Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>Killer Clown
Subject: killer clown
Culture: American
Setting: coulrophobia

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Wolf 2002 May 21 online
"Popular culture is awash with the image of the evil clown.  For many of us, it began with the menacing Joker in Batman comics.  Then there's the demonic toy clown in the 1982 movie Poltergeist that wrapped its candy-colored arms around a little boy to choke him to death.
​    "In It, Stephen King gave us the horrifying image of 'Pennywise the Clown,' who hid in sewers and ate kids.  Cult movie fans point to Killer Klowns from Outer Space.  And then there's the dark comedy Shakes the Clown, staring [sic] Bobcat Goldthwait as an alcoholic birthday party entertainer.  The widespread condemnation of the film once prompted Goldthwait to remark, 'Clowns have no sense of humor.'"

* Brunvand 1993 p101-102
"In the spring of 1981, there were widespread rumors that vans full of phantom clowns were preying on young children.  But not a single kidnapping clown was arrested, and authorities debunked the stories.
​    "Killer clown rumors surfaced briefly again in 1985, then faded until June 1991 -- exactly ten years after the first cycle of similar stories."

* Radford 2016 March/April p5
"Writer Loren Coleman coined the term phantom clown and described them in his book Mysterious America.  One of the first reports of phantom clowns occurred on May 6, 1981, when police in Brookline, Massachusetts, issued an all-points bulletin asking officers to watch for a vehicle containing potential child abductors.  The vehicle was distinctive: an older-model van with a broken headlight, no hubcaps, and ladders on the side.  It was also full of clowns.  Several children reported that clowns had tried to lure them into the dark van with promises of candy; police investigated but found nothing.
    "Though some sensational stories of child-abducting clowns were an invention of the news media, a few children reported firsthand abduction attempts.  One boy told police that he had been confronted by a clown armed with an Uzi machine gun in one hand and a machete in the other.  The clown fired off five shots, but the boy counterattacked the surprised clown by throwing his book bag at him.  Deciding that an Uzi and a machete were no match for a small bag of schoolbooks, the clown lost his nerve and ran off.  Not surprisingly, the boy later admitted that he had made up the whole story, probably for attention.
    "Though the 1980s and 1990s were the heyday of phantom clown sightings, a few reports have continued in recent years.  Throughout the phantom clown panic no hard evidence was ever found that the clowns even existed, and no children were actually harmed or abducted."
* Steele 2004 p11-12
"Behind the guffaws it is the clown's more sinister side that fascinates and terrifies many.  The mystery of what lurks underneath the makeup and costumes cannot be ignored.  Such fears, compounded by the disturbing news coverage of flagrant bank robberies, burglaries, and other mayhem perpetrated by criminals in clown clothing, have spawned many a scenario in Hollywood.  Actor Jimmy Stewart, usually cast in humble, husbandly roles, played a criminal clown in Cecil B. DeMille's cinematic epic The Greatest Show on Earth (1952).  Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988), although clearly B-movie material, likewise taps into the human pysche's deepest fear of clowns.  For many children, clowns smack of panic, anxiety, and abject fear.  Witness the Academy Award-nominated documentary film, Capturing the Friedmans (2003), which initially set out to record the phenomenon of birthday-party clowns in New York City and ended up profiling a pedophile.  The makeup has also provided the perfect excuse to break social norms and indulge in anti-social behavior through characters like cartoonist Matt Groening's Krusty the Klown (Bart Simpson's afternoon idol) or Homey the Clown, an angry, black, ghetto clown portrayed by actor Damon Wayans in rancorous skits on the television show In Living Color.  Behind the mask and the veneer of mean-spiritedness, both characters utter elements of truth that most people would leave unsaid.  Stephen King's horror novel It (1990) relies on the even more extreme perception of clowns as creatures of  terror.  There is a well-documented neurotic fear of clowns -- 'coulrophobia' or 'clownophobia' -- sparked by a basic suspicion that grown people in strange clothes and weird makeup may, in fact, be more than just strange.  After all, serial killer John Wayne Gacy meant it literally when he said: 'You know, clowns can get away with murder.'"

* Elliott 2006 pviii (Katherine Dunn, "Introduction" pvii-ix)
"Our fear of the clown is our fear of the disguised, the camouflaged unknown.  Every Halloween prankster knows the hidden monster freed by donning the mask."

* Briggs 2012 online
"By definition, an irrational fear of clowns is known as coulrophobia, with the prefix 'coulro' coming from the ancient Greek word for 'one who goes on stilts.' Symptoms of coulrophobia 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.
​    "According to Rami Nader, a psychologist and director of the North Shore Stress and Anxiety Clinic in North Vancouver, B.C., the psychological roots of the phobia may be traced to the fact that clowns are basically wearing disguises (albeit funny ones) while displaying artificial emotions (even silly ones) that perhaps hide their true feelings."

* Bartholomew 2016 Fall p40
"Reports of phantom clowns in the United States can be traced back decades and are a form of social panic.  They reflect age-old fears that are dressed up in new garb -- literally."


* Brunvand 1993 p103
"One child, who later retracted his story, told police that a clown holding a machete in one hand and an Uzi machine gun in the other fired five shots at him before he drove off with his book bag.  ...
​    "Many of the children's stories included specific details: They said that the vans were black, green, blue, or yellow, and the clowns were armed with swords, knives, or guns."