Tag Archives: carnival

A carnival of clowns

It is that beautiful time of year again, you know, the time of year where leaves change colour and start to cover the pavement in warm colours, when there is a tinge of frost on your breath as you rust to the bus stop in the morning, when you start hearing reports of clowns terrorising your local….

Oh wait, what?

This is a fairly new phenomenon that I really didn’t realise was even… well a phenomenon until very recently. In late August reports started coming out of America that people dressed as clowns were trying to lure children away into forests. This quickly escalated into the clowns coming up to residences and appearing at windows, banding on doors, being a nuisance. I wasn’t alone in wondering at the logic of this, in a country where guns, to a degree are fairly commonplace. I assumed, that this would just be something isolated to America… or maybe I hoped. But no, it wasn’t long before they turned up in the UK. Now, living in Northampton, we had the Northampton Clown a couple of years ago (I am now informed that this was in correlation with the release of either the book or film, IT) who has since been unmasked. In all fairness, he was fairly laid back, and would leave cryptic messages on his FB page, giving clues as to where he would next turn up. He would always just appear standing in the middle of a car park, street corner. Always quiet, never interacting. 

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But since then, things certainly seem to have escalated. It is hard to pin down exactly when clowns started becoming synonymous with Halloween, or when they started terrorising locals – I mean until the Northampton Clown, it was not something I had come accross. And given to urban legend, second hand stories and various differences around the country, you will get told either they haven’t until this year, or that it just something that happens every autumn. Although this year is slightly different in that this escalated quickly and the police have since had to put their foot down and stated that anyone dressing as a clown will run the risk of being arrested on sight. 

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But is dressing as a clown any different from other festivities that come along with this time of year? This is the last hurrah, the party before we all buckle down for potentially a hard winter. I mean traditionally… historically if you will. Halloween has always been a time for scares, pranks, for the veil between the living and the dead to be that little thinner. All Hallows… Eve? and The art of carnival! both explore the history behind our need to let loose. I mean even looking at the football season, especially when it is an international tournament. The fact is that, we are tuned into needing days to let off steam. We are lucky that now we have, as a basic standard, a 5 day working week and 4 weeks holiday, bank holidays. 

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And while I am meandering to my point, bank holidays, to a greater extent have taken over from festival days, although I don’t wish to repeat myself if you have clicked the links to my previous blogs. Not, actually, all that long ago, we didn’t have the luxury of time off, and relied on festival days to blow off steam. Halloween is a time of year that we are slowly taking back. It has always been a time of celebrate, but we have slowly moved it over to a child’s holiday, not something for adults to concern themselves with. Why would we want to dress up and pretend to be someone else? Why would we want to put on a mask for an evening? Why indeed! 

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I don’t condone the idea of people dressing up as clowns to terrorise people, frankly, outside halloween it is kinda.. creepy whether you like clowns or not. And it really does give people the excuse to cause trouble. That is really why there were traditional feast days, and carnival days. So that everyone understood that is was a ‘day off’ from roles, responsibilities, that everyone was on the same level. A sort of, wholesale ‘what happens in Vegas’ situation. 

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So dressing up as a clown at will, from late summer, approaching children, tapping on windows, and hell, even attacking people? This is really not acceptable, there is a reason while, as a society, a global one at that, we are all feeling rather uneasy. It really doesn’t matter what your intention is.. although sorry if you are going to dress up as a clown, you must realise that you have a 70/30% chance of terrorising or upsetting people. Just stick to Halloween weekend/night. And stay either in a club/nightspot, or home. Don’t think it is big or clever to scare innocent people. We have Fright Nights, we have movies, we have enough ‘safe places’ to get scared where we will also be guaranteed comfort and support should anything untoward happen.

I am sorry to sound like such a downer, I love clowns, I love clown makeup, and I adore halloween. But everyone has a right to be safe (even dressed as a clown) and to enjoy themselves! 

HAPPY HAUNTING!

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The art of carnival!

In a recent post, I touched on the history of Halloween, where it finds its roots (sorry america, you aren’t responsible for this one!) and this led to an interesting discussion about festival days and carnival, really how ingrained it is in our society. It is something I studied at uni so I thought I would revisit.

Now while I was at Uni, the period I was looking at covered the 15th & 16th century and at first glance you would think that this would bear no relevance to today. But please give me a moment of your time and you will see that things have not really changed.

Now we are fast approaching Halloween which is popularised by costume wearing, this was indeed a big part of festival days, were you would have several roles, that were easily distinguished, and still recognisable today. For example, Hero’s and Heroines, wise rulers, fools, knights, damsels in distress were all popular features. In urban environments peasants were often portrayed as dishonest.

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Another popular theme was The World Turned Upside Down; Judges in stocks, Clergy dressed as women etc. Carnivals would be presided over by a fat man, often carrying a phallic symbol, the Carnival King. It was often young men that kept things going, carnival spirit was freedom and release from the daily toil – some festivals would go one for days and even weeks. Although from time to time, they were also used as political stages.

As part of the ‘world turned upside down’ theme found in festivals and carnivals there was often a ‘Lord of Misrule’. In the main, this was legitimised disorder built into the 12 days of Christmas. Originally appointed at the royal court, he was given full ‘panoply of kingship’ including a throne, armoury, a jester and a gibbet for mock executions.

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This was also true of private households, Polydor Virgil, writing in the 15th Century emphasised that there were mock rulers to whom the usual leaders of the household or official institutions became subservient to during the Christmas period. It seems that the office lay in role reversal, in the elevation of the servant to a position of apparent authority. The alteration of the natural order seems to have been the misrule involved and a suitable symbol for a season of revelry and release from work. No information remains on exactly how they carried out their duties 😉

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However, at Christmas 1516/17 someone took this idea a little far. A ‘Jack Straw’ figure and his ‘followers’ appeared at the Lincoln Inn, broke down doors, and invaded rooms. This was carried out in the spirit of the season but not a legitimised action. Jack Straw was named after the leader of the 1381 Peasants Revolt and clearly an instigator of pranks and wild behaviour among young men.

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Carnivals were also an opportunity to ‘punish’ those who did not stick to traditional roles, a woman marrying a younger man, a young married couple unable to produce a child – they would often be harried and harassed. Eggs and flour through at their house, pots and pans hit outside their house at all hours to make sure they would not get any peace. In some cases, these were the sort of cases brought to the Lord of Misrule to face a court and decide their punishment.

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Carnivals succeed in allowing people to ‘blow off steam’ every year, in symbolic and ritualised ways. In this way, it helped to control the populations, if the people knew that at certain times of the year they would be able to relax and let heir hair down. However, this was not always enough to curb revolution; ritualised revelry could only accomplish so much. Sometimes the issues at hand; if not properly addressed would cause mass rebellion. Religious movements at the time also meant that some festivals were beginning to be frowned upon as they had their roots in pagan rituals. Although a lot of the festivals were able to be incorporated into the new religious calendar, in order to minimise the upheaval for people still getting used to the new set of morals and life style codes being inflicted upon them.

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I hope you have enjoyed reading this, I realise it isn’t to everyone’s taste but it does offer food for thought – think about festivals that we still have today – music festivals that last 3 or 4 days, bank holidays, religious holidays that are still observed but now secular. The ideas behind festival and feast days have not been diminished, but they have taken on new guises.