Why are we so scared of clowns?

by Emily Love , Editor

Are you scared of clowns?  You definitely are not the only one. There is a lot of stigma around clowns, especially with Pennywise, the killer clown in the new movie IT Chapter Two. 

Representations of innocence, like dolls, mothers, and clowns become terrifying when they embody evil.

The first clowns were jesters, professional jokers in the 5th – 15th century. The clown we all know and hate are the circus clown that was introduced in the 19th century and have been popular since. 

Circus clowns dress up in big outfits, normally with lots of colors. They wear giant shoes, and drive in little cars, have brightly colored hair and all of their features are over exaggerated. The most obvious feature is their face paint, they wear white paint all over with colors like purple, green, red, yellow or blue for their facial expressions paint. Clowns are the original tricksters. They are “allowed” to do what is social unacceptable–they break taboos.  They pass gas, honk horns, hit, punch and tease.

“I hate all of the makeup that clowns wear. It’s so creepy. And, it makes me even more scared of them. I would say I have a phobia of clowns,” said sophomore Madeline Hull. 

There are terrifying urban legends about clowns, and clowns have appeared all sorts of horror movies. All of the urban legends involve a killer clown, with a scary bloody face and sharp teeth. Most of these legends have the clown going after women. 

As shown in American Horror Story season 4, “Freak Show” there is a scene in Episode 1 one of the most famous urban legends is reenacted.  A couple is having a picnic in a field, and suddenly a clown appears with blood running down his face, makeup a mess and outfit covered in dirt. The clown then stabs the boyfriend to death and kidnaps the girlfriend a tortures her in a clown car. 

The fear of clowns is so common there is a word for it: the 2019 Merriam-Webster added the word coulrophobia. Coulrophobia means, an irrational persistent fear of clowns. 

In a poll on @LHSJournalism Twitter,  9% are “deathly afraid of clowns;” 34% said “don’t come near me.” Nearly half of respondents hate clowns. 

How clowns dress up explains a lot to the audience watching the clown. If they have a soft edges on their facial makeup, they are a lot less terrifying than when their makeup is harsh. For example, Ronald McDonald has soft edges on his painted on red smile, and he does not have super defined eyes. But, Pennywise from IT by Stephen King, has sharp features. Pennywise has sharp triangles near his eyes to define them more, and his smile is not soft.

In history, the serial killer John Wayne Gacy  dressed up like a clown to lure in victims and killed them. What makes this so scary is the fact that clowns are not intended to hurt you, they’re supposed to bring joy. 

The biggest triggering factor of a clown is that people are scared of what lies behind the makeup. Their makeup hides their real facial expressions and identities, which causes fear. 

“I am beyond terrified of clowns. I can’t even look at pictures of them,” senior Yazmine Carballo said. 

But, on a serious note having a phobia (coulrophobia) is nothing to joke about. Some people really cannot handle their fear of clowns. The fear can trigger panic attacks, irregular heartbeats, nausea. Doctors still know little about how to help patients with coulrophobia. 

Since the fear of clowns has escalated so quickly, McDonald’s has retired Ronald the clown.

“I’m not scared of clowns because I know they’re not going to hurt me,” said junior Ashley Baker. 

Although, some people are not afraid of clowns at all. There are friendly clowns who do not cause as much fear, including Ronald McdDonald and Puddles the sad singing clown. These clowns use all the fear eliminating factors, such as subtle facial makeup, a gentle voice, and normally they sponsor something enjoyable. 

This Halloween season remember killer clowns are only in urban legends. Or, at least we hope.