The first trailer for the remake of Stephen King’s 1986 It was released on April 1. The trailer racked up more than 197 million shares and more than 246 million views on Youtube—a record of note. Once starring Tim Curry as Pennywise, a shapeshifting demon clown figure, the modern It follows several children on their quest to take down Pennywise. Now released on September 8, 2017, It has grossed $635 million dollars world-wide as of October 22 and has received positive reviews, including one from the author himself.
While the film industry is praising the film’s success, not every business is thrilled about resurrection of the Pennywise character. Professional clowns are blaming the advertising, trailers, and release of It for a loss of business. Non-horror clowns are reporting damage to their image by the film manifested in losing gigs, schools cancelling clown performances, and police mistakenly associating professional clowns with horror clowns. Pam Moody of the World Clown Association released a statement and “press kit” for professional clowns during the trailer releases of the movie prior to the release date replicated below in part:
“The World Clown Association shares laughs and “comic relief” everywhere for the positive, wholesome, enjoyment of their audiences. It is true that various horror clown portrayals work against our goal. We hope our audience realizes that there are different categories in entertainment. We also recommend that young children not be exposed to horror movies which are intended for mature audiences.”
Moody strongly believes that the educational and friendly versions of clowns is being sidetracked thanks to all the attention and publicity thrown on the “scarier” versions of her profession. The bad press is leading to clowns losing their jobs and Moody is concerned. Some clowns have called for the film to include a disclaimer prior to viewing noting that the film’s main character is not representative of the profession as a whole.
What can the clowns do to save their businesses? The answer is “not much.” Since the 1970s, clowns have developed a bad reputation due to real-life horrors such as serial killer John Wayne Gacy dressing up as Pogo the Clown.
Unfortunately for today’s clowns, 2016 was not kind to the clown image in general. With a swathe of “killer clowns” impersonators popping up in cities around the U.S. and a rejuvenation of violent clowns in pop culture—such as Mr. Twisty in American Horror Story‘s portrayal—clowns everywhere are taking a professional hit. Additionally, there is a common phobia of clowns generally within the United States. It is estimated that nearly twelve percent of American adults have coulrophobia, or a fear of clowns. After a group of individuals in South Carolina began dressing as clowns and luring children into wooded areas in August 2016, parents have started arming themselves on Halloween ready to attack clowns, e.g. Brevard County, Florida. Even more extreme, some counties have passed anti-clown ordinances, e.g. Kemper County Mississippi, in order to combat the occurrence of “evil clown” sightings. Many professional clowns, afraid of violence or potential false arrest, have canceled shows and appearances. For example, Moody told The Hollywood Reporter that when a fellow clown arrived early for a birthday party, he looked up to see “four police officers surrounding her because someone in the neighborhood called in a clown sighting.”
While there may not be any legal recourse available to the World Clown Association and its members, there are a few things businesses under similar strain can do. The first is to combat bad press with good old fashions positive press, i.e. Moody’s attempt with her press release and kit for working clowns. Another option is to embrace the temporary trend and modernize performances to incorporate and dispel that trend. A final suggestion is to delineate between what “is” and “is not”—meaning, Pennywise is a demon, not a ‘true’ clown. Parents, schools, and children especially, will need to be educated on a popular, positive image of the business in order for professional clowns to survive.
In the words of Stephen King, via his twitter, “The clowns are p***ed at me. Sorry, most are great. BUT—kids have always been scared of clowns. Don’t kill the messengers for the message.”