Between "American Horror Story" and "It," there's been a lot of clownin' around lately — and I just need to talk through it
Clowns are really having a moment right now. Between American Horror Story: Cult and It, it feels like I just can’t escape ’em — onscreen and elsewhere.
I’ll be flipping through channels, and will suddenly see Twisty, Pennywise, and other nightmarish clowns in promos. I’ll be driving down the road and “Oh, hey, there’s someone in pasty, clown-adjacent makeup, with a beehive brain.” Or, “Look, there’s a little kid in a yellow raincoat reaching for a red balloon from a figure cloaked in darkness.” And don’t even get me started on the internet.
So, it appears, nowhere is safe from clowns.
And frankly, that’s kind of difficult for me because I watched the 1990 mini-series version of It back in the day — and it sort of scarred me for life. I honestly can’t put my finger on why I, personally, am freaked out by clowns. It’s something about their look, sure, but I also think I don’t find them very sincere. I just don’t really buy their whole “happy-go-lucky” thing.
I’m sure there are plenty of other reasons why people might be afraid of clowns. So I literally just searched “Why are people scared of clowns?” (I bet that’s been searched a lot lately, actually.) Quite a few other explanations came up, ranging from how clowns used to remind people of their own mortality in medieval times and onward to John Wayne Gacy, a serial killer and rapist who masqueraded part-time as a party clown. And of course there’s coulrophobia, which is the “abnormal fear of clowns.”
Whatever reason you might have to be afraid of clowns will surely affect the way you interpret American Horror Story and It.
This season of American Horror Story features clowns, but is really about a cult. As such, it appears we’re not talking about true clowns here (with the exception of Twisty). But rather, people who dress up as clowns to give themselves a creepy disguise to hide behind while committing heinous acts. The cult is frightening in its own way because it’s grounded in reality. These are real people with bad intentions, but you don’t know who exactly is hiding behind the clown facade. You only know that what lies behind the mask is threatening.
As for It, I’m not even sure that I can say that Pennywise is a true clown, because we know that its true form is not that of a clown. But we do see Pennywise as the creepy figure throughout most of the film, and we also see that it has some supernatural abilities (like appearing out of thin air, and inserting itself into a family slideshow). This is what really gets me — the fear of the unknown, not knowing what Pennywise is capable of because it’s, you know, otherworldly.
Whatever type of scary these clowns are, and whatever reason they might scare you, the question really is: Why now?
Why is now the time that clowns are having their moment? Thriving, if you will. Honestly, I’m not seeing any sort of definitive answer. Murphy has talked about how this season deals with political anxieties surrounding the presidential election. And so far, we’ve seen Ally’s phobias worsen — including her coulrophobia — as a reaction to that election. But, why coulrophobia in the first place? I’m sure we’ll find out more about that, and her backstory, as the season goes on.
It director Andy Muschietti, meanwhile, told Deadline that clowns aren’t scary in their own right. “I really didn’t want to expand the negative vision of clowns because clowns are not intrinsically scary,” he said. “In fact, this monster becomes a clown because it’s supposed to be happy and a magnetic figure for children and adults. It’s all about happiness. Of course, we sense some pullback.”
I hear his point, and understand why the kids — LOOKING AT YOU GEORGIE — might find Pennywise to be magnetic. But watching Pennywise feed on the fear of children for a couple hours isn’t doing anything to help clowns’ reputation in my book.
In any case, it has to be coincidence that these clowns are taking over media around the same time; it’s not like Murphy and Stephen King plotted this. (Or did they?! Then I’d really have some FEELS.) Maybe it has a little something to do with Halloween season approaching.
But with a number of American Horror Story episodes ahead and It‘s booming box-office — and a sequel on the way! — it appears these clowns aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. So we — myself very much included — better get used to it.