In my youth, long ago, “demonic clown” was a Halloween costume staple among the rougher kids in the neighborhood. You could always expect them to wear zombie clown masks dripping with fake blood, the perfect excuse to terrorize the smaller, innocent kids on the block.
It needs to be a costume put in the grave in 2016.
I have no animosity against clowns themselves. I was part of the very last generation to know Bozo, grew up in the heyday of Ronald McDonald, and fondly remember Bob “Captain Kangaroo” Keeshan’s clown act. But the creepy clown craze that popped up this summer in the Carolinas has spread now to Ohio, Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania and is stirring up legitimate — not funny — fear.
It’s a bizarre trend that lives in a gray area of the law. There’s nothing overtly illegal about wearing a costume in public but doing so could cause a panic — arguments, interestingly, we also see made by folks on both sides of the open carry issue. Regardless of its legal nuances, police clearly don’t like the headache it causes: Clowning is “a dangerous game and we will not tolerate it in the village,” said Wellington police Lt. Jeff Shelton recently posted online after officers responded to two incidents, finding the suspects gone.
What started in the South this summer had very real implications Friday for Ohio when the Reading Schools in Hamilton County closed down on their high school homecoming day. “Overnight, a woman in Reading was attacked by a male dressed as a clown and the perpetrator has not been apprehended,” school officials posted. “During the attack, the victim reported a threat was made against our students. We take all threats to the safety of our students seriously. We were especially concerned with the number of students who walk to school in the early morning hours and made the decision to close school.”
That incident wasn’t the state’s first. Portsmouth police in southern Ohio said they had reports of a clown knocking on the door of a home. There’s also been a string of sightings in the Dayton area, including one on the campus of Wilmington College.
The New York Times reported Thursday there have been 12 arrests in recent weeks in multiple states. And it’s caused a kind of “mass hysteria,” too: In Georgia, an 11-year-old girl was arrested for taking a knife to school. She told investigators she carried the weapon because she feared a clown attack. Some media outlets have reported a wave of imagined sightings or lies about clowners, much like the UFO panic of the 1950s.
There is some good news.
As NPR reports, the clown costume’s popularity has started to plummet. It was the fourth most popular Halloween costume among adults in 2009 before its stock crashed the following year to 13th place — and hasn’t recovered.
Superheroes are this year’s most popular Halloween costume, according to the National Retail Federation, which releases an annual report on sales expectations. The list is topped by DC’s Supergirl and Harley Quinn characters in a holiday that will finally give girl power its due.
That should come as no surprise in a year where superheroes dominated the box office. I’ve watched “Deadpool,” “Suicide Squad,” “X-Men: Apocalypse,” “Batman and Superman,” and still have the Nov. 4 release of Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” to look forward to.
It feels like a good opportunity to talk to our kids about acting like superheroes instead of clowns.