If you happen to have a really fast car and don’t care very much about speeding tickets, or if you have your own plane, perhaps you can be in Maloney’s Tavern at 213 N. Fourth Ave. in Tucson, Arizona, at 6:30 tonight. That’s when the parade starts. Well, actually, it was not intended to be a parade as much as a “peaceful walk” that is the brainchild of Nikki Sinn.
Nikki’s idea started out small. She and a few of her friends decided to dress up like clowns and pass out flowers and balloons as they stroll along the street. She told Melissa Chan of Time that “the point of the march is to show that clowns can be friendly, harmless, and entertaining, and ‘not psycho killers’.”
According to Chan, Nikki said that she was inspired to act after hearing from clowns in the community that they were being harassed, including a clown friend of hers who told her that he had received violent threats. So she quickly organized the event, apparently not needing to obtain a parade permit because there were few people involved and they planned to stay on the sidewalks “to avoid causing chaos for police and motorists.” But, given the events of the past several days, that may not be possible.
The movement, which is unfortunately being called “Clown Lives Matter,” seems to be growing because it is drawing national attention. Part of the attention is negative because of the play on “Black Lives Matter,” which many Americans say trivializes the original slogan. But, other notice of the event is positive on the part of professional clowns who are reacting to public sentiment that has been fueled by a flurry of recent “clown attacks.”
CBS-TV in San Francisco reports that “disturbing incidents with creepy clowns are occurring across the nation.” As of this writing, which is still two weeks before Halloween, there have been dozens of attacks by or hoaxes involving clowns in 39 states. Consequently, coulrophobia (irrational fear of clowns) rates are soaring. Authorities are asking people not to dress up like clowns on Halloween.
While most incidents involving creepy-looking clowns have been silly pranks, actual criminal acts have occurred. In Pennsylvania, a number of people have reported being harassed, chased, and threatened by clowns, and a teenager was fatally stabbed by an attacker who was wearing a clown mask. In Phoenix, two 17-year-old teens, dressed in clown garb, were arrested for robbing fast food restaurants. In North Carolina, police arrested a man in clown garb who was trying to lure children into the woods.
Elementary, middle, and high schools have been targeted by clowns, and children have been frightened by the incidents. Even universities have been affected. Clown-related pranks have been reported at Penn State, South Dakota State University, State University of New York at Geneseo, University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, Western Carolina University, University of New Hampshire, and Indiana University, among others.
Professional clowns, according to AOL.com, have said that they have lost business as a result of the crazed-clown perception. According to one clown, “Everyone took this as a joke, but it’s really becoming serious now, and I just want all these teenagers to know this is not a game anymore.” People like him are traveling this week to Tucson, and the small stroll of clown supporters could swell to a large demonstration.
When I was a young kid, clowns were just sort of benign. My mother took me to Ringling Bros & Barnum and Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden in New York. Frankly, I hated the whole experience. In those days, there were still “freak shows,” which sickened me; abused elephants, which made me sad; and the “world’s greatest clown,” Emmett Kelly, who was a huge disappointment.
Kelly was announced with impressive fanfare. He was dressed as a hobo, a sad characterization for people who either remembered the Great Depression or, like me, heard vivid accounts of it from parents and other relatives. As he entered the center ring, a large circle of light appeared on the ground. First Kelly walked around it clockwise, then counterclockwise. He scratched his head and walked over to a box where a broom was stored. Kelly started sweeping the large circle into a smaller and smaller circle until the light was small enough to sweep into the box. I thought that the real “star” of the show was the person who controlled the light. Kelly was neither funny nor scary, and I held no opinion about clowns. I still don’t, with the exception of Ronald McDonald, who I find annoying. But, for many others, things changed dramatically.
Three decades later, in 1986, Stephen King wrote “It,” a novel that introduced the clown “Pennywise,” a shape shifting clown, who scared the bejeebers out of nearly everyone. In her column, Chan writes, “Criminologists and psychologists agree the root of the fear lies in the fact that clowns wear heavy makeup and paint extreme emotions on their faces that hide their true identity and feelings.” Scott Bonn, a professor of sociology at Drew University in New Jersey, concurs. He says, “We don’t know what’s beneath that makeup. It could be anyone or anything. They’re actually very frightening.”
Writing for National Post of Canada, Joseph Brean states that a “terror is sweeping North America. Clowns with knives have accosted strangers on lonely roads and stared menacingly at people on city streets, far from any circus. From Cape Breton to Florida, Utah to Ontario, they appear to be rising in unison, like zombies in floppy shoes.” Reports, most of which according to local police authorities, are grossly exaggerated have spurred a kind of mass hysteria.
At Pennsylvania State University, hundreds of students formed into vigilante mobs, chasing imagined clowns out of town. Similar occurrences have been reported at Belmont University in Nashville, as well as other colleges. Schools across the nation have been shut down. And, in Utah, police even cautioned people against shooting clowns, outlining the penalties for those who do.
In the midst of all the frenetic behavior, at least one person has maintained a sensible perspective: Stephen King. On Monday, according to Brean, he tweeted: “Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria, most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh.” Okay. Now if Ronald McDonald could just stop making people obese.
• • •
Jim Glynn can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.