31 January 2008

Kids “Universally” Dislike Clowns?

This month, the Reuters wire burned with a new scientific finding: Kids hate clowns. The dispatch stated:

The news that will no doubt have clowns shedding tears was revealed in a poll of youngsters by researchers from the University of Sheffield who were examining how to improve the decor of hospital children's wards.

The study, reported in the Nursing Standard magazine, found all the 250 patients aged between four and 16 they quizzed disliked the use of clowns, with even the older ones finding them scary.

"As adults we make assumptions about what works for children," said Penny Curtis, a senior lecturer in research at the university.

"We found that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found them quite frightening and unknowable."
This prompted complaints from clowns who visit hospital wards, as a follow-up dispatch reported:
Unhappy clowns from around the world say a study that reported that children didn't like them has wiped the big smile from their faces, and have been falling over their large shoes to put their case. . . .

In a deluge of emails to Reuters, they say they misrepresent just how popular they really are.

"The 'universe' of 250 children used for the Sheffield University study was miniscule compared to the 250,000 one-to-one bedside visits made by Clown Care to hospitalized children annually," said Joel Dein, director of communications at the Big Apple Circus in New York.
I can’t read the original article without a Nursing Standard subscription, but I have doubts about any study that surveys fewer than 300 English children and then prompts a declaration that “clowns are universally disliked.” Social scientists rarely speak in such absolutes.

On the other hand, amidst all the caterwauls and chuckles, the news media lost track of the confines of the original study. The Sheffield team didn’t research kids’ thoughts on actual clowns; they’re studying how to design and decorate children’s hospital wards. As HospitalHealthCare.com reported, the lead researcher “said that children preferred colourful spaces and references to contemporary culture.”

Well, of course they do. This study basically asked kids aged four to sixteen in a social environment (i.e., where there was every possibility of peer pressure to be cool) how they’d like their bedrooms decorated. How many kids today are going to demand a circus theme? But that doesn’t mean kids, in hospital or not, dislike the clowns who come to entertain them once in a while.

(Creepy image of card-playing, cigarette-smoking child clowns above by artist Ron English, available as a poster. Now that’s decorating!)


Kelly said...

Of course the language here is overblown. Still, I think the researchers are on to something.

Doesn't everyone have a "traumatic" circus story from their youth? Why do adults insist on perpetrating the same crimes on their children?

I personally support a universe-wide ban on circus clowns.

(And don't get me started on the elephants. Every child recognizes when sitting in the stands that a noble creature like the elephant should not be wearing a hat and standing on one leg balancing a ball. The circus is one tradition that deserves to die a natural death.)

J. L. Bell said...

Certainly I recall some clowns I despised, but I wouldn't go so far as to dislike an entire class of people simply because of the color of the skin makeup.

Lately I've been attending performances of Circus Smirkus rather than Ringling, which means the clowns are less than half my age and I can exert some moral authority over them if need be.

Anonymous said...

I never had a problem with clowns. I don't have any particular affection for them, but I don't understand why anyone would hate them.

David Lee Ingersoll said...

I don't remember finding clowns funny as a kid. Too much clown humor is based on slapstick and being stupid and that never did much for me. (Never cared for the Three Stooges for the same reason.)

I didn't find them scary either. I mostly just found them weird. Some of them were a version of weird that I liked. Others, not so much.

Chris Barton said...

I'm no clown hater. But I still remember the day my wife and I had to explain to our three-year-old that clowns are, in fact, human.