140 year of Shriners

140 year of Shriners

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

“Why is a creepy clown a bad idea?”

By: Ron Jaffe

President, Fun World Clown Alley, Orlando, Florida

Halloween. It’s the time of the year when scary clowns are lurking everywhere.  As a variation of P.T. Barnum’s famous quote, “clowns are the pegs on which a circus is hung,” scary clowns are the pegs on which a haunted house is hung. They are frequent choices for costume parties, and unlike the other costumed characters, there is something about a scary clown that leaves lasting impressions on the public. Those impressions can dramatically and negatively affect those who rely upon their makeup and clowning to make a living, and they can also affect those who clown for humanitarian causes.
It doesn’t matter how talented a clown is with her craft or how exquisite her makeup and costume is or how friendly she is. It only takes one creepy-looking clown and bad experience, movie, or image to re-frame someone’s perspective about clowns, and those who have had those bad experiences don’t keep it to themselves. They reinforce their own bias against clowns by saying “I’m scared of clowns“ over and over, almost as if it’s become fashionable to do so.
In society today, people aren’t exposed to clowns frequently like they were in the first half of the 20th century to know how clowns ‘should’ act, so a single bad encounter could turn the person against clowns and clowning for life.   By the 1950s, the American circus was still a staple of American life, and clowns could be found on cereal boxes, bars of soap, shoe advertisements, soft drink labels, school textbooks, magazines and of course, on television.  But as the American circus began to fade with the proliferation of television and other forms of entertainment, so did our exposure to clowns, and two subsequent events would establish the image of scary clowns in our psyche forever.
In 1978, John Wayne Gacy was arrested for the murder of dozens of young people. Gacy was a clown and images of him in his costume were plastered in print and news media for years until his death in 1994.  In 1990, Stephen King’s “IT” came out in the theater and today, “Pennywise” the clown still haunts the memories of those who first saw the film 25 years ago.  But it’s been the subsequent and growing number of scary clown depictions that are making it so hard for traditional clowns to ply their trade today.
At a nursing home where I clown, the old folks who grew up with clowns appreciate the work we do as caring clowns. It’s actually the young CNAs and staff who are the ones who proclaim, “I’m scared of clowns,” and who literally freeze up when we come through even when wearing minimal makeup. This directly affects our ability to help people who are hurting when we have to tippy-toe around the staff, whom we are also there to help. Well-trained clowns in a hospital environment can greatly improve the mood of a patient and floor staff, but not if the patient and staff are fearful of what they feel clowns might represent.
Traditional clowns today, at least in the United States, are constantly exposed to those who proclaim a fear of clowns. But while “coulrophobia” exists, it’s actually quite rare.  For most, it’s merely a conditioned response to clowns that’s been developed and reinforced over time through imagery and repetitive internal and external  dialogue.
Lastly, it’s important to mention that when we speak against evil and scary clowns, we’re not making judgements about the people in costume, we’re only lamenting on the inevitable long-term affects that scary clowns can have on children and adults.

By: Ron Jaffe
President, Fun World Clown Alley, Orlando, Florida
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