Welcome to the newest edition of The Why. “Why are clowns less popular now?” you ask? (Actually, today we don’t have room for smarmy commentary so let’s get right to it.)
Mattie Faint, who has been a professional clown for decades, told Tim Adams, of The Guardian: “A lot of people are doing pirates and fairies now. There was a time when I’d do four or five shows a weekend. Not now.”
Unfortunately, times are tough and folks can’t always afford frills. Adams confirms this:
“Many things have affected the clowning business . . . parents don’t want to fork out. Big-top clowning has gone with the demise of the big touring circus. The skills aren’t being passed on. America’s famous ‘clown college’ has closed down.”
People are becoming increasingly afraid of clowns too. Adams agrees: “Children are frightened of clowns; adults, too. A University of Sheffield study of 250 children for a report on hospital design suggested children find clown motifs ‘frightening’ . . .”
The historically-recent killer clowns and the killer clown sub genre of horror movies had a negative impact as well. Adams confirms this:
“Coulrophobia, (the fear of clowns is) a word only coined in the 1980s. (It) took hold after the 1990 film of Stephen King’s novel It, featuring the sadistic clown Pennywise, who preyed on children (King’s novel borrowed some elements from the real-life story of serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who had performed as Pogo the Clown). The stereotype has subsequently been mined by numerous low-budget films.”
Technology and the internet have taken their toll. Adams notes that fear has been “fueled by a series of terrifying YouTube clips of ghoulish clown “pranks” in underground carparks and on deserted roads.”
Professor of English at the University of Buffalo, and historian of the origins of British clown culture, Andrew Stott, believes “darker archetypes of clowns were there from the start.” He notes that “the idea of clowns as children’s entertainers has only been a very small and recent part of the history of clowning” and by phone told The Guardian that clowns were actually “in the Regency and Victorian periods clowning . . . was for an adult audience.”
Adams confirms that the “idea of clowns . . . shadowed by mortal fears” goes back way beyond that. He adds: “In more God-fearing times, perhaps, the idea of children being exposed to both anxiety and comedy was more palatable to parents. Most would think twice now.”
Stott confirms that today people are highly suspicious. He says: “We can’t help having questions as to why an adult man would dress up like that. We associate adults dressing up with sexual fetish. “
He adds: “Who nowadays would put their child in close proximity with people whose motivations you don’t quite understand?” Stott concludes: “I think it’s culturally exhausted, really.”
Why are clowns less popular now? Now you know.
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