Friday, May 22, 2009


A good Friend recently confided that clowns rather than prompting humor or laughter for her are the absolute nadir of repugnance, fear and horror; something to be despised and avoided. Whoa! Then I looked up Coulrophobia, “an abnormal or exaggerated fear of clowns” though that term is not in use by psychiatrists it is applicable to a significant part of our population. It is apparently seated in the fear of an identity hidden, an antagonist, one who would do us harm

Well, my positive perceptions of Clowns heretofore were based on my regular and well anticipated childhood visits to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus while in Rhode Island and their world famous and very happy, mostly slapstick clowns of Clown Alley in mostly kinder and gentler times. The enduring characters created by icons Emmet Kelly, Jr. and his Weary Willie mime and Red Skelton’s eerily similar Freddie the Freeloader cemented those happy feelings and memories for me.

Skelton’s cross-eyed seagulls, Gertrude and Heathcliffe and singing country bumpkin cabdriver character, Clem Kadiddlehopper probably helped defuse any potential negative feelings for me. For me, these are probably two of the funniest men that ever lived. Kelly and Skelton really didn’t hide their identities though they surely exaggerated their personas morphing to hobos. To my Friend, however, both Skelton and Kelly are lumped in with the rest of the clown thugs that capitalize on what is to her no more than a sinister disguise.

If Kelly and Skelton weren’t enough, a daily dose of NBC’s Howdy Doody Show with Howdy Doody, Buffalo Bob and their pal the supposedly mute Clarabelle (the clown not the cow - initially played by Bob Keeshan of Captain Kangaroo fame) who at his most demonic moment squirted the occasional Doodyville resident with his seltzer bottle fixed only positives for me. There was never a menacing persona there that included Chief Thunderthud, head of the Ooragnak tribe (Kangaroo spelled backwards), Mayor Phineas T. Bluster, Dilly Dally, Princess Summerfall Winterspring, and the curious and amazing Flub-a-Dub. It was all na├»ve and funny skits that led to a denouement where the heretofore mute Clarabell the Clown tearfully bids "Goodbye, kids." Yes, I was a home bound member of the Peanut Gallery…

Remember the very funny, adlibbed Kukla, Fran and Ollie show that was more suited for adults than kids? Well, the leader of the puppet pack was the sweet natured and gentle Kukla (photo above) who looked like a clown and was the personification of all that is good. I started watching Kukla, Fran & Ollie and Howdy Doody in 1948 at age five…That was my initiation into Clowndom…

But my Friend has a point as the rules have since changed. Fast forward to the seventies and eighties. We need only remember the campy 1988 MGM sci-fi horror film, Killer Klowns from outer Space? Frankly, I expected a funny parody of the status quo B films of the period and not the seriously bizarre and hideously straight, dark flick that scared the hooey out of me in a couple of scenes and now has even ascended to cult status.

We have been visited in cinema and on paper by other notorious clowns that include:

*The attack clown in Poltergeist (couldn’t sleep for a week)
*The demonic clown from Spawn (the Devil incarnate)
*The Joker in various Batman movies and scores of comic books where most recently in The Dark Knight where the late Australian Health Ledger reinvented himself in a chilling 2008 Academy Award winning performance (Best Supporting Actor) as the maniacal and terrifying “chaos for chaos' sake” Joker that will forever immortalize this incredibly talented actor in this very dark role.
*Pennywise, Stephen King's child devouring clown in It.
*Ronald McDonald (?), Yes, to some- Hello Willard Scott.
*Bozo the Clown. And last but not least,
*Betty Davis as Baby Jane Hudson, well she really looked ghastly and how about that lipstick? Yes, I dreamed about that one too… Scary…

This fear appears to equate normally comical personas into the same company as pure evil icons like the expressionless Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Michael Myers from Halloween or (shudder) Jason Vorhees in Friday the 13th, et al. As a former goaltender I certainly appreciated and gloated over that one…

Most who post on this subject seem to agree that this flows to the persona of that notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy and his Pogo the Clown character. Pure sicko evil… 33 kills…

In England the University of Sheffield in 2008 polled 255 children between the ages of four and sixteen about appropriate decorations for the walls of hospital children’s wards. The study, as reported in the Nursing Standard magazine and on BBC, found that many of the respondents not only disliked the use of clowns, most were scared of them.

As a student of Anthropology I along with good Friend Mike Wilson find strength and wisdom in one of our First Nations the Lakota (Sioux) who revere a sacred clown known as Heyoka - a contrarian or jester who by his actions as teacher helps to define acceptable social mores, practices and behaviors in their society. By drawing attention to critical or even mundane issues they help demonstrate balance and a deeper awareness within their sphere of influence.

Perhaps this whole exercise indicates that the clown is nothing more that a reflection of our society in a “fun-house mirror” begging us to once and forever point a finger and laugh at ourselves lest we take this whole exercise too seriously. That, however, probably isn’t possible for those that harbor a subconscious fear of clowns. Would that these folks could meet good Friend the Hon David Irvine, 26th Baron of Drum and Chief of Clan Irvine and wife Caroline in their red clown noses. If I could write a prescription for the afflicted to be cured I would counsel them to spend just a short time with the delightful David and Caro. If their good humour doesn’t do it, their cullin skink and haggis will do the trick. A cure is guaranteed.

What I do know is that if a clown sinister approaches any of my Friends challenged by this fear they will, most assuredly, be visited by the Straighten-Outer.

Guess that I will have to put off my skin bleaching, hair coloring, botox and lip plumping for now. Guess its time to stop clowning around…


Ned Buxton

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