Did you see this article from Smithsonian on The History and Psychology of Clowns Being Scary? That first picture could send you screaming off into the night. Smithsonian didn’t have to tell me that clowns are scary – I’ve been a non-fan, shall we say, all of my life. I kinda liked Emmett Kelley’s Weary Willy when I saw him at the circus when I was a little kid. Was he the clown that swept the spotlight into the corner of the ring and then ‘under the rug’? (Yes, he was, I looked it up!) But it’s all a blur.
And I never did like Clarabelle or Bozo. My sister got to go on the Howdy Doody Show – she won a pair of ice skates – but I didn’t care for that show. I got to go on Buster’s Buddies – no clowns – and I won a Toni Doll. Remember those? Anyway, I knew there had to be an innate reason for my not liking those big red-mouthed clowns. I’ll be darned if I can find a current on-line reference to it, but years ago I read that the wide red mouth evolved from the Renaissance practice of slitting the clown’s mouth to make a wider grin. Gruesome!
I do remember thinking the bit where clowns got stuffed in the tiny car was really stupid. Who knows why – it just struck a sour note in me all those years ago. But the rest of the circus – I loved it! I loved the elephants and the big cats, the high wire acts and the acrobats, and remember the man who balanced on just one finger? Neat stuff. I haven’t been to the circus in eons – the memories will suffice.
Clowns themselves evolved from the motley-dressed court jesters of the Middle Ages who could answer back to anyone, even the king, were given a wide range of freedoms enjoyed by no others, and were often the impetus for change. They were the political commentators of their day. I am a fan of Alan Gordon who has written a wonderful series of mysteries around a jester and The Fools Guild – Thirteenth Night is the first in the series. Never mind sending in the clowns, send in the jesters – they’re no fools, and this world could use quite a few more of them.