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Although clowns are originally comic performers and characterized to humor and entertain people, the image of the evil clown is a development in popular culture, in which the playful trope of the clown is rendered as disturbing through the use of horror elements and dark humor.
The modern archetype of the evil clown has unclear origins; the stock character appeared infrequently during the 19th Century, in such works as Edgar Allan Poe's Hop-Frog, which is believed by Jack Morgan, of the University of Missouri-Rolla, to draw upon an earlier incident "at a masquerade ball," in the 14th Century, during which "the king and his frivolous party, costumed—in highly flammable materials—as simian creatures, were ignited by a flambeau and incinerated, the King narrowly escaping in the actual case." Evil clowns also occupied a small niche in drama, appearing in the 1874 work La femme de Tabarin by Catulle Mendès and in Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci (accused of being a plagiarism of Mendès' piece), both works featuring murderous clowns as central characters.
It is believed[by whom?] that the modern stock character of the evil clown was popularized by Stephen King's novel "It", which was the first to introduce the fear of an evil clown to a modern audience. Another one of the first appearances of the concept is that of John Wayne Gacy, an American serial killer and rapist who became known as the Killer Clown after it was discovered that he performed as Pogo the Clown at children's parties and other events. The public nature of his trial made the imprint of his character on American culture noteworthy, including his association with his clown persona.
The evil clown archetype plays strongly off the sense of dislike caused by inherent elements of coulrophobia; however, it has been suggested by Joseph Durwin that the concept of evil clowns have an independent position in popular culture, arguing that "the concept of evil clowns and the widespread hostility it induces is a cultural phenomenon which transcends just the phobia alone". A study by the University of Sheffield concluded "that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found them quite frightening and unknowable." This may be because of the nature of clowns' makeup hiding their faces, making them potential threats in disguise; as a psychology professor at California State University, Northridge stated, young children are "very reactive to a familiar body type with an unfamiliar face". This natural disliking of clowns makes them effective to use in a literary or fictional context, as the antagonistic threat perceived in clowns is desirable in a villainous character.
The concept of the evil clown is related to the irrational fear of clowns, known as coulrophobia. The cultural critic Mark Dery has theorized the postmodern archetype of the evil clown in "Cotton Candy Autopsy: Deconstructing Psycho-Killer Clowns" (a chapter in his cultural critique The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink).
Tracking the image of the demented or deviant clown across popular culture, Dery analyzes the "Pogo the Clown" persona of the serial killer John Wayne Gacy; the obscene clowns of the neo-situationist Cacophony Society; the Joker (of "Batman" Fame); the grotesque art of R.K. Sloane; the sick-funny Bobcat Goldthwaite comedy Shakes the Clown; and Pennywise the Dancing Clown from Stephen King's It.
Using Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of the carnivalesque, Jungian and historical writings on the images of the fool in myth and history, and ruminations on the mingling of ecstasy and dread in the Information Age, Dery asserts the evil clown is an icon of our times. Clowns are often depicted as murderous psychopaths at many American haunted houses.
Wolfgang M. Zucker points out the similarities between a clown's appearance and the cultural depictions of demons and other infernal creatures, noting "[the clown's] chalk-white face in which the eyes almost disappear, while the mouth is enlarged to a ghoulish bigness looks like the mask of death.".
For more Evil Clowns see: Evil Clowns from Villains.wikia.com
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