Ianthe’s Inferno — The Racist Origins of Modern Clown Makeup or, just one more reason to hate clowns

In line with the tenets of nineteenth-century romantic racialism, show-men’s portrayals of black men and clowns reflected contemporary representations of white women: late-nineteenth-century scientists argued that ‘‘excessive’’ emotionalism defined women, racial ‘‘savages,’’ and children of all races. The German Darwinist Ernst Haeckel and the Americans Edward Drinker Cope and G. Stanley Hall were all proponents of recapitulation theory, positing that every organism repeats the life history of its ‘‘race’’ within its own lifetime, evolving through the less developed forms of its ancestors on its path to maturity. They contended that Euroamerican women and ‘‘primitives’’ remained mentally and emotionally fixed in lower ancestral stages of evolution. Accordingly, only white boys were physiologically and mentally capable of reaching the highest stages of racial and gender development as fully evolved men. This line of thought used pseudoempirical phrenological evidence to claim that African American men were perpetually emotional and juvenile, just like the clown.The painted clown acted out childish behaviors and infantile pleasures. He reveled in dirt, cried freely, openly adored the serious ‘‘adult’’ acts, and played physical pranks on everybody, from ringmaster to the audience. If playing a hobo popularized most fully by Emmett Kelly’s ‘‘Willie’’ tramp character during the Depression, when at times nearly one-quarter of the American workforce was unemployed, the auguste clown’s persona was defined by dirt. Laughing loudly at the clown’s antics perhaps transported audiences back to the unrestrained pleasures of their own collective infancy and childhood.

 

via Ianthe’s Inferno — The Racist Origins of Modern Clown Makeup or, just one more reason to hate clowns.

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