“Kids love clowns, but they also fear them; clowns with their white faces and red lips are so different and so grotesque compared to ‘normal’ people…The clown furor will pass, as these things do, but it will come back, because under the right circumstances, clowns really can be terrifying.”
One of my hobbies is tracking “clown sightings” and related topics in the media. I’m fascinated with the clown as an archetype, and how it’s mutated over time.
So the latest spate of sightings, spanning South and North Carolina, are indeed interesting. Almost…sort of unnerving. Or at least, horror writer Stephen King thinks so.
King recently commented to the Daily Bangor News about the incidents:
“If I saw a clown lurking under a lonely bridge (or peering up at me from a sewer grate, with or without balloons), I’d be scared, too.”
Of course, King introduced one of the most famous clowns in modern popular culture, Pennywise. In fact, his 1986 novel IT basically traced the evolution of the clown archetype through the centuries, tying it to a larger “evil” with almost Lovecraftian elements.
The Carolinas clown sightings seem a bit more grounded in reality, but no less creepy—a timeline can be read here, mostly involving clowns trying to lure children into the woods and trespassing in backyards. Other common themes involve white facepaint, crazy red hair, and a red nose.
Since the sightings started on August 20th, let me make an observation:
On August 16th, Entertainment Weekly ran the exclusive “first look” of Pennywise from the upcoming It remake movie. A few days earlier, they had published just a teaser of the clown, but on the 16th the full image of Pennywise was blasted all over the media:
The coverage of the Pennywise reveal was wide, including of course standard social media like Facebook, where I believe it was listed as one of their “trends.”
Just a shot in the dark here: did blasting this archetypally powerful image all over the American media have ANYTHING to do with the rash of clown sightings only several days later?
To be clear, this is not me saying that the total sum of all the clown sightings have just been a result of mass hysteria (though I don’t rule it out, either). It’s completely possible that some creep or creeps, inspired by the IT image, decided to dress as a clown and terrorize people. And then there is the recent arrest of a gentleman in North Carolina for falsely reporting clown sightings to the police.
But do not underestimate the power of an iconic image beamed across the media.