Coulrophobia: Fear of Clowns, Seems to Be Common


Coulrophobia: noun; derived from Greek word kolon or kolobathristes; an extreme fear of clowns.
While I do not have symptoms of clinical Coulrophobia, clowns give me the creeps. Upon self analysis, this wasn’t always so, because I liked clowns in my youth. The apprehension apparently comes from the horror films that depicted clowns as evil.
Sinister, murderous clowns were depicted films as early as the 1960s and Stephen King’s novel and later depicted in film, It, probably had much to do with it. I am a fan of Stephen King and have a collection of his books in my personal library in the fiction section. However, generally speaking, I believe that coulrophobia in America may have stemmed from the real life evil clown, John Wayne Gacey, the serial killer that dressed as Pogo the Clown in his search for children, young boys, for exploitation and murder. It was a shocking and much publicized murder case.

The extremely evil Joker of the Batman comic and film series is another murderous and insane villain with a clown-like appearance, the first character depicting evil in Batman comics of 1940. The character was inspired by another character of Gwynplaine from the movie The Man Who Laughs where he is the victim of gypsies who had cut off his lips to make it appear he was always smiling. In the film Batman Beyond, the fellow criminals of the Joker’s gang wear clown masks during robberies. The science fiction film Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) featured human-eating aliens who were dressed as clowns. In an episode of Mona the Vampire, there was a werewolf dressed as clown and became known as a Wereclown. Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights have used the sadistic character Jack the Clown as an icon for sometime, and sadistic, evil looking Halloween costumes can be seen in stores that sell Halloween costumes; however they are not popular because of general public coulrophobia.

An episode in the episode of Masters of Horror, We All Scream for Ice Cream, an ice cream man named Buster dressed like a clown and came back from the dead to obtain revenge. Even an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer revealed that the character Xander Harris had a case of coulrophobia. There is a larger list of evil clowns in pop-culture at the Wikipedia entry Evil Clown.

Wikipedia suggests that coulrophobia can be caused by fear in someone’s mind because facial paint covers recognizable features and paints on facial features of either a smile or frown. It seems that coulrophobia has become so prolific that in the traditional three-day music festival in England called Bestival, in July of 2006, the request for festival attendees was withdrawn to come dressed as clowns because they realized that a high rate of the citizenry suffered from coulrophobia.
At the Wrong Diagnosis website introduces coulrophobia as:

An exaggerated or abnormal fear of clowns. Children are most often affected but teenagers and adults can occasionally be affected as well.

Symptoms and treatments are examined at the site.
Bruce “Charlie” Johnson [Charlie the Juggling Clown]wrote:

Coulrophobia can range from a mild discomfort when confronted by an actual clown to terror of clowns in the abstract.  One day I was picking up some promotional material at a printer.  I was in street clothes, not in make up and costume.  When I introduced myself to the clerk, he said, “Oh, you are the clown.”  The woman behind me in line gasped, and asked, “Are you a clown?”  When I responded that was my profession she said, “Oh, I’m afraid of clowns.”  Then she got out of line and went to the other side of the store and stood looking at the wall until I had left.  I did not look like a clown, but just the knowledge that I sometimes appeared as a clown, was enough to terrorize her so that she could not look at me. … Children around the age of two and three are uncertain around anything unusual that they don’t understand.  At that age they are uncomfortable around fantasy characters like Santa Claus and clowns. Children who love watching Mickey Mouse on television can become terrified when suddenly confronted by a five-foot tall Mickey Mouse at one of the Disney amusement parks. … Children normally outgrow this natural fear unless something happens that traumatizes them at this stage of their development.  It can be an encounter with an untrained clown who does not allow them to become comfortable with them from a distance.  It can be a parent who thrusts a terrified child into Santa’s lap for a Christmas picture.  It can be an encounter with somebody costumed for Halloween.  Any of these kinds of trauma can lock them into a fear of costumed characters which is expressed most often as a fear of clowns.  Frequently the person suffering from this cause of coulrophobia will say they don’t like clowns because they can’t tell who is hidden behind the make up. … Clowns are not the only victims of negative media portrayals.  

I talked to a woman who traces her fear of dentists to the sadistic dentist played by Steve Allen [Martin?] in the movie “Little Shop of Horrors”.  The same film had a masochist character who went to dentists because he enjoyed the pain they cause. The media image of a killer clown was reality in one case, John Wayne Casey. … The true crime book written about him is titled Killer Clown. The reality is that of the millions of people who have performed as clowns over the years, only one of them was a serial killer.  The majority of clowns really do cause enjoyment.

What prompted me to write briefly about clowns and specifically coulrophobia was an article by James Hall, BASS Magazine, who wrote:

Mark Zona is wickedly afraid of clowns. So much so that he has a bumper sticker on the back of his pickup promoting ihateclowns.com. This seems strange, seeing as the “Z-Train” has won the hearts of millions of bass anglers by clowning around while fishing during his ESPN2 television program, The World’s Greatest Fishing Show.

For whatever reason, and probably mostly because of horror story and film writers, clowns, it appears, have gotten a bad reputation.

Thanks to an episode of Twilight Zone (original TV series), those animated toy monkeys that wind up and bang cymbals give me the creeps. Maybe it’s the eyes … maybe I suffer from Mageirocophobia.

I guess people would be afraid of the Cookie Monster if it was depicted as the villain in The Shining instead of the character played by Jack Nicholson.
People like Stephen King (Cujo) and Stanley Kubrick can create phobias from their films.

Stanley Kubrick is a scary looking guy in real life …
Bibliography and Sources
Why Are Clowns Scary?BBC News, Rohrer Finlo, January 16th 2008
Coulrophobia & The Trickster; scholarly paper on Coulrophobia by Joe Durwin
What is Coulrophobia? … Wise Geek
How To Be a Funny ClownYouTube video
History of Clowning … The Clown Museum, International Clown Hall of Fame
Clown HistoryJu Ju Bee the Clown
Clown History … Gum Drop the Clown
History of Clowns … All About Clowns
Scary Clowns … Google
I Hate Clowns … website for people who are afraid or hate clowns.
I Hate Clowns … YouTube video
Coulrophobic Smallies? … John Hall, BASS Magazine
Evil, Evil Clown … website
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