by Alex Lee
"Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right..." — "Stuck in the Middle With You" by Stealers Wheel
Clowns are getting a bad rap.
It wasn't always this way. Back in the day — you always know an Old is speaking when you hear that phrase — but back in the day, clowns were everywhere. They were hailed as paragons of comedic genius.
You could see them onstage.
They were in non-horror movies.
They headlined children's television programming.
Parents hired clowns and invited them into their homes for birthday celebrations.
Marketers flocked to them to sell their products.
Entire operas were dedicated to the clown.
Where did it all go so wrong?
The popularity of new-age acrobatic performances like Cirque du Soleil have pushed the typical three-ring circus, including the clowns and the elephants, out of the limelight. Today, clowns are associated with suburban terrorism, unhealthy* fast food establishments, and a certain Caucasian rap duo. It is all too clear that in this United States, clowns are becoming universally ostracized from society.
I do recall a few clowns from my childhood. "Bozo the Clown" welcomed me after a grueling day at kindergarten and rewarded me with afternoon cartoons. I didn't see any malice or terror from the white greasepaint, giant shoes, and "red" hair (Grandpa's television was black and white at the time). I remember clowns at a carnival, suggesting my brother and I get haircuts via her oversized pair of cardboard scissors. I know she saw us laughing at her joke — I hope she felt a tiny bit of vindication in that moment.
It's not easy to make people laugh, yet, I feel it is so admirable. It's good medicine. Perhaps this is where the clown started to go wrong. With the exception of Mel Brooks, one funny thing doesn't remain funny forever. The honking nose and the seltzer bottles don't elicit the same reactions anymore. The punchline becomes familiar and we become jaded. The clown tries more slapstick until evolution drives the clown to the most unexpected of reactions — anger. A frustrated clown shows the entire world the demise of the industry. We know what society has done to the clown and we now expect him or her to be drowning their sorrows in a bar or isolated in the woods far away from every suburban birthday party.
Barring a paradigm-shift, it may be time to say goodbye to clowns for 364 days of the year. With trepidation, we open the door of society for just a few dark hours on October 31st. And even then, we begrudgingly throw candy at the clowns in the hope that they'll go away quickly. Outside of that, people call law-enforcement.
"If I saw a clown lurking under a lonely bridge (or peering up at me from a sewer grate, with or without balloons), I'd be scared, too." — Stephen King, author from Bangor Daily News.
*All things in moderation. Please eat responsibly.
Alex Lee is a 45-year-old father of two and was THIS close to becoming a doctor. He loves science, drums, making cakes of his best friend, and liberalism. He is also a full-time IT Specialist and part-time Technical Writer.