Remember the good ole’ days when a plump man dressed in bright colors and silly face paint would create jungle animals from a balloon? Remember when these magical and friendly giants could manage to make even the grumpiest of five year olds giggle and smile? Unfortunately the innocent and lighthearted reputation clowns once enjoyed and profited from is recently suffering defamation. Reports of menacing clowns engaging in forms of criminal activities ranging all the way from attempted child abduction to assault and battery have been growing in severity, frequency, and geographical diversity. So how is it that this craze has snowballed into such a dangerous societal threat so suddenly and severely? How have clowns become such a hazard that even the White House has noticed? The sweet ice cream bearing comedians we used to know and love (kinda) have taken on a new identity in this age of technology, and I’m hard pressed to believe that social media isn’t to blame. From Twitter to Instagram to Facebook, videos and pictures of people dressed in threatening clown costumes have been surfacing ever since this past August.
Disclaimer: if you suffer from the below psychological phobia, probably don’t read on.
Clown Craze 2016: A Brief History
Apparently, creepy clown sightings date all the way back to the 1990s. These eerie and sparse reports are mostly chalked up to extreme fans of Stephen King and his various horror books and films, namely his clown-centered horror book “It”. So what is this recent frenzy of clown incidents? Why now? And how did it blow up so quickly?
Wasco, South Carolina. August 2016. This whole pandaemonium started when a (subjectively) weird couple in SC decided to experiment with a film project. Parading around this small town at night, the wife took pictures of her husband dressed in a creepy clown costume holding a bouquet of balloons. Making their way through town, the couple snapped pictures at various well known landmarks. To share the fruits of their labor, the couple then posted these disturbing pictures to an Instagram account with the handle @wascoclown. Although the account has since either been deleted or edited, the below picture is allegedly the first of the clown pictures that scared local residents, and the post we have to thank for this ridiculous phenomenon.
Ever since this initial post, social media has exploded with accounts both mimicking the wasco clown, and devoting posts to clown sightings and encounter reports alike. From the US, to the UK, to Canada, Australia and a host of other countries across the world, clown sightings have been a prevalent and popular topic hitting social media platforms. In fact, the twitter account @ClownsSightings has wracked up an impressive 331 thousand followers and is completely dedicated to relaying footage and geographical information for various, and frankly concerning, run ins with these havoc wreaking pranksters. While these clown confrontations started out as fairly harmless attempts to creep people out, run-ins have been reportedly becoming more and more dangerous for all involved. From clowns wielding weapons and breaking into people’s homes, to scared civilians taking it upon themselves to stop this clown craze from continuing, serious injuries, arrests and even fatalities have resulted from this social media driven mania. Authorities and school systems here in the US as well as places like Australia and the UK have even resorted to community-wide cautions and warnings regarding jumping on the clown joker bandwagon. They strongly advise against it. While the King of Horror jokingly protects his beloved clowns on Twitter, most people are not amused by this threatening social media fixation.
Social Media thoughts:
While there unfortunately exists a plethora of clown-related publicity pertaining to morbid and frankly terrifying encounters, you can look those up in your own free time. I prefer not to focus on the reports because 1. It freaks me out 2. It makes me lose faith in humanity more than even the current presidential election, and 3. I’m more interested on social media’s role in growing and perpetuating this madness. That being said, here is my take on why social media is to blame for things escalating to the degree that they have. People have always been fascinated by horror. We watch scary movies because they get our hearts racing, entice our senses, show us who our weakest stomached friends are, and remind us of the luxury of our own safety. While I in no way support this recent craze, I am not shocked by the attention and following it has received. However, I do not think that it would have reached the size nor the scale that we are seeing had people not been made aware through social media that dressing up like a clown a lurking in public places is really disconcerting for most people. And while innocent pranks have been played since the beginning of time, give people a platform to not only consume, but also produce footage of these hair-raising clown exchanges, and the community of interested parties will grow. Social media has created a space where people can both watch scary movies (or at least scary media content that mimic the effect of scary movies) and simultaneously create their own narratives. And what makes people feel better when they are afraid? Misery loves company, and what more accessible way is there to create a community than through social media?
So, no. As far as clowns are concerned, I’m having none of it. But when it comes to proving the expansive power of social media, this whole craze is pretty impressive. If this blog left you feeling scared and uneasy, fear not. I have a feeling that, like any good social media explosion, this pandaemonium will blow over as quickly as it developed… We might just have to wait until after Halloween.