Let's talk about clowns. I know. I know. Clowns are probably the last thing you want to talk or even think about right now, but seriously... what’s going on? What’s with the sudden creepy clown craze that's gripping america and freaking us all out?
Well to explain that, we need to start from the beginning.
Coulrophobia, or the fear of clowns is not an old fear. It’s probably been around as long as clowns have, but clowns in the modern sense have only been around since about the 1700's. Because of this, not much study has been done on the phobia. That being said, though we do know that’s it’s one of the most common fears today, we know that the fear probably originates from the not knowing of what’s beneath the make up, red nose, and wig/dyed hair. And we know that the occurrence of coulrophobia spiked in the 1990’s was most likely thanks to Stephen King’s It (Batman’s arch nemesis the Joker can’t have helped either). Lastly, we know that there’s been another major spike in the last month, for reasons I doubt I have to explain.
In their own right, clowns can be entertaining. They can be funny, tell jokes, do magic tricks, make balloon animals. They can also be dramatic and strangely thought provoking. My sister, a theater and dance major, once explained to me that the point of the quintessential sad clown, was as a social commentary for a person's need to hide their face in order to keep others happy at the expense of their own happiness. More or less, the clown can be a metaphor for us all, sometimes fun, sometimes depressing. But whether you have coulrophobia or not, I think everyone can agree that clowns don’t really have a place outside circuses and kids parties. Even inside these parameters they can still be creepy (thanks John Wayne Gacy). So what are they doing out on our streets at night?
Clowns pacing the streets at night isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Personally, I’ve been hearing about it, (mostly through twitter) for years. But in all these cases it was an isolated incident that happened two or three times in a suburban town, and were obviously meant solely to freak people out. Something that seems to work well enough to put the local community on edge but not much else. What makes the current situation different is probably that it didn’t start out with the harmless, yet scary pacing of the streets at night. Greenville County, South Carolina where the craze is believed to have started at the end of August, the clown sightings didn’t start at night, and they weren’t harmlessly walking around. In fact it was the exact opposite. The first reports of clown sightings in Greenville all took place in the daytime and all were incidents of a clown trying to lure a child into the woods using money as a motivator. Several other incidents involved kids spotting clowns waving to them before running off into the woods. This is interesting considering it plays off one of societies other most common fears, actually probably the most common fear in the world throughout all of history. The endangerment of our children.
And that my friends is exactly what happened. As much as we all say we want to hear more good news. But as the daughter of a journalist I know, that’s not actually true. Feel good stories don’t keep people watching the news or subscribing to the newspaper. The macabre truth is that what does keep us engaged is fear. Whoever the Greenville’s clown is (and by the way, according to Time Magazine the clown sightings there have since stopped) they may or may not have been trying to get media attention, (I suspect that was their motive) but they definitely weren’t trying to start a trend. However, they did get media attention, and probably more than they were expecting. From there, people began to notice. As soon as it became clear that clowning around could get you the attention most of us unconsciously crave, the trend caught on.
Suddenly clowns are all over the place. And not only in the United States. Reports of clown sightings have spread from the borders of our country across the pond to Great Britain and even as far away as Australia. Some of these clowns are following the Greenville clown’s example and are making their mark trying, largely unsuccessfully, to lure children places or by making death threats on people. Others are going for the more traditional approach of wandering around neighborhoods at night. While still others are threatening schools or pacing college campuses.
All of the latter who have been caught are students of the respective schools who are using the clown craze to either prank each other or get the day off . Everyone else is simply using the trend to get their moment in the spotlight.
So in conclusion, no this is not the apocalypse. Clowns are not taking over the world, and though they’re creepy, most of them aren’t dangerous. As soon as the media gets bored of the clown craze, and it will some time in the next few weeks, the trend will die as quickly as it started. This time next month the clowns will be a distant memory, back to their rightful places in birthday parties and circuses. Off our streets and out of our minds. So hang on tight guys. They’re just clowning around.