Clown Group to Hollywood: Stop Making Clowns So Scary

With the new season of American Horror Story adopting a freak-show motif, Clowns of America International is taking Hollywood to task for transforming the friendly clown into a sinister cultural figure.

The scary clown—it’s a common trope of modern television and movies.

Playing with the real cultural disorder of coulrophobia, or an extreme or irrational fear of clowns, movies and television shows have famously used images of evil or scary clowns over the years. A few examples of the phenomenon in memetic, animated GIF form:




These three variations on the theme have different levels of scariness—depending partly on the viewer—but none of them  hold a candle to Twisty the Clown. (OK, OK, maybe you could make an argument for Heath Ledger’s Joker.)

Twisty, a scissor-wielding serial killer featured in American Horror Story: Freak Show and played by John Carroll Lynch, has drawn strong reactions from critics for bringing some truly scary moments to a series that’s known for more than its fair share.

But what makes for good entertainment does not make for good PR for the clown trade. That’s why Clowns of America International (COAI), a membership group for nonscary clowns, is speaking out against Hollywood’s use of the plot devices in exploitative ways.

In comments to The Hollywood Reporter, COAI President Glenn Kohlberger emphasized the damaging effects such depictions can have.

“Hollywood makes money sensationalizing the norm,” Kohlberger said. “They can take any situation, no matter how good or pure, and turn it into a nightmare.”

Real-Life Scares

Kohlberger noted that the association is against “any medium that sensationalizes or adds to coulrophobia or ‘clown fear.'”

One such medium, as it turns out, is real life. Recently, pranksters in the California town of Wasco have been using scary clowns, sometimes wielding weapons, to terrorize the community—and in the process, posting creepy images on Instagram and other social media platforms.

Where should I go tonightBakersfield

The incidents were inspired by the “Wasco clown,” a husband-and-wife art project that has gained viral heat in recent weeks. While the artists have discouraged copycats from terrorizing the local community, stopping the pranks has proved easier said than done.

For example, local police in nearby Bakersfield have arrested at least one teenager for frightening nearby neighbors while dressed as a clown.

COAI’s Kohlberger, for his part, discourages such antics as a general rule. That’s understandable, considering that a recent article in The Atlantic suggested that the rise of the scary clown may have hurt membership counts for clowning organizations like COAI.

“Clowns to killers, I choose not to play into any of it,” Kohlberger told The Hollywood Reporter. “The more attention we give, it just gives it more fuel.”

Can't sleep, Twisty the Clown will eat me. Can't sleep, Twisty the Clown will eat me … (FX Networks)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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