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How the DMV brought out my hidden coulrophobia

Clown Awe

Sketch Diary: 9/15/2015

As a busy freelance editor who is often chained to my computer screen, I welcome any excuse these days to sit around and wait for things. Thus, an hour or two at the DMV was not the groan-inducing task it once was, but rather an exciting opportunity to sit around and scrawl weird pictures into my dusty sketchbook. Afterwards, I wondered at my subconscious. Why this picture? What does it mean?

Coulrophobia is listed in the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders under “specific phobia,” code 300.29.

Psychologists believe that this kind of fear may have less to do with clowns and more with an unsettling familiarity. In 1961, Claude Levi Strauss wrote about the “freedoms” that masking oneself allows. A mask gives a clown the chance to adopt a new identity: “the facial disguise,” he writes, “temporarily eliminate[s] from social intercourse that part of the body which…the individual’s personal feelings and attitudes are revealed or can be deliberately communicated to others.”

In this “Why Are Clowns Scary?” article from Psychology Today, Jordan Gaines Lewis writes:

In other words, the clown—with its painted-on expression of happiness and humor—limits the range of feelings we’re supposed to feel. The clown insists that we laugh. We may not want to laugh. The situation becomes, at best, awkward, and at worst—combined with the unsettling colorful familiarity—terrifying.

Aha. You know who else insists we laugh, or at least smile? The damn DMV employee who takes your ID photo.

The mystery of my subconscious drawing is solved.