Creepy No More, Clowns Urge

Inside Magic of Attractive Woman in Clown Outfit - Sort ofWith a tip of the Hatlo Hat of Magic to Carl Jones and his always interesting listserve, we read with great interest of the clowns looking to change their perception from “creepy” to “charming.”

We write about clowns and their status in our society with knowledge of John Steinbeck’s caveat, “Writers are a little below clowns and a little above trained seals.”  We take solace in our position above a marine mammal.

The author asserts and we have verified it to be true that until John Wayne Gacy  and Stephen King depicted clowns as evil predators, clowning was accepted in polite society.  Gacy did it in reality and King via his novel IT.

The article notes that clowns perform as clowns to entertain.  Clowns get into show business more for the show than the business.  Like all of us, clowns have feelings and can be hurt when children or adults exhibit fear and not enjoyment.

Paul Kleinberger — who performs as Fuddi Duddy the Clown around Albany, N.Y. — says King’s 1986 novel, “It,” with its evil clown character Pennywise, is blamed by most contemporary clowns for hurting their image.

“Some people say that if it wasn’t for Stephen King, clowns would have an easier time,” Kleinberger told HuffPost Weird News. “I don’t know if that’s the case. I mean, when someone tells me they’re afraid of clowns, I say, ‘Well, I’m afraid of bankers.’

We read Mr. Kleinberger’s retort not as a joke but a profound statement on the inequality our painted brethren and sistern suffer daily.  No doubt most clowns fear bankers and their incessant debt collection calls.

We know that the sizeable banker audience in our readership will object to this characterization.  “Not all bankers are evil.  Some try to help struggling magicians and clowns keep their homes out of foreclosure.”  We suppose statistically, that must be a true statement.  The Law of Large Numbers suggests anything possible will likely happen if one assumes a sufficiently large population of events.

But we are here to debunk the Clown = Creepy meme not defend the one in 10,000 banker or lawyer that may hesitate serving an eviction notice on Christmas day.

Our research confirms that prior to John Wayne Gacy and Stephen King, clowns were accepted as entertainers and not symbols of evil.

We searched American newspapers back to 1800 and it was not until approximately the early 1980s that the media vilified the clown class.

The first celebrity we identified with what the psychiatric set call “coulrophobia” was Johnny Depp.  He was promoting his film “Edward Scissorhands” when he came out and admitted his fear.

Mr. Depp is currently a big star on screens around the globe playing a buffoonish pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.   But in the mid-1980s, he was considered by many to be a “Teen Heart Throb.”

[Yes, we note that the title Teen Heart Throb was loosely bandied about until the International Standards Organization (“ISO”) published its preliminary and final draft for ISO 4246:1994.[1] So technically one cannot say an actor is or is not a Heart Throb in the time between the original ISO 4246:1984 and the revised standard in 1994.

Post 1994, the Heart Throb title had clearly defined elements and criteria. It is a policy of Inside Magic not to opine on matters of ISO standards and qualifications.  We do note, however, that under the more reasonable standards established by American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) and even the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), Johnny Depp would have been considered a “Heart Throb” in 1986 and remained so through December 24, 1990.]

Johnny Depp confessed his fear of clowns in an exclusive article in The Spokesman Review on December 24, 1990. “The teen heart throb remains deathly afraid of clowns; although he has managed to overcome his mysterious childhood fear of John Davidson.”

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition has classified the fear of clowns thusly:

Diagnostic criteria for 300.29 Specific Phobia

A. Marked and persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonable, cued by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation…

… phobic avoidance of situations that may lead to choking, vomiting, or contracting an illness; in children, avoidance of loud sounds or costumed characters)

Reprinted with permission from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth Edition. Copyright 1994 American Psychiatric Association

Chris Lueck is a clown with ample experience with those who claim to be fearful of his type.  He told the reporter for Huffington Post “many clown haters will blame their fears on an incident in their early lives, but he thinks that they were merely conditioned by others to think negatively.

“Here’s a perfect example: I was performing at a birthday party for a one-year-old and it was late in the day when the family wanted to take photos,” Lueck related. “The mom shoves the kid in my face and he starts crying. Mom says, ‘I guess he’s afraid of clowns.

“The grandmother then came up and took the baby and, again, he started crying. She said, ‘I think he needs a nap,’ and I joked, ‘I guess he’s afraid of grandmas.'”


[1] ISO 4246:1994 “Presents a list of cinematographic terms and their definitions which are peculiar to the motion-picture industry. Certain terms which are considered to be closely related to the fundamental terms within pertinent applications are added for information.” See ISO 4246:1994 at ISO site here.

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