This Isn’t Just About Some Kids Clowning Around


By: Alina Butt

Illustration by Joyce Wong

Remember the knockout game? You know, the one where you go up to an unsuspecting stranger and sucker punch them so hard that they crumple to the ground—or better yet, they die? It was a horrible fad that reached its peak in 2013, seizing the media by the throat and leaving the public deeply disturbed.

It was a movement that created a general sense of fear, because anyone could be an aggressor. If you were walking down the street you were hyper aware of anyone who you passed by because the punch could come from anywhere and anyone. Today we’re facing something entirely different—the specific and unnatural terror that takes hold when we suddenly come face-to-face with a clown.

Yes, a clown. You heard that right. Since August, clown sightings—of people dressed as clowns, and obviously not because of a nearby birthday party—have gone up. Threats and assaults by clowns have taken the public’s minds and social media by storm, starting in the United States and England and now finding their way into Canada.

Friendly, normal clowns (if such a thing exists, which I doubt because clowns are some of the most disturbing creatures to roam this planet) have denounced the actions of these so-called ‘killer clowns.’ They have issued formal statements expressing their dismay over the tarnishing of their good and humble profession and place in society … but at least in this case, let’s be real, no one liked them anyways.

That much can be seen from the reaction to today’s craze. It stretches back to 1972, when part-time clown and full-time serial killer John Wayne Gacy (or, Pogo the Clown) was murdering adolescent boys and burying them under his house. Yet there’s still a craving for it too. Look at what’s on our TVs, from Pennywise in Stephen King’s It (1986) to Twisty in American Horror Story: Freak Show (2014).

It’s a craving that is integral to the function of the media. Whipping up mass hysteria is a favorite past time of the media. I suppose I can’t get over the light-heartedness of it, though. The school near my little sister’s got shut down because clowns on Instagram threatened to launch an attack. It’s just all so absolutely ridiculous. The internet is alive with memes. It’s edgily funny, and it’s either genius marketing on Stephen King’s part for the upcoming reboot of It or a master plan to finally push Harambe out of the spotlight.

So the question is, why? It has to be more than just a general dislike for clowns fuelling the fire. I’m skeptical to blame it all on tired old public paranoia when it comes to insecurity over high crimes rates (which are fictional in and of themselves thanks to the media as well). So what do clowns represent?

I’m inclined to think it’s a specific fear—the fear of the Other. The paint on a clown’s face and the erraticism of their conduct makes them unpredictable and unreadable. They are unrelatable, and the fear of the unknown is a part of human nature. They are seen as not-normal. Potential aggressors. These are all things we’ve heard said about matters of immigration and hosting refugees. I think this craze is, in a way, a re-channeling of those anxieties.

The knockout game assaults were interpreted as hate crimes for being racially charged in nature. In some ways the clown craze is no different. Both share an element of criminality, with people being arrested and charged for their involvement.

If the clown craze doesn’t curb itself soon, someone is going to really get hurt and I’m not just talking about victims. Someone in the United States is going to end up shooting a clown in the face over getting scared—I’ve seen the sentiment expressed among enough of my high school friends from Oklahoma. With that in mind and Halloween just around the corner, how about we all stay away from the clown costumes? We’ll all be better for it.

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