Police Warn Against Clown Hysteria

Clowns are scary.

Even before the current rash of "killer clown" sightings being reported to police forces across the United States, we've always found something creep in clowns.  With their makeup, bizarre clothes, and tendency to attack audiences with  pies, seltzer bottles, and balloon animals, the fear of clowns remains common enough for mental health professionals to have a formal term for it: coulrophobia.   Certainly books and movies such as It and Killer Klowns from Outer Space have played on this fear often enough.   Along with fictional clowns such as Sideshow Bob, the Joker, and Pennywise, there are gruesome real-life example such as John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer and rapist who often did charity appearances as "Pogo the Clown." 

But this new epidemic of clown hysteria seems to be something else altogether.  People have reported sighting clowns chasing children and stalking schoolyards in New Jersey, Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.  Some reports have them holding swords or driving vans marked with clown themes but actual arrests remain rare.   In Martinsburg, Pennsylvania, an 18-year-old man was arrested for prowling while wearing a clown mask and holding an airsoft pistol and police are cautioning children about traveling alone given the fear of copycat incidents.  Pennsylvania police are also investigating a fatal stabbing of an 16-year-old boy which may have been clown-related though details are still scarce.

Though most of the current clown sightings are likely due to mass hysteria or practical jokers, the sheer "creepiness" of malevolent clowns lurking in the shadows remains the stuff of nightmares.  In his new book, Bad Clowns,  Ben Radford of the University of New Mexico suggests that the lingering fear we all seem to have of clowns is due to "the superficially contradictory human feelings of horror and humor" that clowns convey.   The book explores the history of nasty clowns from Punch and Judy of 17th century London to modern examples from fiction and real-life.  

Perhaps not surprisingly, "bad clowns" have become much more recognizable than the "good clowns" who are supposed to make people laugh.  Sinister clowns have become an industry all in themselves including obscene clowns, S & M clowns, sex clowns, troll clowns, etc.   In a recent study by psychologist Frank McAndrew having people rate different professions in terms of "creepiness", clowns topped the list, largely due to their unpredictability.

In the meantime, clown panic remains at an all-time high and it remains to be seen how long it will be before this latest round of hysteria dies down.


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