With Andy Muschetti's fabulous new telling of the Stephen King classic IT, fear of clowns is back in the spotlight. After all, IT's main antagonist most often chooses to appear as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, and Bill Skarsgard's performance is deliciously creepy. But now the World Clown Association is blaming the new fright flick for an uptick in clowning cancellations.
This is nothing new. As recently as April, after the new IT trailer premiered, professional clowns were concerned about their already dwindling popularity. Stephen King tweeted out the following:
Before the IT trailer dropped, there was a rash of "evil clown" sightings across the world throughout the end 2016, though many of the "sightings" were unsubstantiated. This wasn't strictly a 2016 problem. As early as 2013, I was reporting on evil clown sightings around the world. In most cases, the clowns would just stand there, sometimes with balloons, staring. For the most part, these clowns were just unsettling. Rarely would they try to attack anyone.
The creepy clown sightings were severe enough that the World Clowning Association felt the need to put out a press release, insisting that the organization believes in "positive, family-friendly entertainment" and in no way supports "evil clowns." WCA president Pam Moody certainly blames Stephen King for the sour press surrounding her profession. "It all started with the original IT. That introduced the concept of this character. It's a science-fiction character. It's not a clown and has nothing to do with pro clowning," she told the Hollywood Reporter.
Before the random evil clowns stalking the streets, there was a renaissance of evil clowns on TV and in movies: American Horror Story, Stitches, Clown, House of 1,000 Corpses, Blood Harvest, Killjoy, and Killer Klowns From Outer Space are just a few examples. Stephen King's IT, published in 1986, and the 1990 TV movie starring Tim Curry as Pennywise, are often cited as the start of the modern evil clown terror, but I think modern evil clowns go back further, and have more realistic roots.
Between 1972 and 1978, John Wayne Gacy terrorized the Chicago area by kidnapping, raping, torturing, and murdering at least 33 teenagers and young men. Gacy was fond of clowns, and created his own clowning character, Pogo the Clown, and performed as Pogo at children's hospitals and birthday parties. He didn't kill his victims while dressed as a clown, but there was a sense of evil in Gacy's clown makeup: He would paint sharp corners around his mouth, unlike most professional clowns, who keep the corners rounded so as not to frighten children. Additionally, while being investigated for the murders, he was noted to have told police detectives that "clowns can get away with murder."
I was born in 1980. I don't personally have coulrophobia (fear of clowns), but I do find them unsettling and generally believe they look evil, regardless of intent. I was never exposed to "family-friendly" clowns as a kid. I never went to the circus, never had a clown-themed birthday party, never watched clowns on television. I don't remember what my first exposure to clowns was, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was Pennywise. Even as of the 1980s, clowning was on its way out. I don't remember clowns ever dropping by Sesame Street; there was no Bozo the Clown on after school. Clowns really do feel like something from a different generation. The extreme makeup is unfamiliar and therefore weird. Many experts point out that children are equally afraid of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, but Santa gives out presents and the Easter Bunny gives you chocolate. Maybe if clowns started handing out lollipops or something, they could improve their reputation?
What is your take on clowns? Harmless goofballs, or demon spawn?