If you have been following the news as you should, then you are aware of the rash of “creepy clown” reports coming in from as far north as Philadelphia to as far south as Pensacola, Fla., with a cluster of clowns here in Alabama.
Though the calls to authorities vary in describing just what the clowns are doing, the common thread is that they are creepy.
Many reportedly are trying to lure children into the woods or into a van or into something and take them away.
Others have threatened bystanders with bodily harm.
Like the authorities, I am not inclined to make light of these “sightings.” There are bad people out there. Children (and adults) need to be on their guard.
While some responsible citizens saw clowns and called 911, others spread the news on social media, so before long there was panic in the streets.
More or less.
Of course, given the opportunity, weirdos will emerge, and surely some did.
As of this writing there have been over a dozen “confirmed” clown sightings and more are expected. In one case a car full of clowns was “seen” down in southwest Alabama, but “witnesses” could not agree on just where the sighting occurred.
That’s not surprising. Clown Cars are notoriously unpredictable.
There have also been arrests of at least 12 people who have used clown credentials to make terrorist threats on Facebook.
Stories of clown doings have also been published in such reputable news sources as USA Today, The New York Times, The Anniston Star and the Clarke County Democrat.
Creepy Clowns have made threats that caused schools to lock down and local law enforcement to go on alert.
Of course all clowns are not “creepy.”
Remember Bozo? Clarabell on Howdy Doody in the 1950s?
Too long ago for you young readers?
How about Krusty the Clown on The Simpsons?
Yeah, he is creepy.
Then there are all of those clowns in horror movies — over 40 of them, the oldest dating back to the silent screen era.
When was the last time you saw a clown as a positive role model?
Even Ronald McDonald is a little creepy.
Studies of this sort of thing have identified clowns as a source of anxiety, especially among children. Decorating a children’s ward at a hospital with clowns to lighten the mood of the place had just the opposite effect.
Coulrophobia (yes the fear of clowns has a name) is supposedly caused by the way a clown hides their true nature behind make-up, masks, wild hair, and elaborate costume. Not knowing who or what is lurking there causes us to expect the worse.
All of this reminded me of when I first saw coulrophobia at work.
Back when I was a lad, my small-town elementary school put on a Halloween Carnival in the gym to raise money for things teachers needed and the state would not supply. Kids dressed up in Halloween costumes. So did some adults.
One teacher went as a witch, which her students felt was appropriate.
Some parents went as ghosts, bums, and such. They seemed to have as much fun as the children.
My Daddy went as a clown.
Now Daddy was a man of gentle wit and boisterous good humor. Quick with a joke. Ready with a prank. Yet even knowing him as I did, I was surprised when he donned a polka-dot outfit, put on an orange wig and big floppy shoes, painted a bright red smile across his face, and headed for the Carnival.
I did not know if I should be proud of the effort he made, or embarrassed by it.
When he entered the building, amid considerable fanfare, small children screamed and ran for their mothers.
Because Daddy looked, well, creepy.
The furor eventually subsided (taking off the wig helped), but for the rest of the evening, kids avoided clown-Daddy like the plague. Back home, Daddy put the clown costume away and never took it out again.
Even Daddy-clowns are creepy.
But why this outbreak of creepy clowns at this particular time?
Folks who study mass hysteria have concluded that what we are experiencing may be the result of suppressed fears brought to the surface by events that affect us and yet seem beyond our control.
Which is why I lay the blame for the Creepy Clown epidemic on the current presidential campaign and all the hyperventilating social media activity that has accompanied it.
But I could be wrong.
Maybe the Creepy Clowns are just a bunch of copycat weirdos trying to draw attention to themselves.
Either way, one thing is certain.
Halloween approaches. So when you plan your costume, you might want go out as something other than a clown.
You would not want to be mistaken for a copycat weirdo.
Or a candidate.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and occasional op-ed/features writer for The Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.