The Joker and the Mystery of the Sacred Clown

 

 

Much has been made about the recent string of clown movies (IT: Chapter 2, The Joker) and recent comedy stand-up specials from Dave Chappelle and Bill Burr, respectively.  Much has been said on these artistic expressions.  What the attempt is to do is to provide an esoteric undercurrent for what is happening in mainstream media.  We will look at the history of “clowning” and its purpose within the tribal setting but also it’s placed in modern society.  Ultimately, the purpose of this article is for you to think differently when someone is speaking against the status quo.  They may be attempting to wake you up from something you were unaware of and the humor is the vehicle for which they deliver this spiritual message.

Clown, Trickster, Fool

 

From pygmies, fools, buffoons, tricksters, and jesters there are the many names for what we understand as the clowns of today.  From medieval Europe, Africa, Native American, Meso-American, and all points in between civilization has celebrated the “clown” character in some form or fashion.  The court jester was usually given great freedom of speech, often was the only one to speak out against the mainstream opinions and ideas.  Through humor, they were able to effect opinion then eventually policy.  

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Koshare figure

To understand this dynamic we have to understand how words can be used to dismantle popular opinion.  The clown’s role was to use the words we use every day and rearrange them in a way that you now saw the world differently.  No different from a modern-day comedian or rapper.  The dominant society tends to hold the dominant perspective and stepping outside of that gets you ostracized.  What a Trickster does is think outside of that dominant narrative while being within the same paradigm he is speaking against.  This is done through riddles, jokes, poetry, rhyme, and overall creative expression.  The art form that the Trickster figure is purposed to reverse the status of the dominant society and ultimately destroy the oppressive societal structure.  In ancient mythology, the Trickster is a mere character or personification of intellect and secret knowledge. This knowledge remains above or beyond your current reality so it seems to play tricks on you and forces you to go outside the boundaries of societal norms.  

Heyoka

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Heyoka shown riding backwards on a horse

There is written of a Native American Religious concept called Heyoka which is a sacred energy “that rattles the cages of complacency”.  That represents a mirror that reflects our actions, no different from the Orisha Eshu.  It is shown riding a horse backward, representing the intent to turn things back to reveal hidden truths.  Heyoka is there to remind us that we take our lives too seriously.  In Hopi tribes, there were Clown Kachinas that provided amusement during Kachina ceremonies.  Often shown with watermelons, not so different from the minstrel stereotype, they behave unusually and lead the drumming for tribal dances.  The Heyókȟa is thought of as being backward-forwards, upside-down, or contrary in nature.  For example, if food is scarce, a heyókȟa may sit around and complain about how full he is; during a baking hot heatwave, a heyókȟa might shiver with cold and put on gloves and cover himself with a thick blanket. Similarly, when it is freezing he might wander around naked, complaining that it is too hot. A unique example is the famous heyókȟa sacred clown called “the Straighten-Outer”  Heyoka reminds people that Wankan Tanka is beyond the Christian concepts of good and evil.  Although heyoka also translates into English as a “sacred clown,” a heyoka is more than that. Because this is a sacred calling, the person is chosen by supernatural forces such as having dreams of a Thunderbird. Only a few receive such dreams, and they are regarded to be mad by everyone else.  The Heyoka is an ancient concept that forces you out of your mundane nature and sees your actions are limited only by expectation.  Like Patch Adams, Heyoka becomes a source of wisdom and healing.   Nothing was sacred to a sacred clown, they were the providers of social criticism and commentary that allowed the tribes to grow within reason to consensus.[1] 

 In the days before the invaders came… .we had clowns. Not clowns like you see now, with round red noses and baggy costumes. Our clowns wore all kinds of stuff. Anythin’ they felt like, they wore. And they didn’t just come out once in a while to act silly and make people laugh, our clowns were with us all the time, as important to the village as the chief, or the shaman, or the dancers, or the poets.[2]

To the colonizers of this country, the Sacred Clown was the most dangerous office based on their influence of public opinion.  A warrior can be killed in battle.  A Sacred Clown could influence uprisings and revolts with mere words.  

As the Cree Medicine Woman says in the story, Flight of the Seventh Moon, “No wonder we never got along. . .my people and your people. They were all the time getting peeved at each other and much hatred grew between us. It was unavoidable because my people had great pride and humor. Yours had the jitters and wanted to shoot those who were laughing at them. Yet I still find you white people very amusing. I have to laugh at you because you never let yourself go. Every word to you is completeness or else a long way off. You like to bludgeon the meaning of something to fit your own stupidity. It would serve you well to quit being so brittle.”

These Sacred clowns were dangerous to tyrants and colonizers because of their disorder and honesty.  They saw with the eyes of a child and seen the truth within lies, also a close comparison to the Orisha Ellegua/Eshu.  The invading army of this country hated the Scared Clown so for this reason, they became tricksters and learned to change their form, even if it meant they had to become invisible.  

Deindividuation

 

There are specific situations that make nearly all people engage in behavior that would be considered “evil”.  Evil behavior as we know it happens in a state of individuation, a state in which one’s identity is hidden.  Researchers have found that deindividuated individuals are more likely to hurt others, cheat, steal, lie, and even kill under such conditions.  Deindividuation is a tool of warfare, to take away the individuality of the soldier it will make it okay to kill their enemies.  A soldier in a uniform behaves differently than if he were in civilian clothes essentially.  Thus when a person is deindividuated he is allowed to be at his worst.  This evolutionary-based social-psychological take on deindividuation integrates a number of phenomena that seem unrelated. But they are important and clearly related.[3]

A clown is designed to be deindividuated, unlike most professions where you are known by your name.  A clown is generally known for the mask he wears.  Deindividuation is an aspect of group-think. The people involved are focused on conformity with a line of thought; they end up making rash, problematic decisions that promote unity within the group but harm the participating individual and their victims. All blame for decision-making and action is attributed to the group or to its leaders; the specific people being held accountable for making remarks or taking action reject their personal responsibility.  Allegedly “social” media has an anti-social downside to it because of the ease with which people can behave irresponsibly while mimicking other momentarily popular people or thoughts so that people will “Like” or “Retweet” them.  Deindividuation is a problem of shirking personal responsibility for the sake of cohesiveness, a sense of unity involving some sort of cause.[4] 

Once you are in your Clown uniform you are no longer your name you are now Mr. Bibbles, and as a deindividuated person, you are more likely to change your behavior in many ways.  Tricksters, Clowns, and Jesters are the modern-day comedians who have historically poked fun at the powerful dominant society.  Usually beyond reproach physically, the wordplay of a comedian reaches the highest places.  The modern comedian has to walk a line where they can speak freely without causing too much discomfort to the higher up, if this happens, outrage will permeate the land.  The political commentator who does it in a humorous form would be more of the Sacred Clown that has evolved with the times.  Which is not to be confused with a deindiviuated clown who is a puppet for the dominant society.  

Dave Chappelle

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There is a modern-day example of how the Trickster who was once idolized can be canceled if he does not speak to the dominant narrative.  Much of what has been written thus far leads me to how History has a strange way of repeating itself.  While the questions of life imitating art or do art imitate life are still up for debate.  Dave Chappelle recently on his Netflix special Sticks and Stones told jokes about the LGBT community, the #MeToo movement, the current opioid crisis, and a slew of other topics that made people uncomfortable.  These dominant ideas have been moving full steam ahead with a little restriction based on recent things like shadow banning, and demonetization on most online platforms.  Simply saying things against the dominant narrative gets you penalized technologically.  This allows dominant narratives to take root and grow unobstructedly.   Dave Chapelle’s role in this was to provide social commentary and opinion that was contrary to the dominant narrative to a mass scale audience.  We live now in a culture that tells you whatever makes you uncomfortable is bad but what Dave showed is that there is value in being uncomfortable.  Most of Dave’s jokes went at the dominant race and its politics head-on while providing humor to soften the blow of his powerful observations.  As Danielle Butler expressed in her 2018 VSB essay, “what people do when they invoke dog whistles like “cancel culture” and “culture wars” is illustrate their discomfort with the kinds of people who now have a voice and their audacity to direct it towards figures with more visibility and power.”  This is the role of the modern-day trickster.  The ones who have platforms but no longer want to establish with the dominant society can now use those platforms to express freedom of speech.  The Entertainment Industry was once a powerful monopoly that could delete you on all of its networks and shows, now we live in a time where that is not as easy it used to be.  How media companies blackball you or attempt to is by controlling the narrative and getting the masses to hate you.  In my observation a plan that failed miserably when it came to Dave Chappelle and his latest stand-up.  What needs to be established is discernment between the whiteface clown as transposed against the blackface clown.  

Commedia Del Arte

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Commedia dell’arte was performed outdoors in temporary venues by professional actors who were costumed and masked, as opposed to commedia erudita, which were written comedies, presented indoors by untrained and unmasked actors.  The symbol of Commedia Del Arte was the Roman god Janus.  Janus symbolized both the comings and goings of this traveling troupe and the dual nature of the actor who impersonates the “other.”   It was a highly improvised theater based upon stock characters and scenarios. It contained many comic characters divided into masters and servants.  There were three types of comic servants: the First Zany, the Second Zany, and the Fantesca. The First Zany was a male servant who was a clever rogue often plotting against the masters. The Second Zany was a stupid male servant that was caught up in the First Zany’s schemes and often the victim of his pranks. The Fantesca was a female servant, played by an actress, who was a feminine version of one of the Zany characters and would participate in the schemes and provide a romantic story among the servants.  Remember this for later in the article when we reference Harlequin’s. 

The character of the modern whiteface clown is an evolution of the black clowning in minstrel shows.  The wide red or white mouth painted on by modern clowns is a remnant of the blackface mask.  So now we come to a point of understanding the minstrel and the acceptance of it in black culture.  What we see now is a degradation of black culture, it was but a mere “tradition” to the colonial melanated person.  The blackface clown is more in line with older traditions, from Native American to African to medieval European to ancient Egyptian — the social function of the clown as an Outsider, and Other, a creature of difference.   And because he was different, an Others, the clown was allowed to say and do things no one else could. As the court jester, he could satirize and make political comments, telling the king rude truth no one else dared utter. Satire and parody were central to minstrelsy.[5]

Harlequin

 

Joseph Grimaldi (1778 – 1837) was exclusively a theatrical clown. He is considered the Father of Modern Clowning because he is an entertainer who elevated the Whiteface clown to a starring role replacing Harlequin.  Besides appearing as a whiteface clown, Grimaldi also performed in blackface portraying “noble savages” such as Friday in a comic production of Robinson Crusoe.  Grimaldi painted his face white and added designs of red triangles to his cheeks. This was the birth of the “Comic Whiteface Clown” of today. His costume was: a cutaway shirt, white knee-breeches, a blue crest wig on his head.

The fictional DC universe character named Harley Quinn is a frequent accomplice and lover of the Joker, whom she met while working as an intern psychiatrist at Gotham City’s Arkham Asylum, where the Joker was a patient. Her name is a play on the name “Harlequin”, a character which originated in commedia dell’arte.  Harlequin is a poor, anarchistic, but has the creativity to get along and survive in a world constantly abusing him.  In the Commedia Del Arte, the Harlequin started off as a Second Zany, a victim. Performers portraying Harlequin gradually made him a smarter character until he eventually rose from a victim position. In English Pantomime, a style of theater based on the Commedia del Arte, John Rich completed the evolution of Harlequin elevating it to a starring position. New characters evolved to assume the position of Harlequin’s stupid victims. One of these was the whiteface clown.  

The Joker

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The Joker is a 2019 film that speaks to a lot of the themes presented in this article.  A symbolism of fighting back against an invading race of people.  The ways that the dominant society rules based on opinion.  The joker was a clown, a comedian, as well as an eventual trickster and leader.  Even if it all happened in his head, millions of people experienced his nuanced experience on this planet.  What the movie attempted to do is evoke empathy for heinous acts.  This ties into how our culture is deindividualized.  The same people who attempted to cancel Dave Chappelle will applaud the Joker based on empathy.  The joker represents dominant societies victim mentality and how it laughs at things that are not funny, while not laughing when it is needed.  Through adversity and struggle is when the laughter is needed not when a murder occurs.  This another attempt of Hollywood to hijack ancient traditions and use it for their own perpetual purpose.  There are many themes that this movie highlighted with the hopes of evoking empathy over criticism.  This movie attempts to evoke praise when it should evoke an investigation on what exactly is being said.  The Joker’s name in the movie was Arthur Fleck.  Fleck is a patch or spot, which correlates to the many traditions being patched together to create this character.  Arthur like King Arthur denotes that this person is in a King position even if you do not see it that way.  The trickster’s job is to remain hidden in plain sight.  This movie under close examination is a directive to continue to act senselessly and laugh/cry about it to absolve yourself.  Uniforms within themselves denote warfare and group identity. There was a scene in the movie where the Joker walks into his “love” interests home, this scene correlates to the Amber Guyger – Botham Jean incident, which the sentencing and movie happened at the same time.  I find it no coincidence that IT Chapter 2 and The Joker were released in consecutive months.  Followed up by the Cop Drama about a female cop being attacked by fellow officers titled Black and Blue to be released in the following month.  All in all, this movie perpetuates the theme of Colonization “Everything Must Go” and literally smacks you over the head with it, as seen in the opening scene of the movie.  The true Sacred Clown, however, will not go so easily and will only find ways to destroy the perfect paradigm for the few and raise the money to get what they deserve.  The net effect of all of this is “the reversal of [the Lion’s] status as the King of the Jungle In this way, the “master’s house” is dismantled when his own tools are turned against him.” Henry Louis Gates Jr.  

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Elegua is sometimes represented as a child, and sometimes as an old man.  He represents the beginning and end of life and the opening and closing of paths in life.  Sometimes known as the trickster, he likes to play jokes on people.  Eleguá is always mentioned first in any ceremony because without his permission, the doors to communication with the other Orishas stay closed. We want to deal with the trickster, or Sacred Clown to overcome all forms of oppression from within.  The Sacred clown allows us to tap into our primal nature and show that reality is held together by a thin veil.  The Joker is also a warrior in the same line as the traditional trickster.  Warfare in large part is deceptive, by concealing your identity, which is the true sorcery and witchcraft we see around us now.  Our world if seen by the ancestors, would be called evil.  So we really have to determine what we mean when we say it.  The “evil” or contrarian darkness to the already perceived light, under this context, can no longer be considered as such.  The primordial darkness is our modality for creation, modern media portrays darkness as evil, and perpetuates the dominant society’s narrative subconsciously.  The African deity Eshu-Elegba represents the dual forces of good and evil. He is the deity that can bring humanity back from destruction, chaos, and despair. He understands both darkness and light, and if we all continue to have “hope” he will guide us out of our despair.  I hope this article was useful.  Please share this article and follow my blog for more articles and content.  

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[2] Granny, from Daughters of Copper Woman by Anne Cameron, 1981, Press Gang Publishers, 603 Powell Street, Vancouver, B.C. V6 A1 H2, pg. 109

[5] http://black-face.com/blackface-clowns-history.htm  Blackface Origins in Clowning

 

 

 

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