"There's nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight." - Lon Chaney Sr
It's National Clown Week, also known as International Clown Week. Celebrated the first week of August, National Clown Week was first proclaimed by President Richard Nixon in 1971 (you cannot make this stuff up).
A worthwhile time to stop and take a look at the state of clowns and coulrophobia as their awkward interrelationship continues to fascinate the western world, as it's been a particularly busy period in the news.
In Guatemala, where in 1994 clowns gathered to burn their uniforms in protest of widespread "phantom clown" rumor-panics which had begun to crop up in South and Central America (after decades of rumbling about in spontaneous unexplained waves in the U.S.), 200 clowns from a dozen countries gathered this past week at the 6th Congress of Latin American Clowns. More AP photos available via Business Insider and NY Daily News (worth it).
As seen in the annual World Clown Association convention in Chicago a few months ago, filtering into the schedules amidst juggling workshops and panels on crowd pleasing magic tricks is the increasing emphasis on, well, "How Not To Be Scary." The Chicago convention even offered a seminar on Posing for Pictures and Working with the Media,” that journalist Leigh Cowart described as "a simmering rally for strategy and solidarity in the face of the current clown PR crisis."
The full-time, professional clowns have been hyper-aware of their changing social dynamic for years, but it seems only recently has it become acceptable to openly acknowledge it in greasepainted circles, and even enter into discussion of how to mitigate the problem, which they can no longer continue to chalk up to Rodney Blackwell and his "I Hate Clowns" merchandising.
Still, while the media may have helped sow panic earlier this year with "revelations" of a shortage of actual card-carrying newcomers to the ranks of traditional clown unions, just take a look at any theatre programs this season from virtually anywhere in the country, and you will find clowns haunting the stages in all manner of artful contexts.
"Any rumors of the demise of clowning are as exaggerated as our big shoes," says Norm Barnhart, of the WCA (Clown of the Year 2007).
Nonetheless, the clown rank and file know they are on the defensive side of a publicity battle that is raging constantly even if rarely noticed, in disparate headlines stretched around the western world. Just in the last ten days, police blotters are colored with reports of clown-costumed robberies in Georgetown, Winnipeg, and Liverpool, along with a knife-wielding clown that evaded responding officers in Issaquah, Washington. Tensions against clowns are high elsewhere as well, judging from recent incidents- Natrona County Sheriffs had to ban a man from the fair grounds after he would not stop chasing a rodeo clown, and vandals struck twice in one week at the American Clown Museum and School in Lake Placid.
[The Media is not without its occasional positive clown story, such as the clowns who rushed to the aid of a fellow clown after a car accident in New Jersey a few days ago.]
Meanwhile, any shortage there may be in circus tents and birthday parties is also appropriately inverse to their prevalence in horror films, which shows no sign of slacking a quarter century after such classics as Clownhouse and Killer Klowns From Outer Space. Not only is New Line continuing work on a biggish-budget two-picture remake of Stephen King's IT, but word came out this week that a major crowdfunding scheme is being launched for a "gritty, disgusting and violent" new film involving "murderous clowns" by Rob Zombie (shocking, yes, I know). Included in the donor rewards for supporting "31," is a clown painting by Zombie, for $2500.
"I've never had a fear of clowns," Zombie opened up on the subject to Rolling Stone. "I find clowns fascinating. On one level, they're very entertaining and on another, they're incredibly repulsive.
Speaking of repulsive...and seemingly at the apex of everything that has gone wrong for clowns at this point in the 21st century, there are the Juggalos... and it has also been an interesting couple of weeks for the Dark Carnival anti-heroes of Insane Clown Posse and their estimated 1 million devoted fans.
Massachusetts law enforcement officials declared that despite their "gang" designation at the federal level, Juggalos as a group are not considered a criminal organization regionally.
This good press was just in time for the annual Gathering of the Juggalos, which was held for the first time in Thornville, Ohio this year after being ousted from its former site in Illinois. While local law enforcement called the event "better than expected," with few significant arrests from the crowd of over 4,500, it was nonetheless the scene of tragedy this year. Kristal Tsosie, 27, was found unresponsive in her tent and died a short time thereafter at Licking Memorial Hospital. No cause of death has yet been established.
The Gathering was not without its upbeat moments, I suppose, and the grueling details of a juggalo/juggalette wedding during the festival are recounted by reporter Drew Ailes in the RiverFront Times, the sickly sweet tale of nuptial rituals sure to make any parent want to commit suicide immediately, if it were their daughter in question.
However off-putting, and generally laughable, one might instinctively find this micro-culture, it cannot be ignored that it contains many of the core attributes of behavioral inversion of The Fool... the deification of profanity, the studied marginality and rigorously self-enforced ostracism, and even scatalogical elements, that have all been a part of clowning traditions since the Zuni first gathered for skits on the Pueblo. [See also: Coulrophobia & The Trickster]
... for Clowns are the contorted mirrors of the normative state of societal madness, a boisterous parade of canaries to its inherent sickness in every age. We should not expect the ornery, alcoholic hobo clowns that once signaled the fears of a Depression-era generation; our Great Depression is a cultural one, its symbolic Devils the perversions that breed of the gutters of apathy and extremism. Today's Evil Clowns are a garish, blood-spattered troupe touring the garish, blood-spattered landscape of our plugged-in Burned Over District....
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