MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It started back in August with a case police haven’t been able to prove. Children in South Carolina reported creepy clowns were trying to lure them into the woods. Since then, the phenomenon has spread across the country.
Over the past month, 13 people, including a teenage girl in Hopkins, have been arrested for clown stunts or hoaxes. One person has died — a 16 year old wearing a clown mask was stabbed in Pennsylvania.
So, how did this creepy clown phenomenon spread? Good Question.
It doesn’t appear to be a new thing. According to Benjamin Radford, author of Bad Clowns, similar unsubstantiated reports of “phantom clowns” were reported in Massachusetts in the 1980s. Back then, they also spread to other states.
“It’s one of those old tropes in American culture,” says Kevin Sauter, a professor of communications at the University of St. Thomas. “We have this ironic relationship with clowns.”
Clowns are supposed to be fun-loving, but have turned into something scary for many people. Whether it’s because of Stephen King, John Wayne Gacy or a bad childhood experience, creepy clowns have become a big marketing tool.
“It’s the perfect combination of scary and funny, humor and horror,” says Radford.
Social media has also pushed this narrative, where children have reportedly dressed up as creepy clowns simply to go viral on Facebook.
“These are kind of isolated incidents that before social media we never would have heard of,” says Sauter. “It would have been a little story in the newspaper, but now it’s instantaneous, it gets spread around.”
Sauter also believes the creepy clowns touch on our intuitive sense of danger. Often, we don’t know what’s true and what isn’t.
“It’s like Slenderman a few years ago, it gets out into the public and captures people’s imaginations and then they talk about it,” he says.