With the new Steven King adaptation IT taking cinemas by storm, the concept of the killer clown is rife in popular media at the moment. But whilst Pennywise’s homicidal clowning is the newest example of the phenomenon, there was a more recent (and far more real) example that made national headlines. That’s right, I’m talking about the “killer clown” sightings that received so much attention and coverage back in late 2016. So, grab your comfort blanket and get cowering, because I’m going to dig deep into the roots, nature, and consequences of the events that gave all of us a case of terminal coulrophobia.
Firstly, let’s get one thing straight. Despite how terrifying it was to imagine that you could encounter a murderous children’s performer down a dark alley or in an abandoned field in the dead of night, there was very little truth to the idea that these weird clowns had any intention of harming you. Whilst an isolated 5% of the sightings led to violence or similar insidious consequences, the majority of times that a clown was photographed, there was no danger whatsoever to the life of the photographer. Simply put, most of these ‘sightings’ were faked. They were either staged so as to allow the ‘victim’ to gain social media popularity by the simple merit of jumping on the bandwagon, or were a prank on the part of the ‘clown’, often accompanied by a giggling accomplice somewhere off to the side who was videotaping the whole encounter. If you’ve ever tried searching ‘killer clown sighting’ on YouTube or Facebook, you’ll know what I mean. The footage of the ‘sightings’ are often so poorly-acted and cringeworthy, that they completely detract from any menace that was intended by the creator.
So, if we acknowledge that the majority of these sightings were fake, then what motivated it all? Well, the near-instantaneous popularity of the phenomenon is comparable to the virility of popular YouTube videos, like Gangnam Style. I won’t pretend to understand the science of any of it, but the core principle is simple; for whatever reason, something can become inexplicably popular overnight, based on multiple factors such as its appeal, its audience and its content. Killer clowns, as far as I can tell, began to appear more frequently in early 2016, popularized by creepy, if laughably-fake, ‘found-footage.’ Various hidden camera prank YouTubers also contributed to the appeal of the phenomenon, demonstrating just how ‘lol XD’ these clown jokes could be. And, once the ball was rolling, it was unstoppable; like every flash in a pan, it would take months to fizzle out, but fizzle out it surely did. I guess eventually it just got too cold to stand around on a street corner in the dead of night, waiting for unsuspecting victims to stroll by.
What was most interesting about the whole thing was how the authorities responded to the mass mania. Whilst it did warm the heart somewhat to hear that local Policeman Plods had vowed to terminate all clowns with maximum prejudice, it also, I suspect, crushed the most vital contributing factor of the successful spread of the viral phenomenon – and that was the fun of it all. Whilst any case of clowns acting suspiciously around vulnerable people, i.e. children, should obviously always be treated seriously, there’s no escaping the fact that, in my view, the mass majority of these events were all done in the name of harmless fun. There’s something awfully-sad about Halloween costumes being banned; its all a little Orwellian, if you ask me.
All of that said, its safe to say that most of us think the killer clown craze has had its last laugh. Like the aforementioned Gangnam Style, the fad was very much ‘of its time’, and trying to replicate it just wouldn’t have the same impact. Still, if you go down to the woods today and meet a clown, you should say hello. He’s probably friendly.