They are at it again…nowhere is exempt, the most recent attack a formal dinner at the hallowed ground of Cambridge University, a creepy clown equipped with a machete. Maybe this can be put down to university high jinx…
However…there has been a recent spate of people in the UK, dressing up as clowns, jumping out and trying freak people out. It has been dubbed “the creepy clown craze”. The craze is not only limited to the UK, needless to say creepy clowns have been terrorizing America, clowns in at least 10 different states being sighted, some yelling at people in cars on desolate country roads, and worse besides carrying machetes and knives. Even Stephen King has had to weigh in telling the US to ‘cool the clown hysteria’ after wave of sightings
Horror films, must take some responsibility for this phenomenon, as they are littered with sinister clowns, Pennywise from It, Mr Jingles, Chucky, the killer clowns from outer space to name but a few.
This increasingly prevalent phenomenon has been fueled significantly by a Facebook page which shares photos and videos of the scary sightings. There’s even a label we can use for fear of clowns “coulrophobia”
Of course the primary function of a clown is to make an audience laugh. If we go back to the Middle Ages we discover that of the clown didn’t serve this function, they would pay heavily, meaning they would find themselves mutilated, to make their own smiles permanent. Our normal perception of smiles is usually positive, but constant smiles are unnerving . Clowns date back long before the Middle Ages, according to Dr Richard Talbot “The first recorded description of a clown was of a pygmy-type figure in Ancient Egypt, around 2000 BC”. Historically Britain’s first modern clown was Joseph Grimaldi, who in his time had a massive following, and could be deemed a real star . In the early 1800s, he is accredited with inventing the trademark clown painted white face and red smile. The external image he projected was very different to what was going on in his own head, as he said himself “I am GRIM ALL DAY, but I make you laugh at night.”
Why is it that clowns are so unnerving? In the world we live in, the face is one of the first things we look at. We search constantly for clues, to help us have a sense of how the other person is feeling. With clowns, that’s impossible. As Doctor Talbot puts it “There’s a technical confusion. There’s a painted face which stays static but the facial muscles are still moving underneath, so our brains can’t quite make sense of it.” His idea mirrors an idea Sigmund Freud – the founder of psychoanalysis – called the “uncanny”. It’s when you look at something that’s recognizable but not quite right. And it makes you feel weird.
Clowns primary audience are supposed to be children. Maybe not so much these days but parents used to consider clowns for their children’s birthday parties. However do children like clowns a survey done in 2008, by University of Sheffield, England, discovered of 250 children interviewed between the ages of four and 16 found that most of the children disliked and even feared images of clowns. A child psychologist made the point , “Very few children like clowns. They are unfamiliar and come from a different era. They don’t look funny, they just look odd.”
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