Did you see that creepy, distasteful clown in the news recently?





No, the other one



There are actual clowns in the news these days, not just morons with wacky hair. “Creepy clowns” have started showing up all over the United States, and they’re quite obviously not the happy kind. They’re coming out at night, often from the woods, and scaring the bejesus out of anyone unfortunate enough to spot them.




This poor guy had to wait behind that tree all day to scare the bejesus out of someone



These clowns are showing up in record numbers, with reports popping out of a rapidly growing list of states, meaning there are several people out there who think this is a good idea. In fact, you could say this trend is ballooning. Haha! I put that terrible pun there to cushion you from the following image.






And this one:




And this one:






And this one:




To be honest, the last one was actually Ronald McDonald, who never hurt anyone except through obesity-related disorders, and even that was mostly Grimace’s fault. Even still, the clowns are scary as hell, and before you say that they didn’t actually bother anyone, you should know that at least one of them lure kids into the woods.




If a clown honks his nose in a forest, but no one is around to hear it, it’s still terrifying



This all happens to align with a time of renewed interest in clown horror movies, with Clown and Stitches coming out in recent years (even though both of those movies look ridiculous), and Twisty the Clown being the scariest part of American Horror Story: Freakshow. Also a remake of It, the most famous scary clown film of all, is coming out next year.




Of course, this being 2016, the evil clown now has to wear skinny hipster pants



This all goes to show that the public has a pretty healthy fear of clowns. Clowns have a long history, dating back to the jesters entertaining pharaohs in 2500 BC. Joseph Grimaldi was said to have entertained 1/8th of all people in London in the 1800s, and clowns were hugely popular right up into the 1950s-60s, when Clarabell and Bozo kept kids glued to their black and white TVs while their moms worked on their beehive hairdos.




Notably, Clarabell only spoke two words in 13 years, and they were “Goodbye, kids.” Which is apt, since this is the face you see when you die



That’s not to say that clowns haven’t been scary the whole time. In fact, studies suggest that, to most of us, they start off being scary. One study found that the vast majority of 250 kids between 4-16 were afraid of clowns, showing that sometimes, you have to trust childhood instinct.




The instinct in this picture being “poop yourself”



Psychologists suggest the clowns tap into the uncanny valley – the phenomenon that something that looks close to, but not quite human causes a sense of fear and unease. Clowns have human facial features, but they’re obscured by paint and big fake noses.


“What do you mean? I’m just like you! Love me! LOVE ME!”



There’s another element at play there, too. The clowns’ trademark feature, besides the large knife it hides in its costume, is its big, unnatural smile. And smiles can be scary. Think of someone you know who smiles ironically when they’re obviously unhappy. It’s scary, because it’s unnatural. So is that big, permanent blood-red smile on a clown’s face. It’s like that can’t recognize the fear in your face – like a psychopath.



For example, something seems a little off in this happy scene



The fear of clowns is called coulrophobia, and though it’s not formally recognized as its own disorder, clown phobias can be grouped into masklophobia – a fear of costumed characters. Phobias are clinical fears that are difficult, if not impossible, to get rid of, because the object of a phobia triggers automatic neural responses. That means people who are afraid of clowns can’t do much about it without clinical attention. I’ll assume those people don’t go see Patch Adams.




That movie would’ve been so much better if it was a horror



Anyways, I should point out that there are good clowns out there. The World Clown Association – which is a real thing – addresses the issue of scary clowns  on their website, stating that they believe the point of the clown is to be “treasured and enjoyed” instead of feared. Their conferences must be amazing.




They must save a ton on transport costs



But because it’s the month of Halloween, I’ll also point out that John Wayne Gacy doubled as a clown named Pogo and he killed 33 men and hid their remains in his basement. He was quoted as saying “clowns can get away with murder”.



“Get it? Hahaha! Because if you don’t, I’ll murder you”



So yeah, maybe stay away from those clowns in the forest.



Dan suspects some of the night clowns are just looking for friends. Email him at dan [at] scienceninjas.ca to see a topic covered here.

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Dan Re