This was stated by Gil Kenan, director of the revamped Poltergeist in talking about why they had to modify the script and get rid of the girl’s clown doll. To give the kid a clown doll today, he says, “would be completely disingenuous.” So in the upcoming remake of the movie the family instead finds the box of toy clowns as relics in the attic of the family’s new house, who then provide the necessary haunting.
There is something deeply disturbing about Gil’s statement, and it has nothing to do with malevolent clowns. Rather, what struck me as so scary when I read this is the power that malevolent beliefs have to shape human behavior.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t like clowns. They rank somewhere right above tarantulas for me (or right below, depending on how I’m feeling at the moment). However my dislike of them came well before I ever had a chance to rent Poltergeist. But there is something equally creepy about how easily false ideas can enter our collective psyche and shape culture in the way that dictates what behavior is considered acceptable and appropriate.
Before the 1982 movie, clown dolls been a fairly staple toy enjoyed by many children. Gil Kenan himself says, “clowns once played a sweet and jovial role in every kid’s bedroom.” After the movie, they quickly became taboo. Now, 30 some years later, buying your child a clown doll is a measure of insanity. Something that others would judge you for. Not based on anything real. Not because clown toys are actually bad, but because of something completely imaginary. An entirely baseless idea delivered to the masses in the form of a movie script.
This would all be a quaint curiosity, if not for the fact that countless other baseless ideas are at work in our everyday lives, and they can be just as destructive to you and your children as Poltergeist was to the toy clown industry. They tell us what to feel, how to think, and how to live. They bring us a necessary fear, shame, and sadness. They come to us from parents, from media, and from cultural paranoia. The scary part is that few people take time to really examine the ideas that they come to think of as true. Instead we spend our lives constrained by ideas and social codes which, if you dig deeper, often have no more truth to them than the Poltergeist movie had. Now that’s the makings for a creepy horror movie.
Here’s the real question: what scary clown of culture do you let haunt your family?
1. USA Today, 2/4/2015, p. 3D