No matter how happily they paint their faces, clowns unsettle us, freak us out, even induce terror.
Why is that?
It begins in childhood. Masks and weird makeup and "made up" people are just unsettling. Children don't have a concept that there is a person under the makeup or mask. To them, what they see is reality. If you can play with a baby doll and feel that it's real, then what do you suppose a clown does to the nervous system?
We have a primitive fear about those whose true face we cannot discern. Even someone like me with facial amnesia, still knows facial cues, even if I can't recall the face when I turn away. If you study the painted face of a clown, you have to wonder if their mouth is really turned up beneath the paint or an angry slit.
It probably doesn't help that popular media has had a field day with our fear....
"It" the Stephen King Miniseries with
Pennywise, the evil clown
"Killer Klowns From Outer Space"
In my huge-content horror short story collection, Don't Go There! (A Flash Horror Anthology) there is a very special clown story in which the question is asked, what if clowns were real beings and not imitators?
Then, there's real-life clowns that we do need to fear. Sometimes the best cover for bad and naughty deeds is behind the most "likable" character that is encouraged to mingle with children.
Case in point - the movie "Clownhouse" was both a horrifying clown portrayal played upon three young boys, but also a breeding ground for a pedophile director.
Victor Salva, the director of the movie "Clownhouse" was convicted of molestation with one of the 12-year-old boys who acted in the movie. Later, he went on to be hired by Disney to direct "Powder" and later became well known for "Jeepers Creepers" and "Jeepers Creepers II." To add creep to creepers, this man is allowed to be in a position of authority around movies that center around young men.
We have reason to believe clowns are disorienting and unsettling. Anyone who paints on a happy face with a tear, or hides the flesh beneath so we don't see the true person behind the character, is disconcerting. Our very interaction as human being involves facial cues and the ability to relate to the person we speak to.
It's a rough road for clowns, they are more often rejected than the creators of joy and laughs, but then there are some clowns that have an age-old appeal and it might just be what they are peddling more than their own personality.
Still, you won't see me buying one of these automatons -