I find carnival people very disturbing. They seem to all have small hands and feet and smell like cabbage. Is it just my imagination or do carnies all have loose skin, floppy ears, rubbery features and fields of liver spots on their small twisted hands and stunted arms? Clowns are even more unsettling -- over emphasized smiles on grim faces; the peculiar costumes and brainless humor. Even as a child I could not loosen up enough to laugh at them or enjoy them . . .
Many years ago, as a youngster, I was taught to avoid carnival people because they steal kids, as I got older I heard that they steal dogs and cats as well. My father said real carnies are gypsies and they steal about anything that isn’t nailed down, including animals and kids. I think the older generations – grandparents -- used fear to keep their kids away from carnies. In the fifties I used to watch carnies set up and tear down at street fairs until my mother had a fit, she said they would steal me and eat me.
Do you think my family’s attitudes gave me this fear of carnies? I can’t even watch television shows about clowns and carnies without breaking into a cold sweat.
Apparently you are not alone in your unique fear. I found a public group on Face book called “Afraid of Carnies.” The group (from 2007) has about twenty-eight members and a weird looking clown for a logo. I wondered for a moment, if they were really serious, and after reading their posts it looks about fifty-fifty. As for me, I think I’ve probably watched a horror flick or two located in a carnival funhouse and of course I love the creepy darkness of it all.
What shot into my mind when I read your email was a really cool movie I saw on HBO in the 80’s – Carny with Jodie Foster & Gary Busey. To me it’s one of the few films I’ve seen that depicts the Carny atmosphere from the 50's and 60's that you spoke of. Behind the Merry-Go-Round and candied apples hunkered games of chance, displays of human oddities, and sexual expositions. Gary Busey (Frankie) played a dunk tank clown who specialized in provoking marks to throw baseballs at him. The movie only brushed on the gaudy and ominous inside world that shadows a Carny's publicly exposed spaces. Jody Foster’s (Donna) life on the midway took her too close to the freaks and lowlifes that populated that Carny world.
If you, like me, enjoy being afraid then this is the movie for you! If you’re really prone to shivers at the sight of carnies, perhaps you should avoid this film. Whatever your choice, thanks for sharing your fear with us . . . what a delightfully chilly glimpse of an often-overlooked sideshow fear.
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