Sunday, September 12, 2010

Coulrophobia: awkward sociological experiment

So much for promises to blog regularly this summer...

A couple of months ago I was looking up videos on YouTube under 'Scary Clowns,' or 'Fear of Clowns.' The reason I was doing this was because, when I was a kid,  I used to be terrified of the toy clown in the movie Poltergeist. Something about the demented smile on, what seemed like at the time, a life-sized clown doll freaked the fuck out of me. The feeling was strange because most horror movies didn't frighten me. In fact, my favorite childhood movies were horror films: Creepshow by Stephen King was my all-time favorite; Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead were winners, too. The first couple of Friday the 13ths, the first few A Nightmare on Elm Streets. I watched The Exorcist numerous times at my aunt's house. Along with those, I also watched B-horror films like Maniac, The Burning (a camp/slasher film that featured a very young Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame), Camp Sleep-away, The Gate, etc...The horror section at our hometown video store, I.V. Video, was well attended by me. I used to even request for horror movie posters/advertisements after the store was done with them. Amongst all of these films, it was the discovery of the dead body of Ray Brower in Stand By Me and the clown scene in Poltergeist that actually lingered.

The Poltergeist scene gave me a strange and mild fear of clowns -- or rather, clown faces, since I haven't been to many circuses, therefore haven't spoken with many actual working clowns. This was when I was really young though, and the fear dissipated pretty quickly. By the time the movie adaptation of Stephen King's It came out (featuring Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown) I was not bothered.

Anyways, back to my YouTube search. I found a mini-documentary on a woman who becomes paralyzed with fear when she sees a clown. Apparently, the term for this phobia is 'Coulrophobia.' This goes beyond a silly scene in a horror movie; she has a hard time just looking at pictures of clowns. And just to state at the outset of this deconstruction: I am not laughing at her phobia. It's clear that this fear stems from some sort of childhood abuse scenario. I mean, she held onto a stuffed animal from her childhood as some sort of protection during her therapy session. With that being said, the circumstances and the few people surrounding her during a therapy experiment (volunteers from the Sociology Department at some college) are quite funny.

At one point during the video, the woman's therapist informs her that they're to go into a room with four or five people and a clown. She says that she would rather the clown come in after she was in the room. The therapist then says, "okay,...stay put, I'm gonna go tell him. His name is Mr. Giggles." She gives him a strange look and an incredulous "what?!," and he reiterates: "His name is Mr. Giggles. He's a clown." This last part he says with a funny intonation in his voice, as if he meant to say "why else would someone be called Mr. Giggles?" Then, the therapist leads the woman into the room with the other students where she sits and awaits Mr. Giggles.

So, Mr. Giggles walks in while blowing on a kazoo, and I don't know if this was planned or not, but it sure looks like he walks in and immediately spots the woman who is deathly afraid of his mere presence and waves right at her. Of course, she loses it and starts screaming and hyperventilating in the corner. Now, the thing that I find funny is the participant-clown interaction going on around her. I try to imagine how these sociology students were prepped for this experiment? So guys, we're gonna simulate a balloon-animal demonstration from a clown, like what you would've experienced at a circus when you were a kid. The focus of this experiment, however, is terrified of clowns. She's probably going to be screaming and crying and....well, who knows what she's gonna do. She's absolutely terrified of them. What's important is that you maintain your composure. You gotta look like you're having a good time and you can't stare or ask her if she's alright. She'll be alright, just give your attention to Mr. Giggles, and for God's sake keep smiling. When the camera does a slow close-up on the woman, it keeps one of the participants in the frame. The look on her face, I feel, reflects what I'm talking about. She's trying to look like she's having a good time, but you know -- there's a woman freaking out right next to her.

Now, Mr. Giggles is conversing with his audience members amidst this meltdown. If you listen closely, you can hear what he's saying: "Balloon Dog is the first thing they teach you to make when you go to Clown School, kids"; "And, like I tell all the other kids, everything you gotta learn how to do you gotta go to school"; "Anybody here know how many heads a dog should have?...Aww, come on. A dog has one head." At one point, Mr. Giggles says, "Alrighty," but it feels more like a "Ohh...my god. okay. focus." At the end of the video the narrator claims a success on the part of the experiment, but it looks more like exhaustion.

Here's the video:



Anyhow, the vacation is soon to come to an end. School is right around the corner, which is to say that this blog will probably remain neglected. But then again, maybe not?...

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