Thoughts and observations on Green Arrow, classical liberalism, freedom, comic books and matters of social justice.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Whoopi Cushion...tingling!

Why are people afraid of clowns? A term was invented for the fear of clowns back in the nineties; Coulrophobia. Its root is from the Greek word for “limb” and is related to “kolobathristes,” one who walks on stilts or a fear of stilt walkers. From there it was somehow applied to a fear of clowns. A recent survey at a children’s hospital in England found that all 250 polled didn’t like a clown theme in a hospital room. There are many websites devoted to the fear and hatred of clowns. Even my son once dated a girl who professed an intense fear of clowns.

What the heck is that about? Some researchers believe it is in part due to the immoveable features suggested in clown make-up; the impossible grins and exaggerated eye lines. This can create an aura of deception and mistrust in the very young, note: very young. The very young can also be afraid of a shopping mall Santa Claus. How many “I hate Santa Claus websites are online (at least those not run by Baptists)? I think if we had a holiday in which a clown handed out gifts there wouldn’t be so much “clown fear” lip service.

For adults I believe it’s a group-think condition. It’s simple to distort a childhood character into something sinister. Take a happy face, keep the smile and give it a menacing stare and BOOM, instant dark effect. But I don’t think there are people legitimately afraid of a clown, you may not like the look of clowns, but you’re not afraid of them either.

There aren’t many clown superheroes. Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegel’s next creation after receiving the Superman shaft by Harry Donnenfeld came in 1948 with a character called Funnyman. The hero wore clownish attire and fought crime with squirting flowers, the same modus operandi of the Joker who conversely caused crime. However, the Joker had been wreaking havoc since 1940 and Jack Cole’s Plastic Man had already invented (and perfected) the comedic superhero book in 1941. Funnyman never caught on and faded away.

I can think of only one other “clown” superhero, and that arrived almost fifty years later in the pages of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. The hero Jack-in-the-Box is a bequeathed identity used by three different men down the years. Much like the farcical Funnyman he utilizes clown themed weaponry in a war on crime, but this time the character is not played for laughs. And while the exploits in print for Jack-in-the-Box were all well written, and appeared in one of comic’s greatest series, he’s hardly a major player in the comic book world.

Seems the only role a clown can play in comic books is the homicidal, mass-murdering variety. Considering the idea of a hero laughingly taunting the villain, first made popular by Robin and then Spiderman, you’d think somewhere a clown themed superhero would have emerged. Maybe you can’t ask to take a clown seriously in a comic book, which I suppose make sense.

For me, I’ve always liked clowns and never found them frightening. I grew up watching the new Bozo show on WGN and loved the circus (still do). I’ve just recently committed myself to learn juggling and my kids’ expressions when I’ve gotten close are great. Maybe I could retcon a guy who witnesses from the shadows the Graysons’ brutal murder that fateful night, and decides to use his talents to ensure crime never claims another young child’s innocence. And thus is born, Twinkles the Avenger! No, wait, how about Hobo Jim? Buttercup? Stitches? The Trickster (nope, that’s already taken). Cookie?

Wait a minute, that might be the problem.

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