Last week, I asked my teenage daughter what she would do if she saw a creepy clown.
We were walking near our house. The neighbor’s dumpster rested on the sidewalk in front of us, open and tipped on its side.
I said, “Like right now. If you saw one. What would you do if you saw a creepy clown crawl out of that dumpster?”
“Kick it!” she said. And we laughed.
I defy you to have this conversation and not laugh. There is something both upsetting and hilarious about this trend.
“Ok.” I said, “But what if it were the neighbor, just in regular clothes, and he crawled out of the dumpster?”
“Oh. I would walk around him.”
I’m concerned about the safety of our citizens wearing clown masks. Their lives are at great risk if my sweet and gentle daughter is ready to assault a clown just for crawling out of a dumpster.
A friend of mine actually saw a creepy clown last year.
I’ll tell you what happened.
She and another woman were walking alone in a park after dark. Not long after they arrived, they noticed a man in a creepy clown mask stalking them in the shadows, mimicking their every move. The women were terrified and left the park.
Let me tell you the same story another way.
The two women went to the park. It was after dark, but there were lights in the park. Also, it was Halloween night, so lots of people were around. They noticed a group of three teenage boys standing together at the edge of the playground. One of them had on a clown mask. That kid saw the women walking and said something to his friends. He started following the women from across the playground. If they walked, he walked; if they stopped, he stopped.
The other woman had a small pistol in a fanny pack on her hip. She had her hand on it, ready to unzip and fire. My friend was worried for the clowns’s safety and called out to him.
Her voice is funny when she recalls how she said it, kind of charmed and tolerant, the way you would ask a toddler if they were having fun playing in the toilet.
“Awwwww, hi!” she said, “Are you being a creepy clown?”
The boy stopped and tilted his head to one side and walked away, back to his friends.
The situation was diffused and the two women went on with their walk. They did not call the media or the police or post about it on Facebook.
The story did not go on to have any creepy clown baby stories on the internet that day.
The first version of that story is intentionally creepy. The second version is still cringeworthy, but it is not sensational.
The media does this to us constantly, tweaking a story to pull out the most provocative elements, whether in regard to politics or race issues or creepy clowns.
And, sometimes, we do it to each other.
As of today, in reality, the actual reported creepy clown incidents are very few.
And there is absolutely no truth to reports of clowns hurting or luring children into some dark and scary woods.
Most child predators try to bribe kids with things they like, like candy. Or puppies. And it is common knowledge that many children are afraid of clowns.
No disrespect to the Tennessee Highway Patrol, but seriously. As if any kid would go to these guys???
At the time of this writing, out of over 40 states this fall, only two reports of creepy clown assaults on an individual in the U.S. are actually confirmed, and those involved a tenth grade student and an adult.
And get this: the vast majority of arrests associated with creepy clown sightings have not been of people dressed like creepy clowns, but of those people who are lying about seeing creepy clowns.
What is going on here?
The last few years have seemed to hold more terror than we are used to.
Whether it’s true or not (and it appears in many cases to be false. Look at this article on the declining rate of gun violence, and this one for the lower rate of other assaults in the U.S.), we are on high alert as a society.
International and national tension. Election year stress. Our country finds itself in a time of cultural change in many areas, and most people fear change as much as anything else.
We are heightened.
It makes sense that culture would come up with a scapegoat, something to diffuse the anxiety. And clowns have always served this purpose. Broken the tension. Lightened the mood.
People can talk about #ifisawaclown in a way that they can’t talk about #ifiseearefugee or #ifhilarywins or #iftrumpispresident, and on and on.
The conversations we are afraid to have with each other are infinite.
Enter the creepy clowns. A universal thumbs down. Something we all can agree on.
But here’s the problem.
The more that people perpetuate the rumors and the myth of the creepy clowns, the more the myth will grow. And the potential of something bad happening, to clowns and non-clowns alike, increases as the hysteria rises. Mobs are notorious for terrible decisions, and clowns are not known for wisdom.
Remember that scene in Prince Caspian, where Edmund thinks of his fear in the steaming ocean, and the fear comes to life? A giant- kraken like monster wrapping itself around the ship as the sailors look into the fanged mouth of death.
All thanks to Edmund’s fear fantasy, manifested.
It’s a strange thing that these kinds of fears can be self-fulfilling prophecies.
I pray that the hysteria dies down before someone else gets hurt. I pray we can find peaceful and brave ways to face the real issues. That we can call up in our collective selves a certain amount of tenacity and grit and strength that would make our grandparents proud. That we can find ourselves unified as one nation with a common goal for good. And just drop the clown thing already.
NOTE: I was contacted by a reader after publishing this post. She wanted to let me know that there were three confirmed clown attacks in Detroit. In the name of integrity, I am including that addendum here. That brought the number of confirmed attacks to five rather than two. The basic message remains the same, however, that creepy clowns are not the threat that is implied by the amount of media attention they have received of late.
And just to check, I looked up the number of assaults yearly in Detroit. The last year on record at citydata.com shows 9,191 assaults. That’s an average of 25 assaults in Detroit every day. Which confirms the point of this post–assaults by clowns are extremely rare.
The masks stand out and make clown attacks seem more prevalent than they are. They are something we can identify, which is simultaneously creepy and reassuring. We can identify the clown. It’s the psychopaths that we interact with on a daily basis that we can not identify. Much easier to just focus on clowns, however erroneously.