It never occurred to me that this might be a typical childhood response. Like most people, I too bought into the image of the clown as an endearing aspect of childhood. And even though I respected my daughter's wishes, I did so not out of any sense that there might be something sinister about the image of the clown but simply out of deference to her feelings.
Well it turns out that her reaction to clowns was quite normal.
The new issue of "Scientific American" quotes findings of a British study that concluded that hospitalized children cannot stand the images of clowns often used to decorate their hospital walls. And how did the researchers find this out? They used a novel approach - they asked the children themselves. In all they spoke to 255 children between the ages of 4 and 16. Not a single one of them liked clowns. The described them as "frightening", "scary" and "creepy".
Coulrophobia is the official term used to describe an abnormal and exaggerated fear of clowns. Not all children suffer this extreme condition. But most children don't like clowns. How is it then that so many parents are not in touch with their children's feelings? How is it that clowns continue to be linked to positive childhood celebrations when this is not what most children want at all? How are we brainwashed into forgetting how we felt about clowns as children?
Heath Ledger's sudden and unexpected death has raised a host of questions, among them the fate of the movie in which he plays the title character - an evil clown. While others ponder his relationship with the Olsen troll and whether or not he may or may not have been putting illegal substances up his nose, I have found myself wondering about the effect on his psyche of having played such a disturbing role.
How had immersing himself in the part of an evil clown affected the child within him, that part of himself that he may have been more acutely in touch with since the birth of his own child? Why did he need so many prescription drugs to help him sleep? What psychological trauma might his psyche have suffered from playing this role?
We may never know.
When Jack Nicholson played the role of the Joker, I found it funny. Sure he was an evil wicked character, but in Jack's mature hands and possibly less vulnerable mind, the role took on a humorous edge that blunted its horror. Will there ever be a more manic movie line than, "Gentlemen, let's broaden our minds! Lawrence!" And with Prince jamming in the background, heck it was almost like 1999.
I'm not sure that I want to see Heath Ledger's movie. I will forever wonder what part it may have played in hastening his death. And whether he should have listened to the instinctive wisdom of his inner child and not played this role at all.