Printer Friendly

No more rubber hooters and squirting flowers. The clowns are packing chainsaws and have direct lines to hell.

Two clowns, call them Bobo and Harpo, walk out into the ring. Bobo squirts Harpo with his corny old flower. Harpo removes a pole from his sleeve and whacks Bobo over the head, who collapses, flat on his back. We all laugh.

Now picture this. Two people, call them, August and Whitey, walk towards a park bench. August jostles Whitey who spills his coffee on his sleeve. Whitey loses it, pulls a knuckleduster, or some metallic surprise from his jacket, and decks August. We all get nervous, move away quickly and wait for the cops to arrive.

What's the difference? If you need the correct answer, it could be the makeup, or the circus, but the proper answer is that we all laugh at the clowns. Or do we?

Clowns are as old as the hills. They are not just a European phenomenon. Traces of them have been found in ancient Egypt and Indian cultures from the southern part of what is now the USA. The European clown culture rests mainly on two characters, Whiteface', the straight character, and Auguste, the fool. There are variants in character clowns and Commedia dell'Arte, but the traditions are largely formal. They have been entertaining us without much change in their acts for centuries.

But traditions do change from time to time, and one of those changes began a couple of decades ago: the way we portray clowns.

The obvious culprit is Batman's archenemy, The Joker, sowing chaos in whiteface makeup since 1940. Yet a closer look at the Joker shows that he is not really a clown, just a villain. His suave speech bubbles may be witty, but they don't fit the whiteface role, and nothing major happened after his debut, except kids bought more comics. Successful superheroes need great villains, even if the heroes are vigilantes.

Say 'hello' to John Wayne Gacy, businessman, pederast, serial killer and clown. To be fair to professional clowns, Gacy was an amateur clown who performed at children's parties. To be realistic, after his trial and widespread, lurid exposure of his lifestyle, the image of the clown began to change.

After the facts about Gacy emerged, a new breed of clown arose, the 'Evil Clown'. What's the difference now? No more rubber hooters and squirting flowers. The clowns are packing chainsaws and have direct lines to hell. The character is not entirely widespread, but it now seems to be developing more mind share than traditional clowns. You can now see the evil clown in movies, music, comics and professional wrestling: from Rob Zombie movies to hip hop's Insane Clown Posse.

There is a term for fear of clowns, 'coulrophobia'. It seems as if Gacy opened the floodgate, and transformed a phobia of clowns from a curiosity worthy of 'Readers Digest' to a fully fledged cultural phenomenon. Coulrophobia, it seems, is nothing new. Every trip to a circus produces at least one screaming toddler. What made coulrophobia a curiosity is the fact that parents soothed their children when they wigged out on first seeing the clown, lurid makeup, exaggerated features and all. Now that parents are beginning to give expression to their own fears, at least by renting Rob Zombie horror flicks or reading Stephen King's 'It', how long can the clown's traditional role survive?

No doubt, before too long, the character will be incorporated into the pantheon of clowns, and circuses will be age-restricted for violence involving interesting uses of meat hooks.

The next time you see a clown, ask yourself, what would you feel if he joined your queue at your bank or fast food joint?

What's the point of this story? Not much, except an observation on the way that culture's sacred cows change. The first few chords of Beethoven's Fifth have become a rock motif. Bach is freely incorporated in trance variants and other types of electronica.

Sacred cows aren't carved of stone. They amble along to places where the grazing is more fertile, even if it does mean that they have to rapidly evolve and, in the case of clowns, sprout fangs and begin grazing on flesh and fears.
COPYRIGHT 2010 The Namibia Economist
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Offbeat
Author:Mare, Pierre
Publication:Namibia Economist (Windhoek, Namibia)
Date:Nov 19, 2010
Previous Article:SPCA benefits from ambassador initiative programme.
Next Article:Women help fight unemployment.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters