What is it with the clowns?

I still lucidly remember that day about 20 years back. It was an exceptionally hot summer evening as I drove with my son after picking him up from school and on the way we saw this person dressed as a clown with a “Hot Crisp Pizza Here” sign around his neck. He jumped and pranced around pointing toward the pizza stop in the strip mall. My thirteen year old son’s reaction was to jeer at him and give him the bird. In retrospect, I should not have got overly upset with my son and should have cut short a prolonged lecture reprimanding him for being crude and insensitive for not appreciating that perhaps the poor person was dressed as a clown simply to put food on the table for his family. Of course, for questioning the validity of the middle finger I certainly was justified in the delivery of the sermon.

That my son reacted toward the clown in a hostile manner, I later on surmised, most likely was a normal reaction toward anyone whose identity is concealed. And in fairness to him, he probably had coulrophobia. A Canadian psychologist, Rami Nader, specializes in the study of coulrophobia, an irrational phobia of clowns, and his view is that clown phobias arise because by wearing makeup and being disguised they are concealing both their identity and feelings.

But even if my son did have coulrophobia, it was not a big issue in that this phobia is not deemed by any sensible psychologist to be of any major consequence. It was not even like having aviophobia, which could obstruct someone’s normal lifestyle. So without any fanfare the thought of clowns and their importance and unimportance was discarded by me for good reason that very day.

But now we find clowns have made a comeback riding the social media wave.

This all started when a little boy in Greenville, South Carolina reported he was approached by two heavily made up and gaudily dressed clown attired persons trying to lure him to the woods. Then followed a rash of similar incidents and, on the social media a hysteria by authentic and fake reporting of similar or varied reports about the evil clowns. One woman by the name of Makayla Smith was arrested by police suspected of posting scary posts on the internet posing as Flomo Klown. Apparently, she was making “terrorist threats” which lead to closure of schools in this small town of Flomaton in Escambia County in Alabama, a town with population of about 1500 people.

In Virginia, police arrested two young men because they wore clown attire and were chasing children. In Kentucky a young man was arrested as he lay in a ditch with a clown costume. In North Carolina a man was arrested for spreading false rumors of clowns trying to lure children and claiming he personally had chased them into the woods before they disappeared. Recently, at Western Carolina University, rumors surfaced on the social media claiming a clown had stabbed a student. Similar hoax was unleashed through social media claiming similar incidents in other universities in New England.

In England, Gloucester police underscored the point, as did the other police units in different countries, that rumors were taking away precious resources of the police force. And even the most absurd rumors and threats cannot be taken lightly in the highly charged post 9/11 atmosphere.

In U.K there have been a rash of incidents related with the “clown syndrome”. A man with a mask jumped out of his hiding place brandishing a knife and frightening a group of young children as they headed to their school in Chester-Le-Street, County Durham. In Sudbury, in the county of Suffolk, few people dressed as clowns chased a young boy according to police. The same day a person “wearing a hockey mask and a blood-stained poncho” was photographed in Ashton-under-Lyne, in Greater Manchester. Police in Northumbria reported an incident of several people dressed as clowns scaring and frightening young boys and even adults. In the vicinity of Blakelaw a boy dressed in clown’s costume was arrested for attempting to scare pedestrians. In Victoria, Australia, police has put out a stern warning stating that any “antisocial behavior” will have consequences and “clown purge” groups will be dealt with. Apparently, clowns have appeared in Melbourne, Australia, much to the consternation of the law and order enforcers.

Considering all the frenzy centered around clowns, the inevitable question is why is all this happening? Social media and its impact is the first reason that comes to mind. As for the people participating in the foolishness and even criminal activities their types were always there in the past as they are in the present times. They are the same ones who have a proclivity toward criminal activities and there are always those who relish stupidity and derive pleasure by creating sensationalism.

But in defense of my son’s reaction to a clown twenty years back, I came across a 2008 study conducted in England reporting that children mostly don’t like clowns. In view of this, the study went on to suggest to refrain from using images of clowns in hospital wards for children. As for my son he probably would care less about anything to do with clowns and clowning as he has embarked on the serious academic pursuit of computer technology.