Hot Clowns VI: It, Ellen Degeneres, and combatting coulrophobia
by Drew Rowsome
"It Movie Causing Legit Clowns to Lose Work" screams the headline of The Hollywood Reporter. And even my last missive from the world of clown fetish/worship began with "These are tragic times for clowning." Stephen King himself even tweeted, "The clowns are pissed at me. Sorry, most are great. BUT...kids have always been scared of clowns. Don't kill the messengers for the message." Just as the evil clown hysteria seemed to have faded from the headlines, the It reboot, and a new incarnation of Pennywise, appears poised to stir the vile pot of coulrophobia again.
The early reviews of It are laudatory with the accent on the word "terrifying." There are hopes that it will salvage what has otherwise been a disastrous summer movie season. And most of us are eagerly hoping that it will live up to the hype and be the epic Stephen King adaptation we have all been dreaming of. Clowns are probably shaking in their oversize shoes, if the film is as scary as hyped, there is going to be a lot more fear of clowns to go around.
That is a shame because the source material, Stephen King's novel, has a higher aim than just scaring the shit out of readers. I am only two-thirds of the way through a re-read - it is 1,090 pages long, took King four years to write and takes almost as long to read - but a lot is surfacing that I missed, except subliminally, on the first read as a teenager. The central terror is not a literal clown, that is just one of his favourite guises. Pennywise is a glamour (a variation on the character in Odd Adventures with Your Other Father) and takes on the form of one's deepest fears. Or fantasies.
In the best horror tradition, Pennywise is a manifestation of the worst of human nature and King uses It to vivisect racism, classism and - the one I'm really surprised I missed - homophobia. The appearance of Pennywise is intimately linked with the characters' sexual awakening and questioning. Part of what made Tim Curry's portrayal of Pennywise in the notorious (and yes it is scheduled for a re-watch) television adaptation so frightening was that he was not only scary, he was/is incredibly seductive. He lures his victims with appeal and flattery as well as threats and fear. He was/is very sexy, something Curry just can't help but undoubtedly also built into his portrayal.
It movie distributors Warner Brothers have launched a very effective campaign - the floating empty rain slickers on city streets are impossible not to react to and forward on social media - that leans heavily on the horror. Fortunately a 17-year-old photographer, Eagan Tilghman, gets Pennywise's appeal (though it must be emphasized, not in a sexual way. Hopefully someone older is working on the gay porn parody which will restore clown's to their rightful place). Tilghman dressed his kid brother as Pennywise and took a serious of delightfully creepy photos. That it is a stunt to get on the Ellen Degeneres Show and presumably jumpkick his photography/make-up career is immaterial. He gets the visceral appeal of It, Pennywise and clowns.
It is time for clowns to take a stand, strike back and become the funny, sexy stars they are. Ellen Degeneres has a history of scaring her guests for laughs and she has often, regrettably, used clowns as a prop. Eric Stonestreet and Jane Lynch have both been victims. An actor best know for playing a gay character and an out lesbian? Is there latent homophobia as well as coulrophobia at play? At least she spared Richard Simmons, just terrorizing him with a comedian. But if she does give Eagan and Louie Tilghman a slot on her show, she can do a lot to make up for her past transgressions.
Tilghman, and obviously his little brother/muse/model, are, judging from their promotional self-portrait, camera-ready. And if Louie is as charming in person as he is under a layer of clown make-up, the Tilghman's have a good chance of not only promoting the It movie, which of course Degeneres will be wanting to do, but putting forward a manifesto for the restoration of clowning as a powerful art form that transcends. A lot of weight to put on the shoulders of a child but not only Isiah 11:6 advocates child leadership, so does Stephen King in It, when children save the town of Derry and by extension, the world.