In the Middle Ages, court jesters were demanded to entertain the King. These fools were expected to make the audience, and in particular the King, laugh and failure to do so could result in harsh punishment. Some were actually mutilated at the mouth, to make them appear as if they were smiling all of the time. Sound familiar?
These characters played the fool but there was a dark undercurrent to their entertainment. They often ridiculed the audience, making them feel uncomfortable as they laughed, and they were the only people allowed to poke fun at royalty. They spoke of public rumours, such as the King’s latest mistress, and the truths they joked about were often enough to make the whole audience squirm.
As these entertainers progressed through history, we saw the emergence of circus clowns in the last few hundred years. We were also introduced to mime artists, who paint their faces with clown-type make-up and use their faces and bodies to tell a story, without the use of voice. This is psychologically strange, for we expect to hear a voice, and the often exaggerated sad expressions can make us feel uncomfortable.
Fast-forward to the current day and there has been mass hysteria, as the craze of killer clowns has taken the world by storm. In the weeks leading up to Halloween in 2016, frightening-looking clowns were popping up in random places and scaring the bejesus out of us!
There were reports of clowns standing by the school gates holding a knife, or following children as they walked to school. Some were even chasing people through the woods! It was frightening to read of such strange and menacing activities but then they spread and so did the fear. They started in the USA and spread to Europe, New Zealand, Latin America and Singapore.
It became a very real fear for many people, too frightened to go out in the dark in case they encountered one of these menacing characters. What were their intentions and was there a link between them all? One theory suggested it was a publicity stunt for the new ‘It’ film, something which Stephen King strongly denied and led him to call for a cease on all killer clown activity.
Were these sightings organised or was it simply a case of individuals being enticed by the idea and joining in on their own merit? The unknown simply heightens the fear.
Police forces called for calm and in England made it a public offense to appear in public dressed as a clown, with the intention of frightening people. Some people declined to go trick-or-treating on Halloween, swapping the tradition for staying indoors in case they met a killer clown in the street. In Florida, some trick-or-treaters even went out armed!
We may never understand why this happened but we can at least understand why we are so afraid of clowns.