Where Myth Meets Hysteria: Understanding The Creepy Clown Panic Of 2016

Life & Culture Editor
10.03.16 10 Comments


“When I was a kid, I had a clown doll with a head — maybe porcelain — and an all cloth, somewhat satin-y body,” Jason tells us.”This thing was huge. It looked like a prop from a horror film. And I recall it being hung on a hook on my door as I slept. Lifeless. Evil.”

Jason is 34, a writer, and, by all accounts, a fairly reasonable adult, adept at navigating the modern world. And yet, like many grownups (even famous ones), he’s downright terrified of clowns. “Once I was driving with my wife and we were stopped at a light,” he says. “I looked around and noticed there were two clowns behind us, just waving. I almost had a heart attack. It was terrifying and also a complete overreaction.”

In our current climate, Jason’s clown panic doesn’t seem quite so far fetched. He lives in New Jersey, the latest state to fly into a panic over an alleged sighting of clowns, marauding after midnight, looking for children to either murder or recruit. Alabama, South Carolina, Wisconsin, California, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York have all reported similar sightings. Sometimes these clowns are peddling candy or money in order to lure kids back to their hideouts. Sometimes, they’re less friendly, wielding weaponry — knives, swords, sticks — in an attempt to terrorize the townsfolk. But while clown sightings are up, and more and more people are demanding something be done about the late-night throngs of red-nosed jesters, there’s one important thing to note: These clowns? They might not be real.

Seriously. Take the latest reports of clown sightings in Jason’s home state. Despite the fact that police were called and witnesses were questioned, the authorities couldn’t find anyone or anything that matched what people claimed to have seen. And when you factor in that the witnesses were children — a group that’s particularly suggestible — it becomes even harder to believe that these clown sightings are wholly accurate and not at least partially figments of our nation’s collective clown-hating imagination. Factor in the media narrative that these clowns exist, are dangerous, and are coming for you, and you’ve got a full-blown panic on your hands.

But if the stories aren’t true, and the lack of physical evidence makes it fair to say that at least some of these reports are embellished, then how the hell have they taken such a hold on society?