With the US Presidential elections just around the corner and Brexit ever looming over the horizon, we probably have more serious things to be worrying about than clowns. However, they’ve been at the forefront of our minds directing which route we take home from work for quite a while now – the craze just won’t die down. Why? Partly because it’s almost Halloween, and partly because the clowns are having far too much fun pranking the public.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you definitely haven’t been anywhere near social media lately. Quick rundown: people all over the UK and the US have been dressing up as clowns and chasing people through forests, hanging around outside schools and lurking in back gardens. There have been reports of clowns causing teens to be hospitalised, school lockdowns due to local sightings and far too much wasted police time and resource due to the number of calls they’ve received regarding the new craze. And it may be a massive joke, but it’s definitely no laughing matter.
Half the people who have caught on to this new trend and are clearing Asda’s Halloween section of clown masks are harmless pranksters who are just enjoying the adrenaline that comes from creeping around at night chasing people. They’re mostly innocent people who happen to own clown costumes and find this kind of thing hilarious. The ones who go around smashing cars (or even some people) using the clown attire as a disguise are the only dangerous ones in the mix; the difficulty is distinguishing a kid in a clown costume from a threatening criminal.
The worst thing is that most people probably wouldn’t be scared if it was literally just a few kids messing around. Creeped out, sure, but not genuinely frightened. We’re frightened because some of these clowns carry around knives or machetes and actually want to hurt us – which means that the kids running around with fake hammers terrifying members of the public are feeding off the threat of criminal activity, and, more importantly, the threat of serious injury or even death. They may not realise it, but they’re using this contemporary clown discourse that has sprung up over the past couple of months to get reactions from the public. In short, they’re milking the wave of criminal activity for their own pleasure. And that’s messed up.
There’s some psychological reasoning behind why people are scared of clowns: traditionally they intimidate and humiliate people, they’re pranksters, they’re walking embarrassment opportunists, which makes them unnerving because of their unpredictability. Their huge boots, extreme make up and crazy wigs make them seem like weirdly distorted versions of jesters, and clown culture has evolved (particularly thanks to modern horror films) from a form of children’s entertainment to a sinister and often drastic type of trickery. And now these clowns, who are supposed to entertain at kids’ parties, are hanging around menacingly outside primary schools? No wonder we’re scared of them. No-one wants to accept that our childhood comforts have had an extreme makeover and that we are now expected to run screaming from people who are supposed to be about as scary as a teddy bear.
I’m not a spoilsport; I can fully appreciate why pranking your older sister on Halloween would be funny, relatively light-hearted and good YouTube content (as long as she’s fine with it going online). But those kinds of pranks are controlled – the prankster in question will know the boundaries and tolerances of their ‘victim’. A completely anonymous clown jumping out at innocent and unexpecting passers-by, however, does not know how they are going to react. They could unthinkingly respond by hitting out at their threat, or by running into a road in the face of oncoming traffic. They might have severe anxiety or another mental illness that means they really struggle with shocks and surprises, whether or not they are actually as dangerous as they initially seem.
What scares me the most about this – hopefully dying – craze is not the clowns themselves, or the threat of them. I worry that actual criminals are feeling somewhat justified by the sight of people copying their potentially fatal actions, because the people who dress up and go out to hurt others are unmasked in the same way that the innocuous teens who are joining in for the sake of it are unmasked. At the moment, we have no way of separating a law-breaker from a child, essentially. And that’s pretty terrifying, to me.