Remember those surreal killing incidents of 2016 by murderous clowns? Yeah, those were a whole other kind of weird. People have been terrified of clowns since long before those crazy killings though – in fact, we aren’t crazy about them either. There’s even a word for people that are really scared of clowns: coulrophobia(this isn’t a real diagnosis, by the way, just a term people came up with). But what is it about clowns that freak people out?
Well, there are theories and even a great deal of research to support these hypotheses, but the general reason for clown panic is a combination of things: portrayal and psychology.
Okay, so the psychological guesses behind why people are scared of clowns has a lot to do with their weirdness and ambiguity that surrounds them. Clowns have painted faces with fixed expressions and usually bulging eyes and creepy smiles. Human beings rely a lot on facial expressions to figure each other out – it just makes us more comfortable with each other, and helps us read one another. So the fact that we can’t figure out what’s going on behind the clown mask is super uncomfortable on a psychological level. Beyond this, though, clowns are supposed to be pranksters and tricksters by their nature, right? Well, people don’t like mischief! It makes us uncomfortable, and mistrustful, so this adds to our subconscious aversion towards clowns.
We’ve established that, on a psychological level, people have good reason to be creeped out by clowns. So it really doesn’t help when authors and filmmakers come up with characters like The Joker from Batman or even creepier yet, the serial killer clown, Pennywise, from Stephen King’s 1986 novel It. The concept of Pennywise the clown is believed to be influenced by a real-life serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who dressed up as a clown and targeted children. He was convicted of 33 murders and executed on May 10, 1994, by lethal injection. Oh, and then in 2016, a load more murderous clowns popped up.
When you look at the facts, it’s no wonder that clowns freak people out. There’s a history of murderous clowns, and creepy portrayals of evil clowns, and well, why do people still have them at birthday parties again? Maybe it’s time to come up with a less creepy mascot of fun.