There’s no shortage of historical examples of people behaving irrationally and cruelly — shall we say, monstrously — when they feel that behaviour will get them attention. In fact, monsters are precisely what are spawning at playgrounds across the world in the form of killer clowns.
No, it isn’t just Halloween arriving early. Reports of “killer clown” sightings have become frequent across North America and Europe, involving people dressed up as terrifying clowns loitering in quiet neighbourhoods to scare innocent community members. Citizens and police alike have judged these clowns as a threat which communities must respond to urgently and vigorously. Law enforcement has gone so far as shutting down schools and arresting threatening clowns in otherwise peaceful neighbourhoods.
But there’s no need to worry ourselves so much: these killer clowns, existing solely for the purpose of scaring children, aren’t some psychopathic form of necromancy. They’re just an ordinary problem created by ordinary people — people, perhaps, who lack fulfilment in their lives and seek entertainment by inciting terror.
To determine what these people hope to accomplish by dressing up as killer clowns, we need look no further than the digital society we spend far too many of our waking hours on. The Internet is where the killer clown was born.
In 2013, a young filmmaker dressed up as a killer clown as a social experiment and posted pictures of his guise on Facebook, perhaps in bad taste. From this first instance, photos of killer clowns spread to the corners of the Internet, where there’s no shortage of irrational, cruel monsters ready to take advantage of the new idea.
These sorts of people are best-described as trolls. They make comments that can defile even the most innocent and beautiful things on the ‘net, and get away with saying insulting and rude things with no consequence. What trolls have in common with their monstrous cousins, killer clowns, is anonymity.
No one can see the true identity of an Internet troll, just as no one can see the face of the person behind the clown mask. Perhaps it’s this very anonymity that some people find so terrifying about clowns, just as they fear the dark and the unknown.
The increasing frequency of killer clown sightings suggests that the behaviour of these clowns is largely determined, and even unintentionally encouraged, by media. People who have researched this phenomenon have determined that sightings of these clowns come in waves: society experiences a flurry of killer clowns every few years.
This suggests that newly spawned clowns are just copying the offensive behaviour that they’ve heard about in the news or on social media. When clown sightings increase in frequency, they receive more coverage, which lets them reach a wider audience, including potential troublemakers.
This results in a positive feedback loop that causes the phenomenon to spread around the world. One community even saw killer clowns used as an advertising ploy — evidence of the clowns’ success at generating attention.
By fearing the clown, we’re only feeding the troll. We would do better to ignore this over-publicized phenomenon, stop giving it the front page, and leave no incentive for the attention-seeking killer clowns to hide behind their masks while feeding on the fear of children.