By Jessup Glenn
On October 14th, 2016, a 16 year old was walking down 54th Ave. in the Pointe-aux-Trembles section of Montreal when he heard loud chuckling coming from behind. He looked to his rear and there was a man, dressed as a clown, gripping a baseball bat, looking in a menacing way. The 16 year old fled into a nearby apartment building to which the clown gave up his chase. Emergency services were called but unable to find the suspect. Not just a typical, broad smile, fun looking clown, but a mean face with scary features and sharp teeth!
Stories of clown sightings have swept across America, and have been plague like scaring people seemingly from community to community. Responding to reports of these fearsome displays, anticipating Halloween was more than just trick-and – treating . Costume selling stores have generally had to pull clown costumes, masks, and other severely scary items as a response. Ronald McDonald is in hiding, and coulrophobics (coulrophobia: fear of clowns) everywhere had something to dread this October 31st. Plenty of children did not trick or treat this year or at least were much more cautious often going with an adult from house to house.
Schools nationwide have banned clown costumes for Halloween parties. But clowns are hardly the scariest thing people dress up as for Halloween. Clowns aren’t meant to be scary, at least they weren’t in their conception.
Clowns are typically comic performers for the most part for children. And with that audience you would come to expect something ridiculous. Clowns are meant to be happy and funny. But we see the darker side, with the sad and evil clown archetypes. This all roots back to the unnatural aspects of a clown. A single expression at all times is creepy. And also this is true for mascots and cartoon characters at Disney Parks.
There are more unnatural aspects to clowns that make them creepy that don’t quite apply to costumed Disney characters. In an article on the New York Post, Amanda Bell reports the psychology of why clowns are so scary. The article is supported by Kevin Bennett, a senior psychology instructor at Pennsylvania State University’s Beaver campus.
“The term ‘uncanny valley’ refers to the idea that the closer an animal or robot gets to looking like a human the more comfortable we are with the creature,” Bennett explains.“This is true all the way up to the point where the creature looks almost exactly like a human,” Bennett said. “At that point there is a precipitous drop in comfort level … It seems that the non-humans that look really, really human make us feel uneasy.”
This coupled with the fact that clowns are easily imitable and recognizable but also are a common fear, make clowns a good get up for people looking to scare and creep. These “phantom clowns” have been sighted in isolated occurrences for many decades, but do to the ease at which we communicate over online networks, and the media overblowing several reports, more and more people have people dressed up as killer clowns in a sort of snowball effect. Bennett helps to explain this social escalation.
“Social contagion is a term that psychologists use to explain the spread unruly or aggressive behavior in large groups. A group of 2,000 people might be 99 percent peaceful. But when one or two people go into ‘let’s light a couch on fire’ mode, it makes the behavior seem legitimate. When five or 10 people join in, it validates the initial violence and so on.“Crowds, even well-intentioned ones, can become dangerous very quickly because of this. I think a similar effect is happening with clown sightings. Two or three reports make it seem legitimate.”
Let’s hope that this recent trend of scary clown appearances will dissipate so we can all go back to the time when clowns were seen as fun loving, child friendly, sweet looking entertainers!!!