When I was very little, I went to Appu Ghar--an amusement park in Delhi--all the time, mostly as a weekend treat. They had a food court where you could wind down--well, okay, where the parents could sit down for a bit and the kids could continue running around, screaming. They had this one glass cubicle thing with a mechanical clown in it, holding two plates. You put a two rupee coin in it and the creature would start moving, disconnected laughter coming out of the tearing speakers and rocking back and forth. It was seriously terrifying. And yet, I begged for those coins just so I could see whether I was still scared. I think it was only when I was seven or eight that I managed to watch the whole thing, heart in mouth, and then ran back to my mother yelling, "I’m not scared anymore!"
But it wasn’t all clowns. Clowns at the circus were occasionally funny. I don’t know why Indian circuses always employed dwarves as clowns, but they did. It was only when I revisited the circus as an adult that I saw the whole "clowns are sad when they’re trying to make you happy" thing. There is something pathetic about the way they cavort, something about the fixed vacant smiles, something about not getting any joy out of playing the fool that just makes clowns, if not scary, then just very, very sad.
I remember when I was as old as 12 or 13, hearing disembodied laughter from outside my window and being scared. I don’t know whether it was the laughter or the fact that I didn’t know what they were laughing about, but to this day, it has remained a phobia.
So, why are kids scared of clowns? The article doesn’t specify, so I’ll have to make some assumptions of my own. One, no one likes being laughed at. And clowns seem to be always laughing, therefore, to a child’s mind, it might seem as though the clown is sinisterly laughing at him or her. Two, seeing an adult in what appears to be a fairly ridiculous costume can work two ways. The first, of course, is the planned way--that clowns in their huge shoes and fake noses will be amusing. The second is the unplanned direction it could take, when clowns are basically destroying the image of the adult as someone a child can depend on.
What do the clowns have to say about all this though? Well, they’re not very happy, understandably
Some clowns are still popular. Especially, say the clowns who wrote in after the first article was published, the ones who work in hospitals and so on. I admit, that till I saw the first of the series of Hollywood movies that have come out depicting clowns as evil and scary, I never really thought they were scary (well, except the one in that box). But then, thanks to popular culture, the smiles became from fun-loving to ominous. Clowns, like the butlers, were always the first suspect in thrillers and maybe this did something to alter the perception of them by the public.
I did a little informal survey amongst my friends. Most of them agreed that clowns can be scary--but only sometimes. Sure, a dark and gloomy circus, and someone who was supposed to be your "pal" out to kill you, has immense connotations in most people’s minds. Testing my own scare thresholds I Google image searched clowns and saw in their despondent faces something dark lurking behind the bright make-up.
Have we reached a conclusion here? I say clowns are scary. Some kids say clowns are scary. My friends say clowns are scary. The only people saying clowns aren’t scary are clowns themselves. Maybe it’s time to retire the court jester and bring on someone new. Like a large purple dinosaur. Oh wait, that’s done already.
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