There's an odd societal disconnect: Most children are put off by, or actually afraid of clowns; and yet they are frequently featured in entertainment settings such as circuses and street corners. Specifically, an English survey of 250 children between four and sixteen found that most disliked or feared clowns. There's even a term for fear of clowns: coulrophobia. There's even a web site for people who hate clowns:
In our dysphemistic time, one of the few non-offensive put-downs is to describe someone as a clown; and that's not flattery!
I'll have to admit that I was afraid of them as a child; even now my feeling toward clowns or mimes is of the "thanks, but no thanks" kind. Even nowadays, I lower the blinds when I shower lest a clown peek in . . . .
An article in the Smithsonian described 19th century portrayers of clowns as sad and sinister. In the opera, Il Pagliacci a clown is even portrayed as murderous! Now why don't the N.O.P.D. simply arrest guys for dressing like clowns? And then there was the example of John Wayne Gacy, a clown and mass murderer from earlier times!
Obviously, children are not burdened with this negative history regarding clowns; they seem to give a gut reaction of dislike of them. This is possibly an example of the uncanny valley effect. This involves a revulsion that occurs when human features on a person or object look like and move similar to, but not exactly like a natural human being. Wax figures, lifelike models, and other examples that are close to, but not exactly the same as, cause this type of response in some people. We implicitly form schema regarding how people should look and act. On the other hand, people are sometimes socialized otherwise. Clowns and mimes would fit into this paradigm. And I learned one kind of prudence at an early age: stay away from guys wearing makeup!
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