| the role of the clown / humor in imparting information |

The images of the clowns in this article about traffic chaos in Venezuela put a smile on my face, even before I knew what it was about, and triggered me to investigate more about clowns and mimes in different cultures and times. Apparently Venezuela has been having some difficulties with people not obeying traffic rules, nor the authorities, i.e. uniformed police officers, who have been trying to dictate them. There’s been a pervasive lawlessness in the streets with respect to drivers, motorcyclists and pedestrians. So they devised a plan. They enrolled about 100 people and trained them as clowns, to mime reminders to citizens about how to abide by the rules of traffic.

They realized that mimes could more emphatically and effectively inform, because people are in general more receptive to humor and this lighter means of expressing information. In fact, I realized again in the last days, how much humor has been the key to pierce through my own ‘unproductive’ thinking, and bounce me back on track with a more realistic and wider perspective.

My sister had told me a year ago when she’d seen images of men in Los Angeles, who were quasi street gang members, wearing clown outfits. I came across Dave LaChapelle’s documentary “Rize”, in which he portrayed the ‘Clowns Vs Krumpers’ in their Battle Zone, of street dancing in LA. ‘Clowning’ was a predecessor to ‘krumping‘. Clowning was allegedly sparked in 1992 by Thomas “Tommy the Clown” Johnson in Compton, California. Krumping comes from K.R.U.M.P., a backronym for “Kingdom Radically Uplifted Mighty Praise”, a dance movement started originally as a faith-based art form by Ceasare (pronounced CHEZ-a-ray) “Tight Eyez” Willis and Jo’Artis “Big Mijo” Ratti in South Central, Los Angeles, California during the early 2000s.

Tango emerged as a stand-off/battle between men on the shipping docks of Argentina, in which the competitors’ used their physical finesse and strength displayed through dance, rather than weapons, as their artillery. Though I’m truly captivated by music and dance as languages within themselves, my interest is in the street gangs’s choice to pantomime their dance as clowns. Adorning themselves with face paint and costume, sets them ritually apart from the masses. And though clowns can be either gentle or grotesque in their exaggeration of features, could be that this masquerade is vigorously playful and creative, while at the same time mocking the establishment. Perhaps the role that they play, mirrors back to the rest of us, the roles and uniforms which we all conform to, in our attempt to find our own identity through an association with a group and the beliefs that they uphold.

I really don’t know that much about the history of clowns throughout time in different cultures, so I googled it.

What I had already had an inkling about, is that court jesters were to the King, as the role comedians have played in various cultures; having the license, through humor, to expose the truth without being condemned. Well, actually some comedians have been ostracized! Among a long list of American comedians, Bill Hicks and earlier Lenny Bruce, stand out as some who were consistently controversial in their scathing and perceptive observations about religion, marriage, morals, drugs, racism and irrational ideas… And though what they have expressed are unfortunately unacceptable to the establishment, in this role, they’ve been able to get away, for the most part, with making their incisive statements.

According to wikipedia regarding clowns, “Examples of historical, clown-like comedic performers have been the pantomimus in ancient Greece, the Lazzi of Commedia dell’Arte, bouffons, court jesters, as well as the French mime tradition. In addition, there are many non-European clowning traditions; the clown-like figures in Japanese Kabuki theater and North American Native Shaman traditions.

Contrary to court jests, clowns have traditionally served a socio-religious and psychological role, and traditionally the role of priest and clown have been held by the same persons. Now THIS is interesting!