When you imagine a clown, do you think of a happy memory from childhood, or are you convinced it plans to kill you in your sleep? I’m firmly in the second camp, and as much as I love Halloween, the clown costumes and scenes absolutely terrify me. My strong aversion to clowns brings great joy to friends and family, as they tease me and pull a variety of clown-related pranks year-round. The thing is, my excessive fear of clowns is a real, documented phobia (coulrophobia) in the psychology world, and I’m far from being the only one who feels petrified when I see a circus scene at Halloween. It turns out that 2% of the adult population is afraid of clowns, and Charles Dickens’s writing about famous pantomime, Grimaldi, shed a light on the darker side of clowns way back in 1838 (McRobbie, 2013).
I was never sure about the origin of my clown panic, but experienced my “aha moment” a few years ago when a friend sent me this Smithsonian article about the history and psychology of clowns (one word…Poltergeist). The article lists multiple examples of scary clowns in popular culture, to include a long list of movies starring these creepy, murderous beings. If you’re with me in the 2%, you share my horror regarding the recent reports of clowns in South Carolina trying to lure kids into the woods with candy. Even if you’re not afraid of clowns, you have to admit that the reports are extremely disturbing. To make matters worse, as of two days ago, the sinister clown sightings have been reported in eight states (Kennedy, 2016).
So, here’s the question…WHY are there creepy clowns terrifying people across the country? One operating theory is that this is all a viral marketing campaign for Rob Zombie’s new horror movie 31, or even the upcoming remake of Stephen King’s, It (“South Carolina clown sightings,” 2016). While that theory seems reckless and insane, pressure is growing on marketers to create viral advertising that gets people’s attention (Elliott & Vega, 2013). And you know what? Anyone who saw these stories in the news now knows about the movie releases.
The studios affiliated with both movies deny any association with the clown sightings, and police believe some of the clowns are copycats or even hoaxes (Reinstein, 2016; Kennedy, 2016). Perhaps the movie studios are telling the truth, or maybe they are distancing themselves from a growing public relations and legal nightmare. Regardless, both studios and their movies are in the news. How does this end, though? Was this a clever, yet unethical, boundary-pushing marketing campaign that’s gone too far? Or do the 2% of us finally have the validation we never wanted? Let’s hear your thoughts.
Elliott, S. & Vega, T. (2013, May 10). Trying to be hip and edgy, ads become offensive. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/11/business/media/trying-to- behip-and-edgy-ads-become-offensive.html
Kennedy, M. (2016, September 24). Sinister ‘clowns’ are scaring people in multiple states. NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/09/24/495298587/sinister-clowns-are-scaring-people-in-multiple-states
McRobbie, L.R. (2013, July 31). The history and psychology of clowns being scary. Smithsonian.com. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-history-and-psychology-of-clowns-being-scary-20394516/?no-ist
Reinstein, J. (2016, September 8). Those scary clown sightings aren’t a movie marketing stunt. BuzzFeedNews. Retrieved from https://www.buzzfeed.com/juliareinstein/those- scary-clown-sightings-arent-a-movie-marketing-stunt? utm_term=.skg5VkEdnG#.pu66nZ7XQl
South Carolina clown sightings could be part of film marketing stunt. (2016, September 4). theguardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us- news/2016/sep/04/south-carolina-clown-sightings-could-be-part-of-film-marketing-stunt