Do Clowns Communicate Evil?

Northampton Clown

Northampton’s Anonymous Clown. Photo credit: Joe,

A story has been circulating on social media, “Evil Clown Stalks Northampton, England.”

The story begins, “The sinister clown that has been appearing on Northampton’s streets made another visitation last night. He was pictured in his trademark white make-up and red wig on St Michael’s Road waving forlornly with a clown teddy hanging from his other hand.

USA Today reports similarly, reporting on the clown’s “sinister, silent appearances in various locations.”

But the funny thing is, the clown does not menace people, does not exhibit threatening behavior, and in fact, does not DO anything evil or sinister. He is simply a clown in an unexpected place, who is NOT doing the silly, animated things that clowns often do. Yet he is also NOT doing the dastardly things depicted in Stephen King’s “It” (novel 1986, movie 1990), which features a murderous clown named Pennywise.

But apparently, through his make-up and costume, his “forlorn” demeanor, and his appearance in unexpected places, he is communicating something “evil” and “sinister.”

Fear of clowns is not uncommon. In fact, a word has been coined to label the condition: Coulrophobia. In April 2012, NBC News did a story on it – saying “Symptoms of coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, can include sweating, nausea, feelings of dread, fast heartbeat, crying or screaming, and anger at being placed in a situation where a clown is present.”

People are not afraid of clowns because of Stephen King’s novel, rather the novel was successful in part because of many people’s innate distrust of someone disguised as a clown. Funny that even with huge smiles painted on their faces, many people find clowns scary. Often the smile is thought to be masking something darker, some predatory deceit and malicious intention.

In fact, researchers at the University of Sheffield conducted a study of more than 250 youngsters, ages four to 16, which found that images of clowns were widely disliked by the children. Even some of the oldest children found the images scary. And those clowns were smiling! The purpose of the research study was to learn how best to decorate hospital wings for pediatric patients. Unexpectedly, the children’s reactions to clowns were largely in line with what many adults feel: that clowns – even smiling clowns – are scary. The researchers reported that the children find clowns to be “quite frightening and unknowable.”

Interesting what can be communicated without words or even actions. And how a big grinning smile can be construed as creepy.

Incidentally, the Northampton Chronicle ran an interview with the Clown (who has his own Facebook page), and titled it “World Exclusive: Northampton Clown talks to the Chron about his appearances.” The only insight the brief article offered, however, was to say, “The clown, who wants to keep his real identity anonymous, said: ‘I just wanted to amuse people. Most people enjoy being a bit freaked out and then they can laugh about it afterwards. It’s like watching a horror movie, when people get scared they usually start laughing. Naturally, some people would have been extremely frightened by what they saw, but I hope many are starting to see it as a bit of harmless fun’.”

Judging by the online coverage of the clown and his recent appearances, however, the neighborhood doesn’t seem to see the “harmless fun” in it.

About Wendy L. Goldstein

A career communications professional with a deep interest in communications theory, traditional communication, social media and emerging communications technologies, Wendy L. Goldstein offers public relations, marketing and business communication services through WLG Communication,
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