduras. Later sightings included Chicago, Illinois, in 2008.[15] Explanations for the phenomenon have ranged from Stephen King's book It and the crimes of serial killer John Wayne Gacy,[14] to a moral panic influenced by contemporaneous fears of Satanic ritual abuse.[15] It also shows similarities to the story of the Pied Piper of Hamlin.[16] No adult or police officer has ever seen the evil clowns,[15] though a prankster called the "Northampton Clown" has been cited as a real-life example of an evil clown.[17] Further complaints of evil clown pranksters have been reported in France, the United States and lately in Germany, possibly inspired by American Horror Story: Freak Show.[18]

Murder of Marlene Warren[edit]

On May 26, 1990, in Wellington, Florida, Marlene Warren opened her front door to a brown-eyed clown bearing flowers and balloons. It shot her in the face, drove off in a white Chrysler LeBaron and was never seen again. Her murder remains unsolved.[19]

Clown sightings[edit]

Main article: 2016 clown sightings

In recent years, the "evil clown" phenomenon has been trending and growing. While most of these clown sightings have been harmless, there have been suspicion activities and others have been led to attacks and arrest. In 2013 in England, the Northampton Clown appeared on the scene terrorizing the town. The work of three local filmmakers, Alex Powell, Elliot Simpson and Luke Ubanski, the Northampton clown shares similar looks to Pennywise the Dancing Clown from Stephen King's book, It.[20] Although rumors said that the clown may have a knife, the clown himself denied these rumors through social media.[17] In March 2014, Matteo Moroni from Perugia, Italy, owner of YouTube channel DM Pranks, began dressing up as a killer clown and terrifying unsuspecting passers-by, with his videos racking up hundreds of millions of views.[21]

In 2014, the phenomenon moved to the United States, when the Wasco clown showed up in social media in California. Again this clown would shared similar resemblance to Pennywise. During an interview with the Wasco clown, it was revealed that the social media postings are part of a year-long photography project conducted by his wife.[22] While the original Wasco clown was merely a project and for fun, other copycats also started appear and in some cases with weapons.[23]

In 2015, starting in the summer, clown sightings began to appear again. In late July, a "creepy" clown was seen around a local cemetery in Chicago and terrorizing anyone in the graveyard.[24]

In 2016, the first sighting of the "killer clowns" was in August 19 in Greenville, South Carolina by a little boy who told his mother that two clowns tried to lure him into the woods. After this appeared in the news, the sightings of these clowns spread throughout the country.[25]

Response to evil clowns in media[edit]

In 2014, Clowns of America International responded to the depiction of Twisty on American Horror Story, and evil clowns in media generally. President Glenn Kohlberger said, "Hollywood makes money sensationalizing the norm. They can take any situation no matter how good or pure and turn it into a nightmare. ... We do not support in any way, shape or form any medium that sensationalizes or adds to coulrophobia or 'clown fear.'"[26]

Depictions of evil clowns[edit]

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Poe, Edgar Allan, "Hop-Frog" (1849)
  2. ^ Morgan, Jack (2002). The biology of horror: gothic literature and film. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. pp. 41–42. ISBN 978-0809324712. 
  3. ^ Mendès, Catulle (1904). La femme de Tabarin: Tragi-parade. Librairie Charpentier et Fasquelle. pp. 1–34. 
  4. ^ Dryden, Konrad (2007). Leoncavallo: Life and Works. Plymouth, UK: The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-5880-0. 
  5. ^ Sullivan, Terry; Maiken, Peter T. (2000). Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murders. New York City: Pinnacle. ISBN 0-7860-1422-9. OCLC 156783287. 
  6. ^ Durwin, Joseph (15 November 2004). "Coulrophobia and the Trickster". Trickster's Way. San Antonio: Trinity University. 3 (1). ISSN 1538-9030. Article 4. Retrieved 2 January 2013. 
  7. ^ "Health | Hospital clown images 'too scary'". BBC News. 2008-01-15. Retrieved 2011-07-05. 
  8. ^ Rohrer, Finlo (2008-01-16). "Why are clowns scary?". BBC News. 
  9. ^ "Trinity.edu". Trinity.edu. Retrieved 2011-07-05. 
  10. ^ a b c Radford, Ben (2016). Bad Clowns. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 978-0-8263-5666-6. 
  11. ^ Shone, Colton. "Recent scary clown trend nothing new, expert said". KOB 4. Archived from the original on 2016-10-18. Retrieved 2016-10-20. 
  12. ^ Dery, Mark (1999). The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink. California: Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-3670-2. 
  13. ^ "The Clown as the Lord of Disorder". Theology Today, October 1967. Retrieved 2012-01-02. 
  14. ^ a b Brunvand, Jan Harold (2002). Encyclopedia of Urban Legends. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 313–315. ISBN 9780393323580. 
  15. ^ a b c d Bartholomew, Robert E.; Radford, Benjamin (2011). The Martians Have Landed!: A History of Media-Driven Panics and Hoaxes (Google eBook). McFarland & Company. pp. 105–109. ISBN 9780786486717. 
  16. ^ a b Brunvand, Jan Harold (9 August 1991). "SOMEONE KEEPS SENDING IN THE PHANTOM CLOWNS". Deseret News. Retrieved 19 April 2015. 
  17. ^ a b Squires, John (18 September 2013). "Real Life Evil Clown Terrorizing Town in England!". Dread Central. Retrieved 22 April 2015. 
  18. ^ Howard, Michael (27 October 2014). "France Joins The Creepy Clown Hysteria". Esquire. Retrieved 22 April 2015. 
  19. ^ Mike Folks (May 26, 1992). "Clown Case Still Mystery After 2 Years Woman Gunned Down In Doorway Of Home". Sun Sentinel. Retrieved 5 April 2016. 
  20. ^ Simpson, Connor. "Northampton Solves the Mystery of The Creepy Clown". Retrieved 21 October 2016. 
  21. ^ "Why I am a 'killer clown'". BBC. 25 October 2016. 
  22. ^ "Wasco Clown: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Heavy. 13 October 2014. 
  23. ^ "Menacing clowns in Bakersfield prompt calls to police, one arrest". Los Angeles Times. 10 October 2014. 
  24. ^ "SEE IT: Creepy Chicago clown scales cemetery gate, eerily waves". NY Daily News. 27 July 2015. 
  25. ^ Teague, Matthew (8 October 2016). "Clown sightings: the day the craze began" – via The Guardian. 
  26. ^ Abramovitch, Sam (15 October 2014). "Professional Clown Club Attacks 'American Horror Story' Over Murderous Character". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 16 October 2014. 
  27. ^ Newsstand on-sale date April 25, 1940 per: "The first ad for Batman #1". DC Comics. Retrieved 2006-10-23. [dead link]
  28. ^ King, Stephen (1986). It. New York City: Viking Press. ISBN 0-451-16951-4. 
  29. ^ Andrea Hay (8 August 2016). "'Gags the Green Bay Clown' exposed as viral marketing". 
  30. ^ WBAY, Andrea Hay,. "'Gags' the Green Bay Clown exposed".