If you’ve grown up in the circus like me you’ve seen them before: the loud boisterous teenagers harassing the clowns. Yes, that’s right, I said it. Harassing the clowns. They approach during the pre-show spectacle, snickering to themselves as they draw nearer and nearer to their target.
They get close to the clown, sometimes practically nose to nose with them, and then they scream: “AAAH OH MY GOD! I’M SCARED OF CLOWNS!”, before they prance off giggling and shrieking with laughter .
I’ve seen this all too many times, what’s worse is that I’ve seen it happen to my family. I’ve seen kids yelling at my father’s face, telling him that they’re afraid of him. I used to find it enraging, but I’ve adjusted, and now it is just an annoyance. Still, it got me thinking, do some people have legitimate fear of clowns? I did some research.
What I found was Coulrophobia, a term that was coined around the 1980s. Most published works pertaining to the phobia are found on the internet, which makes the disease seem a little less than verifiable. However, according to studies at the University of Sheffield , some children are frightened by clown-themed decorations in hospitals. A professor at the California State University suggests that the familiar form of a human body with the unfamiliar painted face of a clown is what sparks discomfort in the presence of clowns. This isn’t really rock hard evidence that Coulrophobia is a legitimate disease. It has made its way onto lists of phobias, but the fear is not featured in many psychiatric texts.
However, what Coulrophobia lacks in published backing it makes up for in media craze. Movies such as Stephen King’s It and Killer Klowns from Outer Space perpetuate the idea of these evil painted-faced monsters terrorizing young kids. It is a stigma that has stuck over the last thirty years, and there is little hope that this fad will ever fade.
Regardless of whether or not Coulrophobia is a certifiable phobia, I know one thing for sure: None of the kids who approach circus clowns only to tell them how afraid of them they are have it. I’m not suggesting that everyone who says they are afraid of clowns is faking it, in fact I’ve seen my fair share of small children crying their eyes out. What I am saying is that a phobia of clowns would stop them from even looking at the clown, let alone walking up and talking to him. Clearly those that approach do not have a phobia. So for those of us who don’t fear clowns, but rather love them, let’s keep a lookout for those who harass our red-nosed buddies, while remembering to have a little compassion for the poor kids who are actually terrified. ■
For further reading on Coulrophobia:
Coulrophobia & The Trickster By Joseph Durwin
About.com page on Coulrophobia