Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Creepy clowns? They’re back.

The Cold War gave us all sorts metaphorical red-scare science fiction movies, in which we were invaded by the body snatchers and worried about the day the earth stood still. The Blob. The Fly. They were all out there, ready to spring on a complacent, Ozzie and Harriet America. The incredible shrinking man? That was the USA, weak and puny, in no position to stand up to the Red Menace.

We seem to be responding to our most recent threat du jour with a rash of creepy clown incidents.

I know what you’re thinking. Why bother to modify the word “clown” with “creepy?” After all, there’s really no other sort, is there?

But whether those throes are creepy clown or just plain clown, we’re in the throes of a full-blown creepy clown epidemic.

Just the other day, NPR wrote about America’s “scary clown problem,” which had as its Ground Zero, Greenville, SC, “where there were reports that ‘suspicious clowns were attempting to lure children into the woods.’” Since then there have been any number of incidents. across the US.

The reports were unsettling even for those who don't suffer coulrophobia, or the fear of clowns. And in the weeks since, the clown situation — there's no way around it — has gotten worse.

NPR sorts the incidents (which in some cases are imaginary, and in many other have no evidence to back them) into three buckets:

Creepy clowns. A woman in California reported that “a man in a clown suit attempted to snatch her 1-year-old child out of her arms at a bus stop in broad daylight.” A Texas man claimed that a couple of assault-rifle toting clowns confronted him when he was out walking his dog. It may not have been all that threatening, as “the tense situation was resolved when the victim ‘retreated into his residence to get a bigger dog,’ and the clowns drove away.” Let’s face it, a really creepy clown – especially one packing an AR - might not have let the guy go back into his house to get that big dog.

In some cases, clowns have been arrested for doing things like chasing people with sticks, and, in one incident in Illinois, for wearing a clown mask while cutting brush with a chain saw. (Is that really against the law anywhere?)  Another clown was pinched for “terrorizing people with a horn.” (Is that really against the law anywhere?)

The epidemic has even spread to Canada. O Canada! No, not Canada! God help us.

The second group is threats against schools.

Across the country, dozens of schools have had to cope with threats posted on social media accounts promising violence — with pictures of terrifying clowns attached.

In some jurisdictions, the threats are being investigated. In others, a child or teenager has been arrested and charged with posting the noncredible threat. Several police spokesmen describe these as copycat incidents, with students inspired by hearing of other clown-related threats.

There’ve been plenty of arrests and, in a number of cases, the threaten-ers have been charged with felonies. Even if you find clowns funny, that’s no laughing matter. With a felony conviction, someone charged with phoning in a clown threat could end up not being allowed to vote. On the other hand, maybe someone who calls in a clown threat shouldn’t be allowed to vote, especially in the event of a creepy clown finding his or her way onto the ballot, as has been known to happen.

The third category is what NPR calls “unfounded hysteria.”

Creepy clowns are creepy. But the panic over creepy clowns can easily be greater than any actual threat from bemasked individuals.

In more than a dozen cases, reports of creepy clowns have led to arrests — not of scary entertainers, but of the people police say lied about their sightings.

All this has had a terrible impact on actual clowns, some of whom, I will admit, are probably nice enough, at least when they’re not in clown their full blown clown regalia and greasepaint.

Clown troupes are rejecting invitations to parades. Moms are canceling clown bookings to children’s parties. Clowns are staying away from sick children at the hospital, and some have faced arrest for trying to do their jobs of making people laugh. They fear going out in the attire of their chosen career. (Source: WSJ

As of the WSJ article, there’ve been clown incidents in 38 states.

Even the White House has weighed in, warning law enforcement officials to take them “quite seriously.” And the Fargo PD – certainly no strangers to weird phenomena – have tweeted out:

Can we all agree that dressing as a creepy clown, now, or for Halloween is probably not the best idea?! #TooSoon#YoureSuspicious

Given the nature of our country, vigilante groups have formed in some states to go after creepy clowns. And we’re not talking the UConn beer’d up clown posse armed with hockey sticks.

A retired clown – sitting in mufti in a hospital caf in Columbus, Ohio – overheard (or thinks he overheard, c.f., unfounded hysteria) a bunch of guys “talking about hunting down and killing clowns.”

A police department in Utah has gotten some inquiries about whether it’s okay to shoot someone dressed as a clown. Apparently, you don’t even need to be standing your own ground to put a bullet in someone you no like. Yikes!

I don’t like clowns to begin with, so it’s unlikely that I’ll ever be caught – dead or alive – in a clown suit. But, given all the clown hysteria, I wouldn’t want to be walking around in those outsized, flapping Bozo shoes that clowns wear. Not until the hysteria dies down. (Which may or not happen after November 8th. Stay tuned!)

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