Is Halloween early?
During the week of October 6, 2016, Ottawa and the Gatineau area were hit with a few sightings of creepy clowns and alleged intrusions. When I first heard about this in the Ottawa news, I wondered if I had momentarily lost track of time because of my demanding work schedule and thought that Halloween was coming up in a few days. I was not aware of the clown sighting craze that had started several months ago in parts of Canada, the United States and has spread in Scotland, England, and Australia.
The creepy clown reports involve alleged sightings or instances of people dressed in clown attire who approach the general public and children. Some of these spooky clowns have reportedly tried to lure women and children in the woods, chased people with knives, guns and machetes, and even yelled at people from cars. These sightings have been referred to as “stalker clowns” because the people disguised as clowns are hoaxers and get a thrill at pulling pranks and terrorizing people. Loren Coleman, an internationally recognized cryptozoologist, calls the clowns “phantom clowns” because they rarely get caught. Prank or not, these clown incidents have led to police arrests, school boards sending warning letters to parents and police investigations.
Will clowns become more creepy?
It is well known and studied by psychologists that many adults and children, at least in North America, find clowns creepy. This finding is supported in the “Creepiness Study” conducted by Frank McAndrew where participants rated clowns as the creepiest occupation out of a list of 21 occupations. A strong fear of clowns is clinically called coulrophoria. In the book “Bad Clowns” by Benjamin Radford, the writer traces the historical evolution of clowns into unpredictable and menacing creatures and explains that the notion of an evil clown is not new. Other factors that have made us uneasy with clowns is for example the story of the serial killer John Wayne Gacy who appeared at children’s birthday parties as a”Pogo the Clown”. Next was the making of numerous films about villainous clowns starting with ABC’s television miniseries “It” which was based on the Stephen King novel of 1986 and featured a horrifying clown called “Pennywise“.
Given the history of clowns and people’s eeriness about them, I surmise that this phenomenon should not make clowns become creepier than ever. Plus there is the comfort of knowing that some of these ghoulish clowns are getting caught by law enforcement and the public is being told that the sightings are people who are not real clowns. Yet, there are a few reasons to think that the good image of authentic clowns could get tarnished:
- The media’s sensationalized this matter and authorities like the White House commented on it.
- This time, social media fueled this craze to the point that it went viral, much to the surprise of Michele Coscia, a Harvard Kennedy School computer scientist who studies what makes an idea or not go viral.
- The terrifying behavior behind the costume is causing the problem.
- The issue appears to be reaching a stage of mass hysteria.
Let the good clowns live on
While this current creepy clown frenzy is no laughing matter and is wrong, I hope that it will not result in giving clowns a bad rap, for the sake of good clowns and their profession. I encourage the public to realize that social media reporting on such topics is often inaccurate. And this week, the novelist Stephen King told the American public in a tweet “Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria–most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh“. Nice, but easier said than done. We still need to get through Halloween when surely some older kids will get dressed and act as wicked clowns.
As said by Miles Leahy (select video), second vice-president of Clowns Canada, the clown’s prayer is to create more laughter than tears, forget momentarily all the unpleasantness in our lives and to make us smile.
I trust that this incident and this evil play to create bad clowns will pass.
Long live the good clowns!