The latest concern here in the United States, aside from who will be our next president, involves “scary clowns.” And this bizarre meme got me thinking about clowndom in its broader expressions.
The current worry comes from people dressing up in sometimes morbid variations of clown attire. It’s not quite so bad as “It,” Stephen King’s 1990 miniseries about a demonic counterfeit.
It, by the way, has been updated lest the current generation be deprived of its arguable glories. The new film is in post-production and is due for release next fall.
Anyway, this film is only one of a legion of movies and cable productions that portray clowns in an ominous light.
So, it appears that the public is primed to expect the worst when people decide to dress up like jesters and do odd things in suspicious places at strange hours.
Expressed that way, there’s no reason people shouldn’t be concerned. After all, one of the most familiar elements of the criminal ensemble is a mask.
I sincerely hope that this fad doesn’t result in any serious problems. However, even if 99 out of 100 people are simply donning the make-up to be silly . . . that still leaves the 1%.
Attitudes Towards Clowns
I’ve never cared much about clowns, one way or the other. I’ve never considered them particularly eerie or entertaining.
I learned listening to the radio this week that I have that in common with Michael Medved.
Medved is a talented radio personality who coincidentally is a renowned film critic. Today, because of this media attention related to these harlequin lurkers, Medved was questioned about his attitude towards clowns.
He shared that he doesn’t particularly care one way or the other, but his family did have a negative experience many years ago. He related how one of his brothers was able to attend a taping of the San Diego expression of the “Bozo the Clown” program. Curiously, the stage for the broadcast was in Tijuana, but that’s another story.
Readers of Medved’s and my generation will immediately know who Bozo was. (To be distinguished from Bonzo, who was tucked into his blankets by President Reagan long ago.)
Returning to the clown . . . it turns out that Medved’s brother was frightened by the appearance of Bozo, and began crying. That drew the immediate attention of the actor in the intimidating suit, who said—probably in a low, threatening whisper, through the façade of the painted smile—“That’s a Bozo no-no . . .” Pretty creepy.
C.S. Lewis and Clowns
It just so happened that it was time for my next blog column. I wondered if there might be some connection I might draw with the Oxford don, or some bit of wisdom I might be able to apply to the subject at hand with minimal logical gymnastics.
It turns out I needn’t have been concerned. Here’s a wonderful description of Lewis, written the year after his death by his close friend, J.R.R. Tolkien.
C.S.L. of course had some oddities and could sometimes be irritating. He was after all and remained an Irishman of Ulster. But he did nothing for effect; he was not a professional clown, but a natural one, when a clown at all.
He was generous-minded, on guard against all prejudices, thought a few were too deep-rooted in his native background to be observed by him.
That his literary opinions were ever dictated by envy (as in the case of T.S. Eliot) is a grotesque calumny. After all it is possible to dislike Eliot with some intensity even if one has no aspirations to poetic laurels oneself.
I like that description of Lewis. As someone who is usually among the first to usher humor into a conversation or situation, I would like to think I might be described in a similar way. Not a “professional clown,” seeking to gain attention and praise. But a “natural one” who promotes laughter, good humor, and emotional health.
Those results are, I assume, the goals of all true clowns.
As for those who work to transform this image of merrymaking into something sinister . . . we can only hope and pray, that the trend exhausts itself soon.
And, at No Extra Cost
If you have never seen Bozo, you owe it to yourself to learn what your parents and grandparents called “entertainment” back in the day! (Trust me, you’ll never be the same.)
17 thoughts on “Dangerous Clowns”
The whole clown thing is so bizarre.
Like your distinction between natural clowns and ones working for money.
Bozo! We also had Cadet Don ( space theme) and Kitirick
Naturally, laughs were easier to come by with less complicated life – and everyone had a sense of humor for fun
Bozo was nationally syndicated, and there may be more of that species. I think that lots of different television markets had their own variations on the theme though.
We moved around, being a USMC family, but two of that sort that I recall were J.P. Patches, a clown in Seattle… and some sort of “pilot” in Boise (there was an Air Force Base nearby). I imagine there were lots of other afternoon shows too.
The only part I really recall enjoying though were the Clutch Cargo cartoons! Never really forgot about it because of that bizarre semi-animated introduction of glorious “synchro-vox” with unmoving characters and human mouths!
Bozo was probably the model for all of them?
CA had one called “Pinkie Lee”…I can stil remember the song, but not much else.
Clutch Cargo – had forgotten that one!
Times were simple, kids demanded less/were more easily pleased and life was fun
Not too sure, and I don’t have the energy (i.e. enthusiasm) to invest much research into the field of clownology, but I think he was the first nationally syndicated version. A local circus may well have preceded him in some markets, but the floodgates probably opened after good old Bozo hit the airwaves…
Having watched that freaky Bozo footage I can see where Stephen King got his inspiration for It.
Well, we do have to factor in that that was recorded half a century ago… but you can tell by the expressions on the kids themselves that they weren’t quite sure what to make of it.
Our parents wanted us to “enjoy” the experience of having a circus in our own home, but… well… what more can I say?
Bozo was definitely a product of another era; can you imagine him having a show today? The kids would probably bully him, lol. Interesting how many of the little boys in the audience were wearing bow ties..Thanks for posting.
That’s true about kids being more obnoxious and prone to bullying… if only we could get them back into bow ties!
Closest thing our modern era could get to Bozo is Krusty the Clown. Quite a paradigm shift. Krusty bears a greater resemblance to the scary clowns than he does to Bozo. Or does he..?
I did detect a tinge of Krusty-like cynacism beneath Bozo’s joyful exterior; when Bozo is directly confronting the kids, he’ll give them a toy then be like “OK, get back to your seat” in this perfunctory, almost weary manner. Maybe it’s that manic joy laid over a let’s-get-this-party-over-with-undertone that makes Bozo so funny to watch as an adult. PS. I enjoyed the part where the Lion makes kids’ names into pictures!!
That’s the same activity my wife and I enjoyed watching. Drawing is a skill I never mastered… although I can surely doodle with the best of them!
I am a self-identified former clown. I worked as a clown for much of the 90s, including a low budget 12 episode Christian outreach show called “Patches and Friends.” I am clown famous.
So this is a bad stretch for people like me!
I wonder if this is a bit of pre-marketing that has gone badly. Stephen King’s IT must be do for re-filming sometime. Perhaps a bit of stunt gagging has overlapped with real criminals.
I watched Bozo when I was a kid. Both of my kids were terrified of clowns when they were young children.
Doesn’t Bozo seem really boring in retrospect? I don’t get any of the good sensation of nostalgia when I watch it.
I think younger people grew up with Bozo cartoons, didn’t they? I guess those viewers aren’t particularly “young” though nowadays.
Sounds like your kids outgrew their fear of clowns. Good. Current events may suggest, though, that we remain a little bit wary of clowns we see out in public… My wife (a high school teacher) just informed me today that the middle school next to their campus had an on campus incident involving a clown costume just this past Friday… and we live in a semi-rural county.
The entertainment media fuels the creepiness of clowns, and, to some degree, we seem to be delighted by it. I’m not sure what’s going on right now, though, with this alleged influx of clown sightings. I’m not convinced that it is entirely legit.
And I share your uncertainty about the current phenomenon. I think a lot of the most recent episodes are kids wanting to be part of a national (international?) fad.
But I’m afraid a few of the people involved are truly sinister, though hopefully not to the Gacy magnitude.
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