Ironically, clowns are first known for their connection to the circus and making children laugh. For some reason, our culture has also produced an evil version of clowns. This has created a popular tattoo design choice that is very widespread in the tattoo culture. Although you may see the traditional Emmett Kelly style clown once in a while, the majority of clown tattoos are a visual depiction of evil clowns.
According to some studies, an estimated 25% of us find clowns frightening, or at least a little disconcerting. A small part of this 25% actually experience panic attacks, anxiety and other phobic responses.
The fear of clowns is called coulrophobia. Some theorize that the fear may be triggered by the hidden face as well as frightening portrayals of clowns in the movies and other media.
One connection may be a personal trauma occurring during early childhood. A circus like environment can be overwhelming for some kids and all of the sounds and sights can cause fear in a young kid. Subconscious fears of molestation by a masked stranger may be one reason some people find clowns creepy.
The origins of clowns can be found in the Middle Ages. The first clowns were referred to as jesters and they were very popular with royalty. They were one of the most popular forms of entertainment and were often found at festivals and fairs along with puppet shows and juggling acts.
Recently, the popularity of evil clown tattoos has been bolstered by movies and television shows. Evil and dangerous clowns such as the Batman Joker villain played by the great actors Heath Ledger and Jack Nickolson. The novel “It” by Stephen King also made popular the concept of an evil and murderous clown.
Evil clowns take the symbol of laughter and joy and twist it into a completely evil persona which carries over very well into tattoo art work.
Clowns are often portrayed as emotionally unstable or even psychotic in many forms of media. The idea of a “killer clown” has been used in horror films and novels for decades. Photos of serial killer John Wayne Gacy as a clown have been published numerous times. Clowns are also portrayed as emotionally conflicted, projecting a false impression of happiness to their audiences while hiding great personal pain. These images may instill a sense of dread or fear in impressionable children, which in turn could lead to coulrophobia later in life.
Not all people find clowns scary, but they do consider them to be annoying or unfunny. Much of a clown’s humor is meant to be broad and physical, complete with pratfalls and pies in the face. The interaction with audience members, which often involve acts of humiliation, could be another reason some people find clowns scary. Feeling humiliated or ridiculed in public can be a very traumatic experience for some people, even if the performer’s actions were done in the name of comedy. Many audience members dread the idea of becoming part of the act, so the association of public mockery and clowns could leave a long-lasting scar on a person’s psyche.
There are actual treatment centers which specialize in treating coulrophobia and other unusual social phobias. Treatment usually involves intensive personal counseling or psychotherapy, along with group therapy and a supervised desensitization program involving real clowns. True sufferers of coulrophobia often experience the same social anxieties as agoraphobics, remaining indoors rather than risk an incidental encounter with a clown or seeing images of clowns in public areas.