Crooks in cos­tume, hoax sight­ings on the rise

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY JU­LIA PORTERFIELD

Ron­ald McDon­ald is lay­ing low. And with Hal­loween just around the cor­ner, school dis­tricts have banned clown out­fits, po­lice de­part­ments have be­gun crack­ing down on clown­like ac­tiv­i­ties, pro­fes­sional jesters have re­ported a dip in their funny busi­ness, and some cos­tume sell­ers have re­ported a spike in sales, while oth­ers have re­fused to of­fer clown gear.

Amid a rash of scary clown sight­ings around the coun­try, McDon­ald’s Corp. an­nounced that its red fright-wigged mas­cot will be keep­ing a low pro­file be­cause of the “cur­rent cli­mate around clown sight­ings in com­mu­ni­ties.”

The fast food chain didn’t say how many pub­lic ap­pear­ances the clown will make, but said it was be­ing “thought­ful in re­spect to Ron­ald McDon­ald’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in com­mu­nity events.”

Mostly hoaxes and pranks, creepy clown sight­ings have be­come the lat­est craze, bol­stered by social me­dia, with scores of re­ports in more than three dozen states since Au­gust.

The trend has even spread to Eng­land, where 14 clown sight­ings were re­ported within a 24-hour pe­riod this week­end, and to Aus­tralia, where po­lice in Vic­to­ria have be­moaned “copy­cat” clown crimes from the U.S.

Dustin Kidd, a so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Tem­ple Univer­sity, says he first thought the cur­rent craze was a “pass­ing foot­note in the hu­man in­ter­est sec­tion,” but so­ci­ety has proved him wrong.

“These are co­or­di­nated at­tacks or even co­or­di­nated hoaxes,” Mr. Kidd said. “It’s a sort of per­fect storm where our long­stand­ing fas­ci­na­tion with fear, as il­lus­trated by the success of hor­ror films, meets with the new pos­si­bil­i­ties of social me­dia.

“It’s clearly more than a foot­note at this point,” he said.

It all started one evening late Au­gust in Greenville, South Carolina. A group of chil­dren were play­ing near the woods at their apart­ment com­plex, en­joy­ing the last few hours of sum­mer va­ca­tion. Sud­denly a clown emerged from the trees — and al­most daily ac­counts of clown-re­lated dis­tur­bances have been re­ported since.

Mr. Kidd says the clown craze has “spread like con­ta­gion” be­cause peo­ple en­joy the hair-rais­ing thrill of fright.

“Be­ing scared gives a phys­i­cal rush to our bod­ies and makes us feel a stronger sense of sol­i­dar­ity with oth­ers who are feel­ing the same fear,” he said. “When we hold hands walk­ing through a haunted house, we walk away feel­ing more con­nected to each other.”

Clowns have amused the masses for cen­turies with their makeup-hid­den faces and un­pre­dictable (and some­times an­ti­so­cial) an­tics, be­com­ing some of the world’s best-known en­ter­tain­ers and char­ac­ters — Char­lie Chap­lin, Em­met Kelly’s Weary Wil­lie, Red Skel­ton’s Clem Ka­did­dle­hof­fer, Wil­lard Scott’s Bozo, Bob Kee­shan’s Clara­bell and Bill Ir­win. Chil­dren squealed, adults laughed and ev­ery­one had a good time.

But some­where clowns — and clown­ing — took a dark turn as they moved from cir­cuses, vaude­ville shows and chil­dren’s TV pro­grams into the pri­mal cor­ners of the col­lec­tive un­con­scious. For any­one who’s read the Stephen King novel “It” or re­mem­bers John Wayne Gacy (the 1970s se­rial killer who had worked as Pogo the Clown), such comics pro­vide any­thing but re­lief.

Hor­ror films pre­sented the men­ac­ing clown in the early ’80s, for­ever chang­ing how clowns are per­ceived. (By the way, New Line Cin­ema, which is pro­duc­ing a 2017 movie ver­sion of the 1990 TV minis­eries “It,” has said it is not in­volved in the clown sight­ings, stress­ing they are not a part of some vi­ral mar­ket­ing scheme.)

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

McDon­ald’s has an­nounced that ap­pear­ances by mas­cot Ron­ald McDon­ald will be lim­ited due to a spate of clown-re­lated crime and pranks.

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