Ginny, Logan, and I were out walking around our neighborhood on a particularly pleasant evening last week, when I told Logan that he shouldn’t play around the storm drains. When he asked why, as inquisitive three-year-olds are apt to do, I made the off-hand remark that a scary clown lives down there, and he eats children who play too close to the drain. I was obviously drawing a reference to Pennywise the Dancing Clown from Steven King’s novel, It. Now every time we walk down our street, he makes a passing reference to the scary clown who lives down there. I don’t know why I said that, because I wasn’t trying to frighten my son, and he didn’t seem particularly frightened anyhow. But it got me thinking about what we fear, and how those seeds get planted in our psyches in the first place.
I’m terrified of clowns and always have been. I guess some people see them as funny, clumsy, or even cuddly; to me, their forced expressions are grotesque, macabre, and other-worldly. Their acts usually blur the line between cruelty and humor. Moreover, they’re vaguely human, yet somehow detached from reality, and that just scares the bejeezus out of me. I suppose I’d throw mimes, mall Santas, zombies, and drag queens in the same boat, too.
Thanks to the miracle of the Interwebs, I know that I’m not alone; lots of people find clowns downright creepy. It even has a name, Coulrophobia (thanks, Wikipedia), but it still occurs to me that unless a clown personally killed and ate a member of your immediate family, it’s a pretty irrational fear. Nonetheless, I decided to share a list of some of my scariest clown memories:
One of my earliest memories is a very vivid recollection of plastic clown heads and balloons on what I later learned was my second birthday cake. They were those especially creepy ones with the black X’s over their eyes. It’s a wonder that I can still eat cake. Mmm, cake…
Also, anytime I go to a hospital or dentist’s office, I get a mental image of clowns. What’s that all about? Gotta wonder if I was ever subjected to sedation around clown imagery, as I hear that can mess you up. Apparently, clown-themed decor has been pulled from a lot of hospitals in recent years, because a study found it scared the crap out of little kids.
My family lived in Las Vegas for a time in the late 70’s, and one of my other early childhood memories is visiting Circus Circus. For those of you who’ve never seen it, it’s a casino/resort with a family circus attraction, and the sign out front is a landmark of the strip, with a neon logo that features a giant clown. When I returned to Vegas on vacation in 2002 and saw the sign again, it literally sent shivers up my legs and back.
The clown scene in Dumbo still creeps me out. Come to think of it, that whole movie is chock full of pretty horrific imagery, from the elephants and kids that pull on the poor little baby elephant’s ears, to the trippy Technicolor elephant dance that Dumbo sees when he’s drunk, to the sadistic behavior of those ghoulish firefighting clowns. Why do we let our kids watch crap like that? Seriously, you shouldn’t entertain your children with any imagery that would also enhance an LSD trip.
Jerry Godolphin, the guy that Ginny and I hired to photograph our engagement/wedding, had all of this clown paraphernalia in his studio, which seriously creeped me out. On his website, he refers to himself as a “clownographer.” It turns out he’s married to a professional clown, but I still think that’s extremely weird.
Pogo, Pennywise, Evil Clown from Spawn, The Joker, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Insane Clown Posse, even Ronald McDonald. Talk about your nightmare fuel. Can you name one popular clown that doesn’t make you feel just a little uneasy? I fully expect that if there is a hell, it’s an endless hall of funhouse mirrors with a 24/7 raging clown orgy choreographed to blaring pipe organ music.