People Are in Love With Pennywise the Clown From It and Fandom Is Having a Field Day

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Something unexpected has begun showing up on my Tumblr dashboard: people are attracted to Pennywise the Dancing Clown from It—the demonic monster who eats children—and Pennywise has become an object of fan adoration.

Affection for villains is hardly a new or unexpected turn in the wild and ranging world of fandom. The biggest “ship” to emerge from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, for example, paired up Kylo Ren, who murdered his father Han Solo on-screen, with General Hux, who callously massacred an entire planetary system with the Starkiller Base superweapon. It’s hard to go on Tumblr without seeing artwork of them snuggling and hanging out with Hux’s cat, Millicent.

That’s just one bad guy pairing out of countless popular fan pairings—and loving the villain is an instinct I understand. Villains are often among the more interesting characters in media, with the most complex motivations and rich histories, and their relationship to the heroes is frequently more compelling than that of the baked-in love interest or wacky sidekick. It makes perfect sense to me—I’ve done it myself—to want to unpack that character further, to explore what makes them tick and whether there’s the possibility of redemption, or at least a human connection.

Pennywise by jerrodmaruyama on Tumblr

The case of Pennywise is more intriguing from a visual and story angle. Pennywise is not so much a person but the “IT” of the book/movie’s title, a shapeshifting entity of pure malevolence that hails from an unknown dimension. Per the Stephen King wikia, Pennywise has “no exact gender or solid identity; thus why it is called ‘IT’.” So Pennywise lacks any sort of backstory or a fixed motivation for why it delights in its primary activity, which is preying and feasting on the flesh of children.

Pennywise simply is. And from a visual standpoint, the dancing demon clown was likely not designed to attract anyone: with a terrifying smile, elongated forehead, and rows of sharp teeth, Pennywise’s ascent as “daddy clown af” would probably surprise its creators. But the Internet does what it wilt.

alxanderskarsgard on Tumblr

I suspect some of this attraction stems from Pennywise being played by an attractive young actor, Bill Skarsgard, of the blessed Skarsgard genes. If you loved It and its antagonist, going home and googling Pennywise and finding out that its face looks like Skarsgard’s without the prosthetics introduces the confusion of Bill Skarsgard lurking under all of that makeup. And maybe It’s creators really were trying to mess with us by casting such a handsome man in such a monstrous role. It certainly adds to the dialogue around the film.

I also believe that some of the current Pennywise craze is driven by just how out-there the concept of loving Pennywise is in the first place. As frequently happens on Tumblr and Twitter, a group’s obsession becomes the object of ridicule to others, everyone doubles down, and then the memes and the Discourse begin.

Everyone has something to say. There are also just quirks of the modern Internet identity that are nearly impossible to explain to anyone who doesn’t live here all the time:

To be sure, there’s a healthy amount of tongue-in-cheek cheekiness under the surface of this Pennywise moment. Clown-lovers are making fun of themselves while also battling the pearl-clutchers that always show up in fandom to decry a character or pairing as problematic.

Some people cannot separate the actions of a canonical character from the right of others to do whatever the hell they want with it in the comfort of their own home and Internet space.

Even so, I have to say that after more than 15 years in fandom, I was a little thrown by the sudden explosion of Pennywise posts—and, yes, erotica—that is filling my feed.

Most of the Pennywise fanfiction that’s emerged seems to pair Pennywise with “the reader,” a self-insert type of story that allows whoever’s reading to experience a relationship with a demon creature from beyond the realms of space. Wasn’t this what the Internet was built for? But I shouldn’t tease: It is, at its heart, a parable about coming-of-age, and perhaps there’s something important in parsing Pennywise, especially for the younger fans who have glommed onto It.

I have a lifelong adherence to never judge—or in Tumblr parlance, “kink shame”—what people do or love or obsess over in the free time. So while I may have had an instinct to recoil at the first mention of Pennywise somehow emerging as the romantic lead of It, after spending some time looking into posts by It‘s fans I’m left mostly fascinated by the development.

What does it say as the product of our times when Pennywise can become an avatar through which to channel our emotions and explorations? Some questions may be too big for anyone to answer.

pennywise confessions on Tumblr

(image: Warner Bros.)

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Kaila Hale-Stern
Kaila Hale-Stern (she/her) is a content director, editor, and writer who has been working in digital media for more than fifteen years. She started at TMS in 2016. She loves to write about TV—especially science fiction, fantasy, and mystery shows—and movies, with an emphasis on Marvel. Talk to her about fandom, queer representation, and Captain Kirk. Kaila has written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.