I’m not going to go into too much detail about my history with and understanding clowns. With due respect to those whom clowns legitimately frighten, I’m not one of them. The victims, I mean, not the clowns. I can fully appreciate how others might feel scared – I feel the same way about spiders – but clowns are pretty innocuous to me.
Even clowns that are specifically portrayed to be scary – Stephen King’s “It”, “Killer Klowns From Outer Space”, etc. – don’t scare me within the context of them being clowns. I recognize those entities as being demons or aliens that adopt the appearance of a children’s party clown. It’s not the clown aspect itself that’s scary; it’s the perversion of the otherwise innocent concept of clowns.
And that’s what’s happening with this rash of “scary clown” pranksters. They are taking the idea of the clown and perverting it.
But more than that, they are capitalizing on the power of fear. The fear of clowns is a legitimate as any other phobia – heights, snakes, closed spaces – and it’s a fear that can be taken advantage of.
When you couple this with the anonymity of the mask – these pranksters generally wear masks instead of makeup – you’ve got something that is at once powerful and easily gotten away with.
I believe that this trend stems from Youtube “prank channel” videos wherein pranksters pull off similar public acts, dressing as zombies or ghosts or other scary figures in order to surprise and shock innocent strangers. It’s a power dynamic that is often resolved by way of the prankster revealing to the victim that it was in fact a prank, the victim more often than not relieved and apparently forgiving. But even if that doesn’t happen, the videos rarely show repercussions. We rarely see accountability.
Aside from the fact that the scary clowners don’t record their pranks, a key difference between Youtube scare pranks and the clown trend is that most Youtube pranks are executed and recorded very publicly. There’s no real escape for the prankster if things go wrong. Most of the scary clowners meanwhile tend to act at night and with not many random people coming and going. They thrive on the one-on-one encounter. It’s a direct power dynamic that they can engage in and then run away from into the dark of night, removing their mask and costume and simply going home.
Even if the victim records the incident on their smartphone – reversing the filming role of the Youtube pranks – there’s no culpability for the prankster. They would have to be followed and apprehended in order to be identified.
The trouble there is the dual layer of the fear dynamic. Not everybody who is scared of these scary clowners is scared of the clown aspect specifically. Most anybody would at least be intimidated by a person wearing a mask at the side of the road at night. And practically everyone would take a knife or a chainsaw seriously, especially if the creepy figure – mask or not, clown or not – advances on them with that weapon.
This is what keeps a lot of individual people from confronting these clown pranksters directly. You cannot guarantee that the person under the mask are ambitious idiots and not legitimately dangerous. You cannot tell whether to take them seriously or not. It’s a risk, a chance not worth taking.
It’s great that police officials are taking this seriously, and letting the public – especially the perpetrators – know it. Ultimately though I don’t think this is what will end the “scary clown” prank trend. Like most trends (if that’s all this is) time and boredom will set in. It will become passé and out of creepy fashion.
And if it hasn’t peaked already, the rest of October will do, if only because of Halloween season. It will likely be too tempting for a prankster to go out, wreak havoc, and just blend in with costumed crowds to escape.
Ultimately the biggest test of time will be winter. Most of these clown pranks tend to happen at night and outdoors. How many of these pranksters will be willing to brave the cold weather and try to run away in slushy snow? I can’t imagine many of them are committed enough to make like Canadian kids at Halloween and wear their costumes over or under their bulky winter coats.
It’s a trend, and an unfortunate one – at least a few have been harmed, both victims and perpetrators. And I can only hope that no children have, or will be, scarred for life. Legit clown artists have enough irrational fear and stereotypes to deal with – they don’t need any more at the hands of actual fools.
© 2016 Andrew Hall Writes