Groupthink: It’s Okay to Hate Clowns!

I almost didn’t post this entry because on Thursday, Willow made a post about her dislike of clowns. I want to say right off the bat that this is not in response to that post. I had decided last week to post this entry about clowns for Halloween. I understand why Willow feels the way she does–she has some bad memoriesso she's not the kind of person I’m addressing, okay?

If you perform a Google search on “scared of clowns”, you will get 813,000 results. “I hate clowns” brings 1,090,000 and “clowns should die” harvests a shocking 6,260,000 results. There's even a site dedicated to the hatred of clowns, an anti-clown online community, and a number of similar forums.

What is it you hate or fear about clowns? I’m not talking about a casual dislike of clowns and clowning, or actual, diagnosed clinical coulrophobia (fear of clowns). I’m talking about those of you who say you hate or fear them because it's part of the groupthink. The truth is, we've been programmed to find fearing and hating clowns totally acceptable. Let’s face it. It’s safe. I mean, if you were to say in a group of people that you hated or feared knees (genuphobia), or paper (papyrophobia), they’d look at you a little strangely, or suggest you get help. But say that you hate clowns, or that they terrify you, and everyone breathes a sigh, starts laughing, and echoes, “Me too!”

I understand not liking clowns, but whole websites and forums dedicated solely to spewing violence and venom against them? That, I don't understand. It tells me more about the hater than it does about the clown. It tells me that in some cases, there's more beneath the surface than an unpleasant childhood experience, or a personal disinterest. We can no longer voice that kind of vitriol against race, gender, age, or sexual identification/orientation, so we have to put that somewhere (I guess). Human nature has always demanded a scapegoat, and the clown seems to be it at this time. But clowns are people trying to bring laughter and happiness to our world. They're not cartoons or concepts, they're people.
Throughout the centuries, most cultures have had clowns. A pygmy clown performed as a jester in the court of Pharaoh Dadkeri-Assi during Egypt's Fifth Dynasty, about 2500 b.c.e. Court jesters have performed in China since 1818 b.c.e., and when Cortez conquered the Aztecs in 1520 b.c.e., he discovered Montezuma's court included jesters similar to those in Europe. Most Native American tribes had some kind of clown characters, who played important roles in the social and religious life of the tribe, and in some cases were believed to be able to cure certain diseases.
The fool, or jester, was intended to show the simplest state of a human being--a person without money, social standing, or intellect. With our modern sensibilities, most of us are uncomfortable with the idea of ranking someone because of the misfortunes of birth or circumstance. We like to de-emphasize the differences that separate us from the less fortunate, rather than emphasize them. Things were different in earlier centuries, however. The fool or simpleton was unabashedly mocked and scorned on the one hand, but on the other hand became a vehicle for many profound ironies. In Shakespeare, for example, it's the fool who speaks the most profound truths. A clown acts as a mirror, showing us the hidden parts of our nature that we prefer not to reveal. So you see, it’s not the clown who is hiding something, it's you.

It has been said that our response to a clown might depend on where it is seen. At a circus or a party, a clown is expected, perhaps funny, but the same clown knocking on your door at midnight is more likely to evoke fear rather than amusement. This effect is summed up in a quote by actor Lon Chaney, Sr.: "There is nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight." This may or may not be true, but I've seen paintings of dogs playing poker, and I'm not afraid of or feel any hate for either poker or dogs.

When people tell me they're terrified of clowns, I ask them if they're also afraid of Carnival maskers. What's the difference?

Why do we find this worthy of loathing and fear...

...but find this pretty, even exotic?
I'm not talking about the esthetics,
I'm talking about the absurdity of fear and hate.

Certainly it's not, as some say, about people hiding themselves, or frozen, expressionless faces, because traditionally, clowns over-emphasize these while Carnival masks are expressionless. Talk about hiding something! Who knows what's going on under those masks? With a clown, it's no secret.

In my surfing around anti-clown forums on the web, I was surprised to read so many comments by people who said they hate clowns because "they're fake", "their make-up is weird", and that "they're creepy". Oddly enough, most of these were people who would have no problem watching a Marilyn Manson video, or complimenting each others' facial piercings. And most of them, young toughs whose every other word was "f***" or "Fa**ot" said they were afraid of clowns. Big men. I'll bet it doesn't keep them out of McDonald's.

The fear and loathing of clowns wasn’t so prominent before the slasher movies of the 70s and 80s. With the circus no longer a town’s annual “big” event, kids have seen more of these scary clowns than actual, trained clowns. Hollywood, being what it is, took something innocent and morphed it into a monster, exploiting both clowns and children.

As a final thought, allow me to add that I'm in no way confusing this issue with other kinds of hate and discrimination; I doubt that most people would actually physically attack a clown, refuse to rent to one, or deny a clown a table in a diner. If I decided to go to clown school, I doubt you'd suddenly turn on me. I know that it's not the people who become clowns that bother so many, it's what clowns represent. And that's my real point. To see a clown in a dream, symbolizes absurdity, light-heartedness, vulnerability, and the childish side of your nature. The countenance of the clown is a reflection of your feelings and emotions. Perhaps you fear or hate clowns because you mistrust these things in yourself.


  1. I've never been afraid of clowns. In fact, I've never really had an unhealthy "fear" of anything like that. I don't like the typical things like cockroaches, spiders, and snakes, but I can't even say that I fear those things.

    I tend to think that this fear or hatred of clowns is more like you say, rooted in a fad or "group-think" more than an actual fear. Remember when it was the fad to hate mimes? I never understood that one either.

  2. I have never understood why people fear or even hate clowns. It almost seems that clowns are sacrificed as politically correct victims of modern day witch hunts.

  3. Exactly. Let's look at it this way:

    "I hate ______s. They all must die."

    Fill in the blank with any group of people--a race, a gender, a career choice, etc. It's sanctioned hate. On, the host says,

    "There are people in this world who dress up and act like clowns; I don’t like these people... They are just not nice people. They scare little kids..."

    Could you publicly say that about an other group and get away with it?

  4. And who couldn't love Red Skelton as Freddie the Freeloader (who was in the same school as Emmett Kelly)?

    Clowning is a fine art form - a form of theater, and it has certain rules and techniques just like any other fine art form. I have a tremendous amount of respect for actors who go into this often misunderstood and disrespected form of theater.

    And don't pin clown hatred on scaring little children because Santa Claus scares more little kids every year than any clown!

  5. GREAT Article Steph... very well done!

  6. I don't think about clowns one way or the other, really. Loved Red Skelton, but I've never been a huge fan of clowns in general. One of my favorite really bad campy sci-fi movies is "Killer Klowns from Outer Space".

  7. Clowns are a little scary to me, but hate is way to strong a word for what I feel. I had an artist friend who did a series of marionette paintings where the shadows where the scary part. I think shadows are scarier than clowns. I was frightened one Halloween when I was a child, sick in bed and unable to go out trick or treating, by the shadows that my Lady and the Tramp curtains put in my mind...

  8. I knew there was another I loved - yes, Nettl: Red Skelton as Freddy the Freeloader! Wonderful! Two very endearing clowns!

  9. Red Skelton has always reminded me of my dad, who clowned on the side (lol). In fact, he worked with Red in the days of radio. My dad's "face" (clown character) also was of the itinerant style, much like Freddie the Freeloader, except that he suspended an inner tube to make himself look fat, and he wore big shows. I well remember watching Dad cork his face to look unshaven; he always used to put a little on me, too.

    It was fun growing up with a clown dad!

  10. Big shows... LOL! I meant big SHOES.

  11. The ultra violent make their own labels. Clowns today, whatever tomorrow. You've done a really terrific post here.
    I think there always seems to be a subtext to a clown that's a little icky poo!

  12. The more I hear about your dad, Steph, the more he reminds of my dad. Though my dad wasn't musical, he loved music, and even though he never dressed like a clown, he would sure act like one! He was fun, he was great with kids who loved him (he taught Sunday school at one point before breaking with the church), he was never too tired to get down and play with my brother and me - snow forts, igloos, snowball fights, sledding, skating, bike riding, fishing - you name it, Dad was always there with us. When he died, before the funeral procession headed out, the car passengers had to be doubled up and then quadrupled up, and there were STILL 36 cars in the procession - my dad was well loved. I miss him.

  13. AND hiking! How could I forget that? Dad took me on my first hike when I was 4; he ignited my love of nature and hiking and camping.

  14. Great article! You point out comparisons that I'm sure most people have never considered. To openly voice hatred and ill-will towards any group is generally considered offensive, yet somewhat accepted when that venom is directed towards clowns.

    Have to agree with your assessment that it's a group mentality that has grown the popularity of clown fear more than anything. Too many want to follow and they latch onto whatever it is that pulls a group together.

    No matter how non-sensical that fear might appear.

  15. I can understand and respect a fear of anything or anyone. It's not always rational but the feelings are genuine and not easily controlled. Some leaning and reconditioning needs to take place.

    But the hatred factor.. no matter the recipient is very frightening to me.

  16. Excellent post, Steph. My father was a police officer in the late
    60s and early 70s when it was the fad to hate cops. I defended him tooth and nail.

    I still think clowns are creepy. I don't, however, hate the people behind the costumes.

  17. Like I said, you have a reason to think they're creepy. Some people, however, are just lazy thinkers and fall into group hate too easily.


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