Culture Clips: Clowns Taking It On the Red, Squeaky Nose

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Pennywise the Dancing Clown

It’s not even October yet, but already our Culture Clips blog is taking on a rather frightening hue. First up: clowns.

The World Clown Association is bracing for the release of IT, a horror flick featuring a diabolical clown. The association, still reeling from last year’s spate of scary clown sightings, has put together a press kit to help real clowns deal with potential fallout from IT. “Even the character in the movie IT should be understood to be a fantasy character—not a true clown,” reads one line. (Which makes me wonder … aren’t all clowns technically fantasy characters? Or are there “true clowns” that really have morgish-white faces and blood-red squeaky noses? I may leave all the lights on tonight …)

The clown association would certainly not be pleased with a Pennsylvania prankster who’s been tying red balloons to storm grates—an echo of the movie (and, of course, the 1986 Stephen King novel of the same name). Some say that culture’s fear of clowns actually stems from King’s book or the 1990 miniseries, where the evil clown Pennywise was played by Tim Curry. And while King himself feels bad that clowns may be losing work because of his terrifying creation, he defends himself in a tweet. “Kids have always been scared of clowns,” he writes. “Don’t kill the messengers for the message.” Indeed.

But if clowns are looking for a little encouragement, Salon believes that our cultural fear of clowns may, eventually, recede—the victim of oversaturation. “I do think that we have reached the limit as to how scary clowns can be perceived to be, and I expect it to die down for a while after the release of It has come and gone,” psychology professor Frank McAndrew told Salon. “However, I also predict that the scary clowns will be back again in the future . . . ”

But why do folks like to be scared in the first place? Especially if those folks happen to be tweens? According to Dr. Steven Schlozman for NBC News, it’s all about how our brains develop. “The preadolescent’s love for the macabre is tied to a higher-order contemplation of what it means to be frightened in the first place,” he writes. “Those of us who enjoy scary stories and scary movies don’t just enjoy being scared. We enjoy asking ourselves why we’re scared.”

In our real waking lives, few of us are particularly worried of being attacked by demonic clowns. But driverless cars? That’s something else again. According to Jack Weast, who helps lead Intel’s Autonomous Driving Group, “People are downright scared of robot cars.” Meanwhile, youth experts are becoming a little frightened of a new online trend: kids roasting each other—like comedians might do for a cable special. Often, children invite these roasts, using the hashtag #roastme. “Those who drift to the social margins of the group would do almost anything to get attention from their peers,” says relationship expert Debra Pepler.

The New York Yankees now have a newfound fear of Apple Watches—at least those found on the wrists of Boston Red Sox employees. (The Yanks and other teams believe that the Sox have been using the devices to steal pitching signs.)

And let’s face it: Hollywood is living out a horror movie of its own, given the terrifying state of ticket sales.

Meanwhile, one of the most frightening books I’ve ever read—William Golding’s Lord of the Flies—is scaring a few folks for a new reason: Warner Bros. apparently wants to bring the classic book to screen again, but this time using an all-female cast. Critics allege that the story’s brutal scenario would never take place if the deserted island was run by girls. (So, maybe they’d just say mean things and giggle behind each other’s backs, I guess?)

And lots of people are scared stiff about the prospect of gene editing—science fiction technology that’ll soon become a reality.

But the future wasn’t always so scary. In Slate, writer Rachel Withers unpacks the original vision for Walt Disney’s famed Tomorrowland, when the future bristled with optimism (instead of evil sentient robots).

And frankly, even in our terrifying present, we can find glimmers of light. Hurricane Harvey was indeed a horrific cataclysm. And yet in the midst of the storm, we saw plenty of instances of heroism and reasons for hope. Millions of Americans opened their wallets and purses to help, too—and most of the generous proved to be celebrities. Leonardo DiCaprio and Sandra Bullock both donated $1 million to the effort. (“I’m just grateful I can do it,” Bullock told People. “We all have to do our part.”) Houston Texas player J.J. Watt’s own relief fund topped $20 million. (“Please keep sharing. Please keep donating. I can’t thank you enough,” the athlete said in a recent video.)

Yep, there’s a lot to fear in this ol’ world of ours, from scary clowns to cataclysmic weather. But there’s an antidote to some of that fear: hope.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous 13 days ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

I have a lot of respect for Warner Brothers (3 of my top 5 favorite movies are WB movies), but seriously, the bosses of WB are pure idiots.

First, they butcher up their superhero movies. Then, they hire Johnney Depp to play the villain in Fantastic Beasts 2. And now, they want to make an all female Lord of the Flies?!

Did Warner Brothers somehow sleep through all the Ghostbusters controversy?
Andrew Gilbertson 13 days ago
And do they honestly think we want to see something like that?
bobed 13 days ago
I DO want to see it. Lots of the Flies was one of my favorite books in school, and I still enjoy it to this day. I would like to see this new interpretation.
bobed 13 days ago
Obviously I meant Lord of the Flies. I hate "lots" of flies buzzing around in summer.
SJamison 9 days ago
The Ghostbusters controversy was a lot of fuss over relatively nothing--nothing in the original's themes demanded four guys with a female secretary, that was just the way the casting worked out.  Lord of the Flies, however, is very specifically about how a certain kind of upper-class British schoolboy acts under pressure.  And do we trust an all-male production team to figure out how things might work differently if girls were the ones stranded?