Graphic by Nate Barton
A few weeks into the semester I overheard a conversation among my dormmates about the recent wave of “creepy clown” sightings which began this past summer. The details were somewhat exaggerated: The phrase “Clowns are murdering people left and right” was met with nods and shudders. While the facts may have been shuffled around, the general tone of the conversation was similar to the one unfolding on social media in recent weeks: hysteria, in varying degrees.
Admittedly, the sightings are scary to think about. I’d be afraid if I were approached by anybody in a costume late at night. But the overwhelming sense of panic being encouraged by the circulation of videos and disingenuous links on social media platforms has reached the point of absurdity.
In Colorado “some school districts are banning clown costumes” for Halloween “to preemptively avoid hysteria,” according to Max Siegelbaum’s article “Colorado schools ban clown costumes” on Oct. 12 in the Denver Post. McDonald’s has decided to limit their clown mascot’s “participation in community events” out of mindfulness of “the current climate around clown sightings,” according to Juan Anguiano and Corky Siemaszko’s “Creepy Clown Craze Claims New Victim” on Oct. 11 in NBCnews.com.
This hysteria has had an effect on professional clowns, who see their business and reputation soiled as a result of the public’s reactions. Real performers, who take their profession seriously, are having trouble finding audiences and fighting off stigmas, according to Joanna Walters’ “Clown sightings” on Oct. 16 in the Guardian. Clowns whose job is to provide laughter and entertainment for children in hospital care, for instance, may find themselves with fewer opportunities because adults’ hysteria about clowns has indirectly reached their children.
Furthermore, spurned by a false need for “protection” against a “wave of killer clowns,” some may use preemptive violence against pranksters, or anyone else, wearing clown costumes in public. Some gunshots have already been fired in the direction of where the first clown sighting took place, according to Katie Rogers’ “Creepy Clown Sightings” on Aug. 30 in The New York Times.
Many analyses of “fear of clowns” have been published in recent months, citing the influence of popular films such as Stephen King’s “It” and the story of serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who dressed as a clown in the 1970s, as in Olivia Goldhill’s “Why are we so scared of clowns?” on Oct. 17 in the Telegraph. Others, like child psychiatrist Steven Schlozman, have cited the effect of clowns’ “exaggerated human features” on our brain’s recognition faculties, as reported in Rogers’ article.
But for those without diagnosable phobias or chronic fears, there is no real reason to buy into this culturally conditioned fear of clowns. It encourages a juvenile stigma and hurts real performers while creating a potentially dangerous environment for pranksters.
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