Clowns in Context

Clowns get a bad rap. Many people are really freaked out by them. It’s ironic, when you think about it. Most clowns (unless they are pedophiles or serial killers), only want to make people laugh and smile. They are simply there to entertain. Very few career paths can make that claim.

But I’ve known several people who are coulrophobic. I get it. Clowns are masked, essentially, so you can’t be sure of their true intentions. And there have been plenty of evil clowns in media and literature.

For me, it’s all about context. Clowns don’t bother me at a circus or a festival or a children’s party. But put one in a dark alley, or in a tunnel, or at the edge of a forest, then, yeah… no bueno. At that point, even my instinct to think the best of everyone would be severely challenged.

Every once in a while, the world experiences a creepy clown epidemic. Teenage boys (the origin of most ill-conceived ideas) will dress up as clowns and wander the streets, making people nervous, or actively trying to scare people. If this is something you’re thinking of doing, I’d strongly encourage you to change your mind, because if your clowny ass tries to scare me, rest assured I will punch the red nose right off your face. And if I manage to stop there, you should consider yourself lucky, bozo.


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Godzilla in the Amygdala

 Unless you are an unfeeling psychopath, you are occasionally going to experience that slightly creepy feeling that something just isn’t right. It’s a part of the human condition. It’s that moment when the hairs on the back of your neck are giving you your marching orders. You might not even be able to figure out why you’re feeling this way. All you know is that it’s time to go on the defense.

Perhaps it was a bad idea to walk down this particular alley at midnight. (It usually is.) Maybe that person is behaving unpredictably. It could be that you’re just tired, or you’re experiencing a reduced level of control. Or that strange drawing is giving you the willies. And it was probably not the best idea to watch Psycho all alone in that shabby little motel, just before it was time to take a shower.

Sometimes we actively seek out that eerie feeling. It can be fun. But it’s those times when it sneaks up on you that are the worst. There’s nothing more unsettling than an unscheduled visit to Uncanny Valley. For whatever reason, your body has decided that you are being chased by a saber-toothed tiger. Run!

 Oddly enough, I haven’t felt that way in a while. It’s almost as if my receptors have burned out. My own personal mental Godzilla seems to be on vacation.

The only plausible reason for this that I can come up with is that we’ve been force-fed fear for well over a year now. Political fear. Environmental fear. Financial fear. Insecurity. Unpredictability. Terrorism, real or imagined.

I guess even Godzilla needs down time. Maybe he’s renting a nice cabin in the Berkshires. At the very least, he seems to be someplace without skyscrapers or the need for rampages. I hope he’s having a good time. I can’t say that I miss him, but I probably do need him.

(Thanks, Jen, for coming up with this great title for me!)


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Creepy Fast Food Spokesmen

The new guy who plays Col. Sanders in the KFC commercials gives me the willies. I don’t know what the difference is between him and the original, but there most definitely is one. Maybe it’s his oily voice or his fake sounding Southern accent or the slight smirk on his face, but let’s just say I’d never let him babysit my child.

col sanders

 Burger king

He’s almost as disturbing as the Burger King guy. Who thought THAT would be a good idea? You’d half expect him to show up in a grade B slasher film. If I saw him walking down the street, I’d call the cops.

And I’ve never seen a child interact with the Ronald McDonald clown without crying. And the Jack in the Box guy is rather disturbing, too.Ronald-McDonald_320


So as more and more info comes out about Jared Fogle, the former spokesperson for Subway Sandwiches, and his predilection for underage girls, I am disgusted, but not particularly surprised.

What is it about fast food spokesmen? Don’t the advertising agencies get consumer feedback anymore before starting campaigns? Don’t they thoroughly vet the actors? Or maybe there’s some strange connection between the creep factor and profits. I don’t quite get it. If anything, it makes me avoid such places.

In that case, I suppose I owe the creepy spokesmen of the world a debt of gratitude. My arteries thank you, as does my waistline. Just please don’t ever knock on my door, asking to borrow a cup of sugar.

Acquired Creepiness

I love scary movies. Not stupid and predictable slasher films. If there’s a chainsaw involved I’ll probably have a hard time suspending disbelief. No, I like psychological thrillers and movies that make you think. If a movie boggles my perspective and makes me feel as though I’m on unfamiliar ground, I’ll get the willies and I love that feeling. I have no idea why. Maybe I am an adrenaline junkie.

It takes intelligence to give me the creeps. Sure, if you jump up and shout boo it will startle me. (Actually it’ll probably irritate me.) But if you manage to make me think, “Whoa. Wait. What?” the hair on the back of my neck will stand straight up.

I think that’s because I derive the majority of my confidence from my intelligence. So when I don’t understand something, or when my worldview is, however temporarily, altered, I become unsettled. And when that happens, for a brief exciting moment I feel as if the very laws of physics can’t be relied upon.

My favorite horror movie is John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. Its plot requires a huge amount of suspension of disbelief, but once you get past that minor detail it has a depth that most movies of this genre can’t be bothered to plumb. The symbolism alone is so complex that every time I see it I notice something new. (Plus it’s sort of fun to watch Alice Cooper impale someone with a bicycle. That’s something you won’t see every day.)

I just got finished watching an Australian film called Nature’s Grave (called Long Weekend in Australia). Nothing about that film is normal. There’s no hook for you to hang your emotional hat upon. Just as they do in the movie, you feel like you’re going in circles. You think you know where you’re headed, but then you keep coming back to that scary place that you normally try to avoid. It’s never a good idea to piss off Mother Nature.

Now I’ve got the chills, and everything around me seems ever so slightly off. If someone were to knock on the door right now for even the most innocent reason, selling Girl Scout cookies, perhaps, I’d probably jump right out of my skin.

Fair warning, both of the movies mentioned above have been panned by critics. That just reinforces my belief that most critics don’t like to think. It also reinforces my belief that I see the world differently than the average person. Whether that’s good or bad is open to debate.

The question is, why in God’s name do I seek out this sensation? Why do I attempt to acquire creepiness? I think it’s because I enjoy different perspectives. I’d like to open the door one day and see a lime green sky and be forced to figure out its implications. They probably wouldn’t be good, but what a fascinating way to go!


Alice Cooper looking eerily like… Alice Cooper, in Prince of Darkness.

College Later in Life: A New Perspective on Professors

The first time I went to college I was 18 years old, and I had struggled so hard to be there that I kind of looked upon the professors as Gods. They constituted this great pantheon of pedagoguery and I was eager to soak up whatever knowledge they saw fit to impart. I didn’t question their motives or their philosophies. I just feasted on the crumbs of their wisdom and considered myself lucky for the meal. But at the same time, I considered that meal an automatic golden ticket toward my unquestionable future success. Silly me.

Thirty years later when I decided to return to school, my perspective had changed greatly. I still had respect for the teaching profession. I always will. But the professors had become my contemporaries, and as such I could only view them as flawed human beings. And this time I took the knowledge they imparted greedily, like a person lost in the desert desperate for water. I needed this information to get on with my life. I needed it to change my fate. (Little did I know it would turn out to be a massive waste of time and money, but I’ve already covered that in my blog entry Back to School at 46.)

So when my Physics teacher turned out to be a sexist pig who was stuck in the dark ages, I wasn’t as shocked as I would have been decades previously. I was just massively irritated and felt protective of the younger students who couldn’t see the outrageous behavior for what it was: unacceptable.

Here are just a few of this man’s pearls of wisdom.

  • For some reason he got on the subject of the health food store where he shops. He mentioned that the clerk there was so good looking that, “ladies, you’d know just what to do with him.”
  • He stated that he wouldn’t sell his used vehicle to a female because if it broke down, a female couldn’t walk, whereas a male could.
  • He stated that he felt comfortable letting his girlfriend pilot his boat, because after all, it only has two gears, so a female should be able to handle that. (He was serious!)
  • He constantly called female students “Sweetie” or “Sweetheart” or “Honey”.
  • When one student apologized for missing class because her car broke down, he said, “You’re good looking, got all the guys around you, they’ll fix it.”
  • He told that same girl in a separate incident, “I’ll want an autograph when you’re Miss America in a couple years.”
  • Every single class, he would tell at least one female that she was good looking.

The general consensus of the students I talked to seemed to be that he was “creepy” because he was saying things that someone his age should not be saying to people their age. What they were not yet mature enough to understand, I feared, is that “creepy” is unacceptable.

After a great deal of soul searching, I decided that I had to report the guy because I doubted that the 19 year old girls in the class would have the courage or the life experience to do so. This man had been with the school for 20 years. He needed to be made aware that his actions were grossly inappropriate. He should not be allowed to make female students squirm simply because they needed his class and had paid good money to attend it.

Needless to say, my report caused a major uproar. I got called in to the Dean’s office and it wasn’t just the Dean sitting there. It was an entire panel. I told them the story, I answered questions. I gave them details. They asked me what I wanted to happen.

I told them I wasn’t looking to get anyone fired in this economy, and that in fact the man really did know his physics, but his behavior had to change. He needed to be called on the carpet, trained and monitored. They said they would do all of the above.

I honestly doubt it made much difference, but it made me feel better, and it also made me realize that I had come a long way since my first college experience.

And I have to admit I got a bit of a cheap thrill from the fact that the man got to read my written report and therefore learned that he’s considered a creepy old man. If he came away with nothing else, he’ll have that morsel to chew upon whilst he examines his crows feet in the mirror.

The truth hurts, sweetie.


Doin’ Time in Uncanny Valley

I’ve never been afraid of clowns, but I’ve known a lot of people who are quite terrified of them. Since I could never relate to this, I thought I’d research it to try to understand it, and that’s when I stumbled into Uncanny Valley.

For some reason it never occurred to me that people would do scientific studies about what we humans find to be creepy, but sure enough, they have created this graph.


It seems that we can find recognizable things that aren’t anything like us to be cute, such as ET, and we can find things that are exactly like us to be cute. But when something is almost like us, but not quite, that’s when it falls into that valley in the graph and it freaks us out. It’s like our brain just about recognizes something, but also senses that there’s a quality about it that is a tiny bit off. Just enough to want to assume humanity, but not enough to be able to do so, and that’s when your brain starts sending you that “Danger, Will Robinson!” signal.

Apparently clowns fall into that Valley for a lot of people. For me they don’t because I can discern the facial features and the real expression beneath the makeup. But there have been instances where I’ve found myself in Uncanny Valley, and once you’re there, you never forget it.

One time when I was about 5 years old I was at the neighborhood Girl’s Club and I went down the stairs in search of a bathroom. I opened a door, only to find several armless mannequins staring back at me. I still have the occasional nightmare about that.

I can get lost in the Valley when people make strange movements as well. One that always gets to me is seeing that girl scuttle down the stairs upside down and head first in The Exorcist.


For me, the Valley is also a place where people do the unexpected and impossible. I remember vividly a scene from The X Files in which a man who can shape shift decides to hide. Mulder is looking for him inside this hospital, and he leaves an examining room and the camera zooms in on this one shallow little medical instrument drawer, and it slides open, and there’s the guy. Well, there are his blinking eyes embedded in a drawer-shaped entity, anyway. I actually had to stand up and pace around the room after seeing that.

In my search for photos to include with this entry, I literally camped out in Uncanny Valley for hours. Now I feel a little queasy. Don’t say I don’t make sacrifices for you, dear reader!

So here, for your viewing “pleasure”, are some images that give me the willies.

creepy baby jake Creepy doll creepy faceNightmare_Valley creepy shoes creepy sodahead

Who’s the Pig in this Scenario?

So, the other day I bent down to retrieve something, and heard “Look at the HAM HOCKS on this woman! Woo hoo!” Honestly. I know I have more than my fair share of junk in the trunk, but in what universe would anyone want their posterior compared to that of a pig? It was meant to be a lighthearted tease, apparently, and he was genuinely befuddled that I took it badly, but these things tend to stay with you, you know?

And less than 24 hours later I was at work and there were two electricians tearing out wires in the engine room below my feet with the hatch wide open, and I was treated to this conversation: “The problem with marrying young is that they’ll get this woman fat, you know? And then you don’t know WHAT you’re going to be stuck with.” “Well, I lucked out. My woman is like a fine wine. She only gets better with age.” I suspect this pair had never been in the same room with fine wine, and if they had been, they’d surely not have the self restraint to let it age.

Yup, women just love to be talked about as if we’re horseflesh. And the thing is, they knew I could hear them. Which makes you wonder what they’d have said if I weren’t there.

Through the years I have been treated to whistles and cat calls at construction sites, I’ve been called a “nice piece of a**”, and one time a doctor, while performing a breast exam on me, told me I reminded him of his girlfriend in college. I was 16 years old. The exam went from clinical to creepy in the space of a sentence. I never went back to that doctor again. Had I been older and more self-assured, the consequences for him would have been much more dire.

Don’t get me wrong. Women pile on, too. I’ve been told I’d be cute if only I’d do x, y or z. And when I learned my mother had cancer, within hours my face erupted in acne so severe I looked like pepperoni, and one of my coworkers said in front of a large crowd, “My God, you look horrible. What are you going to do about it?” What do you say to that? “Gee, I don’t know. Chop my head off?”

I suppose I could go off on a rant about how the media trains us all to objectify each other, but we’ve heard enough of that, frankly, and while I tend to agree, I think targeting the media is like chipping away at the tip of the iceberg, and I suspect this iceberg will be bobbing in our collective cultural sea for a long time to come.

So here’s a concept. Think before you speak.

thinking cap

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