By Katherine Sharma
“Creepy clown” hysteria has become so prevalent that it was a topic raised at a recent White House press conference. Calm is being urged by none other than horror maestro Stephen King, whose seminal 1986 novel It features a monster clown preying on young children.
The panic began in August in Greenville County, South Carolina, with emergency calls about a clown, or someone dressed like one, “trying to lure children in the woods.” Since then, over a dozen states have reported sightings of scary clowns, and the phenomenon has gone viral on the Internet. An explosion of memes, teen hoaxers, arrests for threats related to “clown activity,” even the establishment of a Clown Lives Matter effort by one threatened clowning practitioner–all have pushed the creepy clown panic right to the door of the White House.
Now I must admit I’ve disliked clowns since childhood. My pediatrician used to have clown pictures on the waiting room walls in a misguided attempt at a kid-friendly environment, which forever connected clowns with fear and pain in my young mind. And I wasn’t alone; most children are afraid of clowns, per studies. After all, clowns’ painted faces and odd clothes hide their true selves and motives, and then they behave unpredictably with startling pranks and magic. For children, that’s unnerving and scary.
There also have been a few evil souls dressed in clown suits to foster adult fears, too, such as John Wayne Gacy, who killed 33 teenage boys between 1972 and 1978. But what is the psychology behind today’s terror of imaginary “creepy” clowns? Clearly, even in our modern culture, we are not immune to the mass hysteria of the witch hunters of old Salem. And what if this year’s overheated political discourse is fostering a free-floating fear of menacing “others,” which distills into delusions of clowns, disguised and hiding among us, “luring children in the woods”? A troubling thought.
For more research on clowns as nightmares, there’s Benjamin Radford’s new book Bad Clowns. Or check out this CNN.com article for a quick overview of our “creepy clown” terror: http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/03/health/creepy-clown-sighting-psychology/