Our Clown Fears: Wildness, Weirdness, and Wrongness are NOT the Same Thing

me-and-mandolin“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

Growing up and becoming serious about life may be the step just before death. Certainly, it is the death of much of life’s vibrancy. Watching children play, watching them express wonder in the simple things of life, and watching them smile and laugh for no reason at all jars the adult brain back to sacred places of the heart. These are the places we secretly yearn to live and celebrate again. How is it that we leave these places, and become so serious about non-essentials?

The wild abandon and the weird joys inconsistent with the surrounding environments that we find in the activities of children drag our jaundiced worldviews back from the brink of monotonous hells. Their wildness and their weirdness are not wrong. In fact, those attributes are as close to holy as many of us may ever experience in our adult lives, but rarely do we celebrate the clowning of adults in day to day life.

The wildest expressions of adults behaving wildly and weirdly are now on the verge of being illegal. Clown sitings make the news. Scary clown videos fill the internet, and news reports warn people against dressing up as clowns. Yet, the fact remains that no one has been hurt by a clown. Rather, it appears that it has not been the public, but the clowns that may be getting attacked, if anything is happening at all. At least one video showing an attacking clown has turned out to be a prank video.

In 1981, there was a similar clown panic like we see today. The motif of the evil clown is not new, but the rise of coulrophobia at this level is a strange new phenomenon. Even the Smithsonian’s page on the history of the scary clown sets up the subtitle with a statement about people being afraid of clowns for centuries, but offers little evidence beyond Caruso’s character in the opera Pagliacci.

Enrico Caruso as Murderous Clown Canio
Enrico Caruso as Muderous Clown Canio

Is this absurd fear of clowns is an extreme version of the loss of innocent wildness and weirdness of a child? Have we traded our childlike joys for deep fears and nervous voyeurism. In the clown motif, we have made the colorful and joyful a manic darkness, and if this is an extreme expression of what growing up is all about – I don’t want it.

Yet, expressions of clowning different that the painted face, red-nosed, wild hair versions surround us daily. Extravagant cross-dressing, Halloween costuming, Steampunk and Goth culture, Zombie parades, cosplay, SCA battles, and throwback and period parties all represent the movement away from everyday run of the mill life. They are an escape into childlike joy that some of us will use for a moment, fewer people will invest in it as a lifestyle. In these expressions, we become the clowns of the carnival of life. We play a part we were not born into, and imagine a wilder, weirder, more wonderful world. We carry within us the evidence that wild and weird are not wrong.

I am convinced that the wild and weird abandon of the child is one of the elements of the salvation of our culture, our nation, our politics, and our religion. It may also be a key component of our personal deliverance. Burning Religion is about this revolution, and the book is the first in a series outlining the power of carnival to deliver us from our self inflicted societal oppressions. If this resonates in you, you will want to know more.

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