It is only September and the Halloween décor already fills the shelves of retail stores across the country.
It is a damned shame that a holiday like Halloween has been commercialized to the detriment of the holiday itself. The original meaning of the day has been lost to this incessant grasping for the almighty dollar.
The original spirit of Halloween has been completely obscured. Why can’t innocent children be allowed to celebrate the eternal damnation of their souls without someone making an unseemly profit from them? It’s un-American. Well, it’s completely American but it just ain’t right.
Halloween was approaching and some co-workers and I at Roger Corman’s movie studio, got to talking. I happened to mention that I didn’t like clowns. My co-worker admitted that she hated clowns. Further investigation proved clown anxiety, ranging from discomfort to sheer terror, to be universal. And I had thought I was alone.
This was decades ago, in a more innocent time. Clowns were not commonly portrayed as evil or malevolent beings back then. This was soon after the shocking revelation of the John Wayne Gacy serial murders. Who would describe a time when 33 children could be murdered by a clown as ‘innocent’?
Mr. Gacy may have started something regarding public perceptions of clowns. Could it be that clowns have been unfairly maligned in the aftermath of Mr. Gacy’s crimes? I don’t think so.
Please understand, I don’t hate clowns. I’m not a hater. I dislike them though. And I admit I used to ask women about their potential for bozophilia, as a filter, before considering any serious relationship with them.
I have always been a fan of the classic clowns of the cinema. The great silent movie stars, Chaplin, Keaton, Fields, Harpo and Laurel and Hardy were my favorites. But they were funny. Danny Kaye, in the “Court Jester” still makes me laugh. In high school I excelled in prat falls, some intentional.
Back in the studio, our course was clear. Halloween was nigh. I had always seen Halloween as an opportunity to face our fears with the aim of purging them. How better than to host a clown party? Everyone was welcome but no one would be allowed entry unless dressed as a clown.
To set the scene, I provided a poster of Ronald Reagan in clown make-up surrounded by a field of jelly beans. I borrowed a mannequin from a friend and dressed it up. I attempted but failed to become a scary clown. Thankfully, the concept eluded me.
In Sarasota, Florida, the Ringling Circus sponsors a clown college. Imagine meeting your girlfriend’s parents and getting asked the inevitable question, “What is your major in college?”
Quite a variety of clowns showed up to the party. There was a punk clown with a Mohawk fright wig. There was a lady ventriloquist and dummy. She cleverly pretended that the dummy was pulling her strings. Many people gave clownishness an honest try with more or less elaboration. Multi-colored fright wigs abounded.
There was a mime, who wouldn’t shut up. It was a party after all.
In my youth, friends needed to restrain me when mimes chose to provoke me. Why did they pick on me? You don’t see mimes too much anymore. Now, its gold or silver robotic guys. They don’t follow me around. They are okay, I guess.
Mimes are not really clowns. They are more like tools of the devil. There is considerable literature about the nature of mimesis and how primitive societies used to kill those prone to mimic as diabolical. What is so primitive about that?
Masks are the origin of the concept of ‘plausible deniability’. But masks have long held the power to reveal as well as to disguise. How many stories depict those attending a masquerade and feeling liberated to act without fear of exposing their true identity? The mask becomes a metaphor for the inner self, and reveals the true character of the wearer. But of course, those are just stories.
One guy from Corman’s studio showed up barely meeting the entry requirements. Wearing street clothes, his only gesture to the theme was a red nose. Too cool for the room, he observed rather than fully participating. But standing amidst a few dozen clowns, he stood out, an imposter. Was that big red nose masking his true mask?
The other guests, in bizarre or cute costumes, were relaxed and felt liberated to be more themselves than they might otherwise be. This guest, masked only with his spongy red nose, (squeak not included), seemed more masked than anyone. And ironically, he was more transparent in his discomfort and his desire to only participate in word but not in spirit.
Nowadays, no one takes clowns seriously. All this negative portrayal in the media has thankfully diffused the anxiety produced by clowns. The world has changed. There are truly scary things out there now. Clowns are not so scary as once upon a time, except perhaps for those clowns in the U. S. Congress.
For me, it all started when my mother sewed a clown costume for Halloween. It was brightly colored motley with enough material to make a tent. My two older brothers rejected it and so did I. We wanted to be scary. Halloween is supposed to be frightful. Mom said she thought it would be “cute,” or “darling”, or some other repugnant term. Yuck! Who wants to be cute on Halloween?
Hmmm. Cute? Darling? Repugnant? Maybe Mom knew more about how to be scary than I gave her credit for.