Monday, August 12, 2013

The Day The Clown Died, Tricksters

What is so terrifying about clowns? Why do they seem to pop up everywhere? Before you dismiss this as a recent phenomenon, or the ICP, take a look at some of this:
Clowns were an intrinsic part of many Native American pantheons, not to mention cosmologies. In fact, the fool is considered a central or pre-figuratively divine member of many pantheons the world over. Only the stolidness of monotheism could destroy such a wide-reaching, trans-cultural element. 
Along with what Joseph Campbell said above, consider,
A masked appearance is noteworthy to the observers because it contrasts with normal appearances. Just this extraordinary aspect of the experience signals that it is symbolic... It is in their genius for portraying the most extraordinary that clowns find their role, and therefor we can see them as masters of religious symbolism. ... Throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries, Native American clowning was reported by outsiders in descriptions that scarcely hid the observers' disapproval of the actions they witnessed. Their use of Latin or English euphemisms to describe the explicit sexual and physical antics of the clowns doubtless reveals as much about their own religious and cultural values as about the Native Americans, (Native American Religions, Sam D. Gill.)
This is yet another function of the clown, to serve as a mirror, and to point out what cannot otherwise be shown to the authority who might otherwise grow to central and strong. In this way it is actually a powerful symbol designed to keep one-sided monotheism from fomenting
This actually seems so embedded in what a clown is that it needn't be intentional. Consider the "Day The Clown Cried," which recently leaked, 

If you're not familiar with it,
The Day the Clown Cried is an unreleased 1972 film directed by and starring Jerry Lewis. The film was met with controversy regarding its premise and content, which features a circus clown who is imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. The Day the Clown Cried has become somewhat infamous among film historians and movie buffs as a film that has never officially been released. (See above for recently leaked scenes.)
What an ill-conceived notion! And yet, how perfectly clown-ish.

There is of course a more sinister side to the clown, which goes far beyond Stephen King's IT,
Even for outsiders, clown antics are outrageously funny so long as they can be observed at a comfortable distance. ... In the matter of this delicate dividing line between humor and fear, clowns are also masters. To be only threatening would greatly limit the impact of clowning, eliminating the subtleties of the humor. Yet to eliminate the element of the fear altogether would be to truncate the symbolic significance of clowning; it would then be mere acting. (Native America Religions, Sam D. Gill.) 
This is something that we took to heart when creating the Gonzomentary, as discussed in this post. (And many thanks to my contributors there for helping me dig up some of this information.)


Real-life versions of clowns turned sinister are not always so funny, as the examples of John Wayne Gacy or Wearie Willie's grandson shows.

Full article here, Coulrophobia and the Trickster, excerpt:


In broad daylight, on the morning of July 15, 2002, three men dressed as clowns entered Brannigan’s Pub, in the center of Manchester (UK). They proceeded to tie up the shop’s manager (who was technically still a trainee) and threaten him with a sawed-off shotgun and a ten-inch blade before exiting the establishment with what the press referred to as “a small amount of money.” They then escaped in a white transit van driven by a fourth party, and were pursued by police through the center of Manchester. The clown gang got into three separate car crashes as they were chased, yet still managed to escape. (1,2)
 “This was a highly organized team, who had obviously spent some time planning this robbery,” said inspector Darren Shenton. All for such a small score, apparently. “The trainee manager who was threatened by the robbers has been left extremely shaken and traumatized…” (1) I’ll bet he was. Armed robbery can unnerve the best of us at times, and it would be particularly terrifying if the manager was one of the many people in the western world who seem to suffer from coulrophobia, which the Phobia Clinic™ defines as a “persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of clowns”(3).
 ut, you might ask, are there really people who are afraid of clowns? Or is it just the latest fashion in neurosis, brought on by consumer inundation with the band ICP (Insane Clown Posse, for those of you who live deep in the forests of Montana), the Spawn comics and other mass-distribution vehicles? Most anybody these days can walk into the nearest Hot Topic™ or go to any of the dozens of internet sites to purchase their own “CAN’T SLEEP, CLOWNS WILL EAT ME™,” T-shirt. On closer examination, however, it seems that many people who suffer from this specific anxiety disorder are middle-aged adults, and one would think they’d have had their formative experiences prior to the above fads, and before Stephen King terrorized America with Pennywise The Dancing Clown in the novel IT and film by the same name.
 “I’m not comfortable in any way looking at them…” says Forest York, 38, parent of three. “It’s a real discomfort and a need to get out of that situation. Just a real irrational discomfort.” York says he remembers being scared by the Town Clown on the Captain Kangaroo show when he was a child. (4) “I just can’t stand it [seeing a clown],” says Regina McCann, 28 year-old mother of two. “I stiffen up, sweat and get goose-bumps. (5) The psychologists who have addressed this topic usually say that this form of phobia probably develops out of some traumatic incident in childhood that in some way associated with a clown. “Kids around two or so are very reactive to a familiar body type with an unfamiliar face,” according to Dr. Ronald Doctor, professor of psychology at California State University, Northridge.(5) This would seem to be a factor for some, like Lisa Weihlmuller, 45, of Arlington, who began fearing clowns around 6 or 7 while at the circus: “ A clown got right up in front of my face, and I could see his beard stubble underneath the clown makeup. He smelled bad and his eyes were weird… He had this smile painted on his face, but he was not smiling. He was yucky. Scary. Freaky. Weird.” (4) The second factor, most of them say, which also accounts for those who have not had a circus-trip or birthday-party gone terribly wrong, is to be found in the representations of evil clowns in mass media and movies, such as those already mentioned.
Finally, is there a place for the clown or trickster archetype in our media now, aside from its sinister aspect? Or has that overtaken its sacred function in a mythos devoid of the sacred?

[Take a Trip with us... Mythos Media.]

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