Friday, December 02, 2016

COLUMN: Clowns

Ah, autumn. I love this time of year. Everything smells like pumpkin spice (or so I'm told - with MY seasonal allergies, I anticipate regaining the use of my nose sometime in early December.) The air is crisp, the colors magnificent, and, of course, the streets run rampant with killer clowns intent on murdering us all.

As fads go, this isn't one of my favorites. We first heard about it back in spring, when somebody filmed a menacing looking clown lurking along a suburban roadside and casually strolling through a cemetery at midnight. He/she/It/Pennywise wasn't doing anything illegal other than being super creepy -- but as anyone who's ever read Stephen King's "It" knows, a loitering clown is certainly bad news.

Things escalated in August when kids at a South Carolina apartment complex reported a clown trying to lure them into the woods. Possibly this was a tasteless prank gone awry, but it was just salacious enough to get coverage on about every newscast in the U.S. That prompted creepy clowns to start popping up all over the place, and now the Great Clown Panic of 2016 is now upon us.

There's two surefire ways to know when a controversial fad is past its prime. The first is if "Law & Order: SVU" devotes an episode to it. The second is if it reaches OUR neck of the woods. Thus far, I haven't had the pleasure of witnessing Ice-T interrogate any clowns, but this week, students here at Augustana have reported someone in full clown makeup peering menacingly in dorm windows.

The news is begging people to stop dressing up like clowns to scare people, which of course translates to many teenaged minds as "please dress up like a clown and scare people." It's only a matter of time before some idiot clowns the WRONG family and ends up on the losing end of somebody just itching to try out their concealed carry license. I, for one, would like to avoid any full-on clowntastrophes.

In the meantime, clown panic is reaching fever pitch. The other day, one of our local news channels broadcast an image of what they thought was a Quad City creepy clown, only to be told minutes later that they had started a public witch hunt for an employee of a local haunted house simply walking home in costume. The guy DID look relatively terrifying and was open-carrying a nail-covered prop hammer, so he wasn't ENTIRELY innocent, but still. I think we all need to chill out a bit.

If there's one thing that we as a society are great at, it's a good old-fashioned overblown panic. Quite often, these spring to life during times of social upheaval and stress, and we're deep in the mire right now. Don't believe me? TRUMP. CLINTON. You just bristled a little bit, admit it. We're in a stressful era.

The 80s were a stressful time, too. Remember all the panics we had back then? The gool ol' days when everyone was convinced for a while that if you played Dungeons & Dragons long enough, you'd eventually lose touch with reality and spend your life in a fantasy hellscape. This might have bothered us had we any free will, but our brains were busy being controlled by evil subliminal backmasking in all of our heavy metal albums. And then of course there was the PTA meeting that bravely informed our town of devil worshipping in our midst and that we should watch for warning signs of Satanism like mohawks and anarchy symbols, which naturally caused bored teenagers to go get mohawks and anarchy t-shirts in short order.

Maybe we're panicking over creepy clowns because it's an easier panic to manage than politics or race relations. Creepy clowns are nothing new to me, because I've ALWAYS thought clowns were creepy. WAIT, NO I DON'T. Two weeks ago I bad-mouthed chickens and my house got egged. I do NOT want my house creepy-clowned. I take it all back. Clowns are amazing and valued contributors to society and we shouldn't find them creepy and weird and PLEASE don't creepy-clown my house. Those aren't heebie-jeebies I feel whenever I see a clown. It's just my natural love for clowns manifesting itself in a physical way that only coincidentally feels like my skin is crawling with cooties. Clowns are awesomesauce.

Truth be told, there's actual science behind a clown fear. Its called the "uncanny valley" -- the more something looks human but not QUITE human, the more we're prone to feelings of eerieness or revulsion. It's why we love R2D2 but hate those disturbing Japanese robots that look exactly like people. Wikipedia quotes a psychology professor who says that young children are "very reactive to a familiar body type with an unfamiliar face." So when you see someone that looks like a normal person but with exaggerated features making exaggerated gestures, it's perfectly normal to get a little skeeved-out. I can't think of any other occupation with the same potential to elicit fear. There aren't movies called "Killer Carpenters from Outer Space" or rap groups called the Insane Accountant Posse.

All of this makes me feel bad for those who clown for the power of good. There's a local entertainer who clowns around for sick kids and the elderly and just wants to make people happy. She's on Facebook today saying that "due to recent events, tonight I was told to take my wig off... it is a sad day." It should never be a sad day for a real clown. Worse yet, one of her fellow entertainers just commented that "us real clowns need to wage war on the uneducated individuals doing this."

Look people, I just survived a chicken war. Don't make me live through a clown war, too. Let's stop clowning around before the Creepy Clown Panic becomes the Tiresome Clown Tedium. I don't need another thing to be irrationally afraid of. I've already got CNN.      

No comments: