Monday, March 21, 2011

What's the opposite of coulrophobia?

I have a confession to make: I am not even a little bit afraid of clowns.

I don’t usually find them funny, but I don’t find them disturbing, either. I’m told this is odd. I apparently had all the usual traumatic exposures. I had a plastic coin bank shaped like a smiling clown when I was little. I have dim memories of being taken to a circus. There were some assorted clowns at birthday parties and the like. But the clowns just didn’t bother me. Heck, when I was sixteen, the first job I applied for was as a professional clown at a theme park, making balloon animals for kids—not because I had feelings one way or the other about clowns, but because my father had taught me to make balloon animals as a child and I was good at it. (The park eliminated the clown position after they hired me, and I ended up flipping burgers instead. But I still make quite a passable giraffe.)

I have several friends who are unnerved or outright frightened by clowns. It’s something about the smiles, they tell me—that cheerful familiarity in someone who is, fundamentally, a stranger, but is invading your personal space anyway. Then there’s the persistence of evil clowns in popular culture. But no matter how many Joker stories I read in Batman comics or how often I see references to Stephen King’s It, clowns just don’t bother me. So they act weird and invade my personal space. Big deal. I’ve ridden the New York subway.

I became freshly aware of this problem recently when I attended a Haunted Hayride event one night in Griffith Park around Halloween. I went for the rare chance to see the park in the dark—Rae hangs out there after sundown in an early draft of Masks, but the park usually closes at sunset and you can be arrested for being there after closing. So while the motorized wagon trundled us from horror scene to horror scene, I was busily taking mental notes on what the sky looked like between the dark trees, and how all the plants smelled by night, and how the lack of trail lighting might affect a mask trying to get around. I barely noticed when we rolled through the strobe-lit tent with the psycho clowns charging the wagon; I was inspecting the dirt.

Ultimately, my friends like to blame my clown inoculation on The Puppet. The Puppet does not have a name, really—he’s the only one of his kind. He’s a little wooden marionette, about twelve inches high, with a round wooden clown face and a body covered in a striped clown jumpsuit. He has a big smile and, because of my inexpert childhood attempts at mending a broken string, he tends to hold his head tilted to one side in what I’m told is an eerie way. All I know about The Puppet is that he’s been there all my life, he apparently belonged to my parents before I adopted him somewhere around age six, and he was made in England. He is my clown, and therefore clowns hold no terror for me—no matter how much it bothers everyone else that I have a spooky clown puppet hanging from a corner of my bookcase, it does not bother me because no scary clown could possibly overcome the affection I share with The Puppet.

Yes, I know this sounds like a horror movie waiting to happen. A writer and her creepy, ill-repaired clown puppet that she resolutely insists is not scary and yet identifies by a capital letter. Heck, just rereading this blog entry makes me wonder if I’ve creeped you out already. But he’s just a puppet, and I like him.

This presented a problem recently when I was designing supervillains. I needed an adversary for a detective hero, and the Batman/Joker dynamic naturally suggested itself. A monster in the service of good versus a childhood icon in the service of evil … order versus chaos … primary versus secondary colors … you get the idea. But as I said, I am not even a little bit afraid of clowns.

I was just explaining this to a friend when I caught myself saying, “I guess I’m not afraid of clowns because I had this cute little clown marionette when I was little, and he’s such a friendly little guy that …” and then I noticed my friend was staring at me. Finally, I realized that I’d justified my tolerance of clowns by talking about my love for a puppet … and many people find puppets just as freaky as clowns.

And that gave me an idea.

So the supervillain who gave Trevor nightmares as a young sidekick is not a clown in any way, shape, or form.

But there’s something about him that has to do with puppets …  

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