In recent weeks, “creepy clowns” have been sighted across the country. There have been reports of clowns luring children into wooded areas, brandishing machetes in front of apartment complexes, wandering the streets both day and night, writing threatening Facebook posts, stalking school children and inciting fear in the hearts and minds of people they meet.
What may have started as a prank has grown into a national pandemic. According to the Coloradoan, there have been reported incidences of clown sightings in twenty states since early September. Schools, news outlets and public officials have issued warnings about this unusual phenomenon, urging people to stay safe and on the look-out for suspicious activity.
Although the majority of clown sightings have been labeled as pranks, they are no laughing matter. When people see news reports about clowns, imaginations drift toward Halloween, serial-killers, horror films and nightmares. According to the BBC, masked figures are unsettling because we are unable to read the individual’s body language or discern their true intent. This is what Sigmund Freud labeled as “uncanny”: something recognizable, but slightly off, that makes the viewer feel uncomfortable.
With Halloween less than three weeks away and the US Presidential election less than four weeks away, people are terrified, and their fears are totally justifiable.
Although the celebration of Halloween is a national glorification of death, fear and the artwork of Tim Burton, it is widely considered a tame, friendly holiday. Children dress up as Disney characters, college students dress up as sexy versions of Disney characters and parents distribute candy while wondering how much longer Frozen’s Anna and Elsa will dominate the costume section of Party City. To top it off, November 1st is national half-price candy day (talk about non-threatening). Therefore, although this holiday has creepy pagan roots, for the most part it is not a celebration that causes people to panic.
Perhaps it’s the election that is causing so much unrest. Exactly one week after national half-price candy day, American citizens will cast their votes to elect the next POTUS. To many, the orange clown running for office is far more frightening than the masked vigilantes luring people into back-country woods. Yet, I digress.
Although I consider this “creepy clown” pandemic unsettling, I don’t think these pranks are the biggest issue at stake. Oscar Wilde once said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” It is more important to consider the motivations behind these incidents rather than the incidents themselves.
When the people who are causing these incidents put on a clown mask, they are able to enact chaos and violence without revealing their true identities. The mask gives them a sense of empowerment, courage and audacity. By painting their faces white or wearing a creepy covering purchased at their local Wal-Mart, they are able to act fearlessly while provoking fear in their victims.
What we should be asking is why these individuals feel the need to empower themselves by terrifying others? Why have these incidents spread across the nation? What can we do to prevent something like this from happening again?
Arguably, the majority of the people dressing as frightening clowns are not clinically insane. They may be troubled pranksters that need an outlet for built up aggression, but they have gained power and a following because their actions provoke some of our most basic survival instincts. They are acting out to get attention—we need to ask why they feel they have been deprived of this attention through other constructive outlets?
To be clear, I am not condoning the action of these individuals. I believe that it is wrong to gain attention through fear. Yet, I believe that we should analyze these incidents from a different perspective. When these individuals put on a mask, they feel untouchable. When we see these individuals hiding behind masks, we forget that they are human when we are overcome with fear. When we vocalize our fears, they gain more power.
Therefore, although Halloween, the election season and the general unrest in the world are likely provocations for these clown incidents, we should take the time to consider what this means to us as students and citizens. As CSU senior, Nicholas Montalbano, wrote in his letter to the Collegian “We aren’t descended from fearful men.”
Things in the world may be scary, but there is no logical reason to live a life in fear. Take necessary precautions to protect yourself when you feel threatened, but don’t be overcome with an impending sense of doom. Clowns are scary, and they are making the news, but we must not forget that these are people hiding behind masks. They are frightening, but they are human. Their actions are merely an extension of their personal struggles.
Therefore, this Halloween season, don’t be overcome with fear. Although there are a million things in this world to be genuinely afraid of, masked vigilante pranksters should not be at the top of your list.
Collegian writer Nataleah Small can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @NataleahJoy.