Please, whatever you do, do NOT send in the clowns
Actor Johnny Depp is afraid of clowns. He says it’s because their smiles make it impossible to know “if they are happy or if they’re about to bite your face off”.
There is something irredeemably frightening about evil lurking behind a cheerful smile. This cheery rainbow-striped ski mask is creepy even before you know its back story. It’s as creepy as a clown’s face.
It’s not just the empty eyes or the terrifyingly inane smile (and what it hides); it’s the poisonous lure of the bright colours. This is the mask that Paul Douglas Peters was wearing when he broke into the Pulver family home and strapped a fake collar bomb to 18-year-old Maddie’s neck.
The horror is amplified by the weird juxtaposition of the childishness, the feigned innocence of the colours. It pushes the same buttons as clowns do.
Many people blame Stephen King’s It for their coulrophobia – their fear of clowns. Pennywise was a truly terrifying creature. But King just did what he does best - he successfully harnessed a fear that was already there.
A Sheffield University study of children too young to have seen It (some as young as four) found clowns were universally disliked, “frightening and unknowable”.
A clown face is sufficiently mask-like to make us aware that there is something underneath, something hiding. Something that wants to get close to children, maybe, something that has a different truth to the one it’s telling, like a jester or a fool with ulterior motives. A split identity.
Like the balaclava, it’s the exaggerated features, the false smile. Actor Johnny Depp, who had childhood nightmares about clowns, explained his ongoing fear to The Guardian:
There always seemed to be a darkness lurking just under the surface, a potential for real evil… I guess I am afraid of them because it’s impossible — thanks to their painted-on smiles — to distinguish if they are happy or if they’re about to bite your face off.
Notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy was an amateur clown who entertained sick children. Speaking of sick, he was also a multiple rapist. He eventually became known as the Killer Clown.
And then, of course, there’s The Joker.
Sydney anthropologist and expert on fears and phobias Dr Stephen Juan told the Daily Telegraph that the smile and the colours made the mask more frightening.
“The image of the smiling, possible killer in such a bright mask will be more haunting than if he wore a plain black balaclava,” he said.
“It seems ironic and rather scary to wear a smiling face while performing a criminal act where a person’s life is at risk.”
Clowns. Are you afraid? Or do you think it’s ridiculous?
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