Not Clowning around with this hoax

BY LEW COHN/ MANAGING EDITOR/ BURNET BULLETIN

 

Facebook is very anxious to tell me that we have a clown problem in these beautiful United States of America. Clowns are fast becoming the 2016 version of zombies. I can barely scroll through my Facebook feed without reading a story about “creepy clowns” being spotted in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and yes, even in our own backyard here in Burnet County, Texas, and in surrounding communities.

Just last week, an Instagram account named “killer.clown.666” had Marble Falls ISD among four school districts as part of a “hit list.” The school district was monitoring the situation, but did not encounter any acts of clown violence as of Friday, Oct. 7.

Liberty Hill police reported a suspicious person wearing a full body black and white clown costume was spotted in a residential area on Wednesday, Oct. 5, when a caller reported noises and banging on a garage door. The suspect was allegedly seen fleeing into the woods towards Texas Highway 29, but police found no one and no evidence left behind by the disappearing clown.

On Tuesday, Oct. 4, the Texas State University Police Department reported that a clown allegedly had grabbed a Texas State University student at Bobcat Village Apartments in San Marcos the night before, but the student was able to get away from the costumed assailant and call for help. However, the alleged victim did not even contact police until nearly 24 hours later.

San Marcos High School was placed on lockdown once news of the alleged assault took place and several Austin area schools received vague reports of clown sightings, including Reagan and Travis High Schools and Martin Middle School in Austin, Manor High School, Del Valle High School and Lehman High School in the Hays Consolidated Independent School District.

Clown sightings have been reported in 33 states as of Monday, Oct. 10. The escalation in clown sightings throughout the nation has reached such a fever pitch that a man who has made his living scaring people with his writing is telling folks to calm down and quit letting hysteria overtake reason.

"Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria — most of 'em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh,” master horror author Stephen King tweeted Monday.

King should know a thing or two about killer clowns. After all, he created Pennywise the Dancing Clown, who rips off poor six-year-old Georgie Denbrough's arm and kills him in the 1986 novel “It,” which was later made into a TV miniseries starring Tim Curry as Pennywise. A movie version of the book is set to come out next September with Bill Skarsgård playing Pennywise, which is one of the forms of the titular character — an eternal, demonic entity which hunts and kills children in a small Maine town every 27 years.

What is up with all of these clown sightings and are they real? In most cases, it appears they are not. Most of the sightings have been dismissed as hoaxes or copycats by investigating police departments.

That includes a report of a clown being shot and killed in Indiana, a report of a man chasing down a clown in the woods in North Carolina after it knocked on his window at night and a report of a woman who was allegedly attacked by a knife-wielding clown in Reading, Ohio. In that last one, the woman was running late for her job at McDonald's and didn't want to get fired, so she made up the story.

There are several reasons why people would report sightings of clowns and keep this frenzy going:

* Boredom. Some people have too much time on their hands. As they say, “idle hands are the devil's play things,” so these individuals create hoaxes and love the excitement generated when the hoax is treated seriously.

* Attention. In several instances, police have determined that individuals falsely reported seeing clowns because they wanted to be “famous” for having survived a clown attack. Some

* Promotion. A Facebook account set up to report sightings of “Gags the Green Bay Clown” in Green Bay, Wisconsin, turned out to be part of an independent horror film. A clown seen in Agawam, Massachusetts, holding a balloons and a “free hugs” sign while chasing after motorists, turned out to be promoting the New England Scare Fest, a regional fall festival.

* Fear of clowns. Known as coulrophobia, a term which was created in the late 1980s to describe the irrational fear of these sad sack jesters. Certainly, movies like “Jigsaw” and TV shows like “American Horror Story: Freakshow” have helped feed into people's fear of clowns.

* Collective hysteria. Also known as mass hysteria, this is a phenomenon when people will collectively report the allusion of threats, real or imagined, by repeating rumors and spreading fear. This is believed to be one of the prime culprits behind the Salem witch trials, which resulted in the execution of 25 innocent people.

Do I think there is an oncoming wave of creepy clowns, waiting to attack innocent people and cause panic and chaos? No, I don't and you shouldn't either. I would file these incidents under what I term “Clown-Related and Associated Paranoia.” The abbreviation for this tells you all you need to know about what I think regarding these creepy clown sightings.

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