Sep 16

Tears of a Clown

OK, so this is a little bit of a stretch. It involves an unusual phenomenon that started in the 80s and has spread all over the world. It involves seemingly ritualized behavior, spread most likely via some message board, and strikes deep seated reactions. Ultimately, however, it does go back to religious rites.

Creepy Clowns

All over the world, most recently in South Carolina, people see strange clowns walking the street, standing in woods, and generally just hanging around staring. The pehnomena started in the early 80s, no doubt from John Wayne Gacy's arrest and subsequent labeling as the Killer Clown after it was discovered he had performed as Pogo the Clown at children's parties and other events; however, Gacy did not actually commit his crimes while wearing his clown costume. Stephen King's 1986 IT cemented the image of the demented evil clown in popular culture with Pennywise, but they had existed before in everything from a Poe short story to the opera Pagliacci (not to mention the less famous opera it plagiarized) to various depictions of the Batman's Joker.

According to Wikipedia, the urban legend of the phantom clown has spread: "First reported in 1981 in Brookline, Massachusetts, children said that men dressed up as clowns had attempted to lure them into a van.The panic spread throughout the US in the Midwest and Northeast. It resurface in 1985 in Phoenix, Arizona; in 1991 in West Orange, New Jersey;and 1995 in Honduras. Later sightings include Chicago, Illinois, in 2008."

But that is not all. Police in England urged people to just ignore the clowns in 2014. You can even find the top five scariest clowns ranked. Even the Smithsonian has articles about why we find them scary.

So why do we? Lots of ancient cultures have clown like figures in their mythology and religious rites. They represent things like chaos, sex, and death. They show up to remind people that the world does not go according to plan and death waits us all. They were around in ancient Egypt and Greece. At least two native american groups had sacred clowns. They show up in Chinese theater and Buddhist wisdom. The fool is Card Zero in the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck.

Clowns invoke, unconsciously, in us feelings of a loss of control. They represent the fear of the unknown and death and the stranger.

What else is religion for, but to confront those things?

UPDATE: Clowns sited in my home state on the same day this went out!

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