By Ian Cory
I like to pull a fun prank on my friends when they start reading Homestuck. By the time they get to about half way through Act 5 Act 1, I always ask them who their favorite troll is. Without fail all of them mention Gamzee, which allows me to sit back and watch as their adoration slow turns into terror and then revulsion. With all due respect to Lord English and Bec Noir, there is no character in Homestuck that terrifies me more than Gamzee Makara. Part of this might stem from an innate fear of clowns after hearing about (not even seeing or reading) Stephen King’s IT as a child, but I also suspect that Gamzee’s ability to unnerve and upset pretty much everyone stems more from how antithetical he is to the rest of the story. In the tightly ordered universe of Homestuck Gamzee is a seemingly unstoppable agent of chaos.
Gamzee doesn’t really work like that. For a long time he was a one note joke, a dimwitted but lovable juggalo who remained in a permanent state of bliss in spite of everything happening around him. Any actions that he did take barely mattered to the plot and were done out of pure whimsy. And then, without next to no warning, he transformed into a sadistic psychopath who murdered fan favorites with impunity before reverting back to an eerie calm just as quickly. Out of context, these dramatic shifts would be pretty poor writing, but it works because of how different it is from the rest of the characters’ arcs. Unlike Vriska, Gamzee doesn’t care about how his actions are perceived by others, or whether what he does is right or wrong. He doesn’t care about much, except doing what he feels like the moment he feels like doing it. Characters like Arenea or Terezi who attempt to control him or relate to him on a deeper emotional level are left completely flummoxed or are sucked down into the pit of madness with him.
If you’re a fan of geeky things there’s a chance that this is all starting to sound a bit familiar. The idea of a man in clown makeup acting as a force of senseless and unpredictable violence is hardly a new one. In Final Fantasy VI, Kefka slowly transformed from a walking punch line into a genocidal maniac without ever shifting his tone, only his actions, and eventually usurped the god’s themselves and reigned over the world as a beacon of nihilistic destruction. The anime/manga, Death Note also features a clown-like figure, Ryuk, who sets in motion years of bloodshed out of boredom, and, like Gamzee, remains utterly uncontrollable in the face of their “master’s” hubris*. Hell, even Gamzee’s real life counterparts have some similar traits, being mostly harmless until they are suddenly very much not. And then there’s the Ur-Clown by which all other murderous clowns shall be judged: The Joker. The Joker has been written and performed a lot of different ways, but at the core of his character is the immutable fact that he is so far gone that no one can predict his actions or understand his motivations. Like Gamzee, he is a creature of whimsy and is motivated almost solely by his sense humor, which is a shame because most of the things he finds funny involve people dying.
We find these characters terrifying because their abject lack of morality makes them impossible to relate to or reason with. We naturally fear the unknown, especially when it’s contained within the confines of something we believe to understand. But there’s another strain of horror being evoked in the recent string of updates and its one drawing from familiarity and uncomfortable truths. When Gamzee snaps out of Arenea’s mind control and finds himself in the middle of Terezi’s tear stained revenge the first thing he does is ask why Terezi is hurting him, to which she can only whimper an apology, before beating the ever-living shit out of her. Lets make no bones about it, this is a depiction of domestic abuse, played out by teenagers no less, and no amount of goofy costumes or flashy choreography will change that. Homestuck has been flying high on the “holy shit” meter lately, but this sequence took my breath away for very different reasons than Jake’s hopesplosion or Dirk shooting lightning out of his hands. A jester’s job is to tell truth to power by hiding it in humor. In this case, nothing is scarier than the truth.
*Obviously it’s a total coincidence, but it makes me giggle that Arenea is a LIGHT player.