Clownin’ Around

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.

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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. screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-9-20-36-pm

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.Screen Shot 2016-10-10 at 9.44.23 PM.png

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.

8 comments

  1. fernaneq4 · ·

    I’m happy someone is posting on this! My roommates and I have been talking about creepy clowns for the last two weeks. It may be possible that the show American Horror Story (as well as the couple in South Carolina) inspired these clowns and now it is a domino effect. However, clowns should beware because there has been multiple accounts of the clowns being attacked by vigilantes. The media should stop publicizing it and maybe people will stop dressing up as clowns! I love scary movies, I am the first one in line at a haunted house but if I see a clown not in a theme park, I’m running.

  2. gabcandelieri · ·

    Your post really drives home the bizarre nature of this clown craze. The idea that people are using social media as an intimidation tactic truly draws on the moral implications of platforms that are capable of rapidly disseminating information. Although the clown frenzy is not as severe as a terrorist group using social media to send encoded messages or rally support, it is extremely similar. The clowns and clown supporters are using Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, etc. to bring visual images of clowns intimidating innocent civilians to the public eye. But, innocent civilians are also perpetuating this trend by posting pictures of the clowns that they find particularly entertaining or frightening. So as social media users and consumers we should be asking ourselves– what are the true implications of sharing, are we adding fuel to the fire?

  3. Great post. It’s funny how on social media how things can explode with little or no basis in much reality. Around Christmas last year, we had an entire Twitter discussion in class around issues that had never actually happened but got amplified beyond control on social media.

  4. It’s fascinating to see how this clown phenomenon has blurred the lines between reality and imagination because of the way it’s being projected through social media. I’ve watched a lot of these clips online of clown sightings, and even though some of them have clearly been fabricated, I can’t help but feel anxious that I’ll run into a clown incident that’s not clearly made for the sole purpose of virality. Also, I recently read that McDonalds has decided to bench its mascot, Ronald McDonald, as a conscious move towards protecting its brand image (and its community of consumers) from the current climate around clown sightings. Jokes are fun, but it’s troubling that social media has propelled these sightings into a creepy craze that’s negatively affecting people’s careers and businesses.

  5. bishopkh1 · ·

    Really interesting post. I agree that the craze is less about the clowns, and more about the ability of social media to perpetuate fear. It seems like this theme can be applied to so many current events lately – whether it’s terrorist groups or disease, social media has the ability to spread fear to so many people. While it is beneficial to hear about what’s going on in the world and to be aware of possible threats, this clown craze makes me question whether social media really plays a positive role in delivering us news, or if it just spreads negative feelings and encourages crazy people to do crazy things. Great job with this!

  6. I really enjoyed reading your post- even if I was getting chills while reading it, and looked out my window to ensure that clowns weren’t lurking in the area. Firstly- I have to agree- clowns are so incredibly creepy. It is amazing how a childhood party event has turned into something so negative- and has a cognition related to murders, abductions, etc. Recently, I also saw a recent news article about a “clown” who was riding on the back of a truck on a major road. It is amazing how social media is capable of making a craze out of the oddest things- and frankly how people get entertainment out of things like this. I think part of it relates to human nature and how often times we distract ourselves with stories such as these and then within a few weeks we are off to the next topic. It will be interesting to see what is the next “clown craze” in social media.

  7. adawsisys · ·

    Great post. I agree that social media has escalated the clown situation to unsafe levels. There are videos of clowns charging at people with weapons, and there are also videos of people “hunting for clowns”. As these videos gain more exposure they will encourage more people to dress up as clowns, and they will encourage an even larger number of people to “hunt” for clowns. The other day there were videos of students at Penn State “hunting” for clowns. There were crowds of people and the police got involved. Its hard to see the clown situation improving before halloween.

  8. cattybradley · ·

    Good post! I am weirded out by this clown frenzy. I think you are spot on with your analysis of social media’s role in creating a craze. This was a few weeks ago but Snapchat had a story called “Clown Hunting at Penn State” after there was a sighting on campus. Snapchat was so quick to showcase the hype and fear of the clowns to all of its users.

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