"It's gonna be bad for clowns..."
Spare a thought for the clowning community.
After already weathering the storm of ‘Creepy Clown Sightings’, a viral meme from 2016 that finally passed into the ethers of the Internet, the people who heart and soul goes into the act of acting up face a fresh challenge – It.
The trailer for the forthcoming reboot of Stephen King’s 1986 horror tome was streamed nearly 200m times within a day of its release earlier this month. Seeking to gauge the reaction of the clown community, MEL Magazine spoke to a number of them about their reaction to the new Pennywise, the nefarious clown who stalks a bunch of kids in the Derry, Maine.
“It’s gonna be bad for clowns,” says Guilford Adams, who has been donning a red nose as Gilly for two decades.
Clowns have been pilloried in popular culture as a source of irrational creepiness for decades, with the frights reaching fever pitch with the 1990 release of It. A two-part miniseries, the horror starred Tim curry as Pennywise, a landmark performance in the horror canon, and a leading cause of coulrophobia among many born in the 80s and 90s.
“It’s a dying profession. And the people who do it and scrape together a living having to grapple with the fact that it’s cool and hip not to like clowns,” Adams added.
“The ultimate prick in this is that it’s going to turn young consumers away from an art form that’s sweet and nice and not about the Kardashians and Minecraft.”
Coulrophobia, or the fear of clowns, is not believed to be entirely tied to representations of clowns in pop culture. Beyond movies like It and Poltergeist, psychologists argue that the ‘uncanny valley’ effect may explain why so many people dislike them.
‘Uncanny Valley’ refers to the phenomenon of feeling the heebie-jeebies when encountering something that looks human, but isn’t all quite there. Take for instance the digital renaissance of Audrey Hepburn in the Galaxy chocolate advert – clearly a good likeness to the actress, but not altogether polished enough to appear like the real star.
Some people argue that the distorted shape of clowns, from their massive shoes to painted faces, is enough to create an ‘uncanny valley’ between them and their audience. Furthermore, their make-up may also make it harder to read their facial cues, making us even less trusting because of how strongly we rely on human faces to form social groups.
Another issue presents itself with the unpredictable behaviour of clowns around their audience; in the name of fun, clowns trade in knee-jerk actions, surprising the unsuspecting men and women watching them in ways that could be perceived as unsettling.
As social beings, social anxieties are intensely felt by men and women. Becoming the butt of a clown’s joke, or even the fear of that potential, is enough to send people into an emotional tailspin.
Despite their desire to make the world a brighter place, there is no denying that life is tough for contemporary clowns. The concept of the clown as something frightening is now deeply entrenched in our cultural understanding that it’s arguably the de facto understanding of what a clown is in our consciousness.
For every Coco the Clown, the classic Auguste fooling around with custard pies and buckets of water, there’s a Pennywise, a Joker, a Simpsons’ bed. There’s even John Wayne Gacy, the American serial killer who murdered at least 33 teenage boys and young men in the 1970s, all while raising money for charity dressed as Pogo the Clown.
Like what Jaws did for sharks, the world of entertainment has stoked the flames of anti-funnyman fear, and the new version of It won’t do the community any favours.