Things like spiders and snakes play on our primal fears, not needing a precise moment in which these harmless creatures incited a reaction of fear. When it comes to clowns, however, World Clown Association president Pam Moody blamed the widespread phobia of the characters meant to cause joy on the 1990 miniseries adaptation of Stephen King's IT.
"It all started with the original It," Moody revealed to The Hollywood Reporter. "That introduced the concept of this character. It's a science-fiction character. It's not a clown and has nothing to do with pro clowning."
"Last year we were really blindsided," Moody explained of real-world citings of people dressing as clowns who intentionally threatened others. "We've since created a press kit to prepare clowns for the movie coming out."
Moody does still cite that, while clowns are meant to bring joy, children are often apprehensive around anyone dressed up in a costume, no matter what the costume is.
"They're different from regular people — they're costumed characters. But no one is picking on the Santa Clauses, because that would ruin the retail business," she says. "It would ruin Christmas for everybody."
Additionally, overbearing parents can also leave a mark on a child's perception of the jester, who she claim often force a child into their arms, despite a child's objections.
"I'm trying to motion to them, 'No, no, stop!' but they keep coming at me," she says.
Throughout the '70s, John Wayne Gacy sexually assaulted and murdered at least 30 young men and boys, ultimately leading to his incarceration and execution in 1994. What made the crimes all the more shocking was the revelation that Gacy portrayed a clown on the weekends, under the pseudonym "Pogo," hinting that all clowns potentially have something sinister to hide behind their grins.
Most clowns, like Moody, have much more positive intentions, as she uses her persona Sparky the Firefighter Clown to teach children about fire safety.
"People had school shows and library shows that were canceled," Moody says of the backlash. "That's very unfortunate. The very public we're trying to deliver positive and important messages to aren't getting them."
Whatever the inspiration for the fear, clowns are still popular in pop culture, with the recent adaptation of Stephen King's IT earning $123 million in its opening weekend.