Circus clowns perform strictly for laughs and to entertain their audience--heavily loaded with children. Their ridiculous antics deal with the absurdities of everyday life and speak to the human condition. Traditionally, clowns are archetypal figures that appear in many of the world's cultures performing a vital social function--a comical diversion from the stress and strain of everyday life.
Most Baby Boomers remember Clarabell from the Howdy Doody Show and Bozo the Clown who premiered in 1960 with his own cartoon show. The Bozo character was franchised and Bozos starting appearing in large media markets across America. These signature clowns hosted local shows with a live studio audience of screaming kids interspersed between cartoons.
In 1963, weatherman Willard Scott portrayed the first Ronald McDonald, which quickly became the company's trademark mascot. Because of changing times and different sensibilities, McDonald's recently retired Ronald after 45 years of faithful service.
|Pogo/John Wayne Gacy|
Professor Andrew McConnell Stott of the University of Buffalo believes Charles Dickens invented the scary clown in The Pickwick Papers (1836). Dickens describes an off-duty clown who is a alcoholic that destroys himself to make audiences laugh. Dickens made it difficult for his readers to look at clowns without wondering what was going on beneath the makeup.
In Batman comics #1 in 1940, supervillain The Joker debuted as a psychopathic clown with a warped sense of humor. Joker was the archenemy of The Caped Crusader. The 1980s gave rise to the "evil clown" character popularized by Stephen King's novel It (1986). Television clowns like "Homey the Clown" on In Living Color and "Crusty the Clown" on The Simpsons forever changed the way Americans view clowns. In recent years, psychologists have coined the term coulorphobia for the fear of clowns. Movies like Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988), Clownhouse (1989), and the Saw movie franchise (2004) only aggravate the condition.
The great clown scare of 2016 started in August in Green Bay, Wisconsin. With the help of social media and YouTube, Crazy Clowns and Killer Klowns started pranking kids across America causing hysteria among parents and their children. Many schools banned clown costumes at Halloween functions this year.
With this kind of media exposure, today's kids do not have the safe-fun context once associated with clowns. Whether clowning as a profession can survive this recent trend of bad publicity lies with the prevailing public perception. These are complicated times we live in, and Americans are more fearful and cautious of strangers in any guise. Clowns have fallen on hard times.
"What Do the Scary Clowns Want?" New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/16/opinion/sunday/what-do-the-scary-clowns-want.html?_r=0