Clowning around

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Clowning around

Ilena Peng

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I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.”
-Stephen King

As a little kid, I was terrified of all the typical things — the dark, needles, vegetables and spiders. But it wasn’t until I was far beyond those “little kid” years spent with a nightlight that I discovered another universal fear: clowns. I’d always wondered how a clown with bushy rainbow hair, a pair of enormously oversized shoes, a squeaky rubber nose and an unnaturally large smile could possibly scare anyone.

But if you take a look at the descriptions of clowns in shows like the clown Twisty from the fourth season of American Horror Story, it’s clear that our books and movies are what turned funny clowns at town carnivals into objects of terror. And starting from clowns like those in Stephen King’s horror novel turned miniseries “It” in 1990 about a child-killing demon disguised as a clown, the clown craze has only grown, even into reality.


Starting in late Aug. in South Carolina, people have reported creepy clown sightings — and even though most clowns haven’t done any real harm, simply the idea of having an axe-wielding, gun-brandishing ghostly clown creeping around past midnight is reason enough to be scared. Even though the clown sightings aren’t in every part of the country, creepy clowns have become a nationwide phenomenon due to books, movies and social media. And the fright has logically caused schools like ours to ban clown costumes.

It’s precisely the stuff found in horror movies, and clown-related horror movies are nothing new, from King’s “It” to a more recent movie released in the U.S. in June 2016, creatively titled “Clown.” But the chain of recent clown-mania isn’t a circus gone rogue — the depictions of the clowns have a noticeably more sinister tone to them.

I never perceived clowns as scary when I was younger, perhaps because I never went to fairs or circuses, but as far as horror movies go, it is difficult to find someone who despises them as much as I do. Intentional jump scares, blood and gore, constantly creeping suspense … I’d much rather get my adrenaline rush from something else, thank you very much. But as Halloween merchandise slowly fills up the shelves of stores and students must decide what to wear, keep in mind that in some schools, the buzz over clown sightings means that one costume might be off limits: the clown.

I’m not quite sure why anyone would want to dress as a clown anyways — just the thought of trying to walk with those ginormous red clown feet terrifies me; I can hardly go a day without tripping over my own feet as it is. From MVHS to the San Jose East Side Union High School District to the New Haven School District in Connecticut, school administrators have decreed clown costumes forbidden, at least for this year. So if you wanted to be a clown for Halloween, blame the clown stalkers for stealing your look.

However after the sun sets, we find that horror films are the main source behind our fear of clowns. In an era before editing and special effects makeup allowed actors to ooze fake blood from every crevice, all we could settle for was painting someone’s face white and giving them a large red mouth that would make any smile seem sinister.

Those clown sightings are merely people disguised as whatever the media has already dubbed scary. They don’t have to be scary, or do something scary. It’s just simply much more convenient to become something that everyone already fears. Or maybe those sightings are just film promotion tactics, like the Green Bay Clown “Gags” in Wisconsin.

Media representation really does play a greater part than we think. If the media makes something terrifying, people will jump on the bandwagon and take advantage of the fear that media has created. Honestly, if someone creates a wildly successful series of princess movies where the innocent-looking princess takes advantage of her sparkly appearance to deceive people and lure them into an empty abyss of endless homework, I’m sure we’d all be rethinking those childhood Disney movies. Then perhaps people would creep up the midnight streets of a small town dressed in a glittery pink dress, with a cursed star-tipped wand ready to attack you with unimaginable amounts of sparkles and sequins. But until then, I’d just stay away from the clown costumes this year.