If you have a Facebook account, you’ve probably seen some of this nonsense come across your feed. In cities across the nation, there have been numerous reports of “scary clowns” meandering around, or in some cases, making online “threats” against schools.
Generally speaking, I have filed these reports and sightings in the same part in my brain that I place the periodic “department store abduction” stories you see on Facebook. For instance, just last week I saw a post from an Edmond woman who detailed an encounter between a young girl and her child. The woman said the young girl began talking to her child, then attempted to drag her away.
The woman stopped the abduction and reported it either to the police, the store, or both, and she reported that they told her that type of thing had been happening a lot. Of course the police always later deny that statement, but that doesn’t keep the same thing from being breathlessly reported on Facebook every couple of months.
That being said, today I saw stories from Dallas and Philadelphia about how law enforcement there issued statements about taking “clown threats seriously.” Apparently schools in both cities had been the targets of online clown threats.
#DallasISD Police and Dallas Police are investigating all leads relating to clown threats. We will continue to monitor & share information.
— Dallas ISD (@dallasschools) October 3, 2016
A flood of social media posts that surfaced in recent days threatening attacks on Philadelphia schools by clowns https://t.co/pfrjIKev05
— NBCWashington (@nbcwashington) October 3, 2016
It seems preposterous, but obviously both the schools and the police departments have to take such things seriously. (It should be noted that police have deemed the threats to be not credible.)
So I swallowed my pride and talked to both the Tulsa Police Department and the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office today to ask if anyone had been clowning around here.
The answer is no, thankfully. Leland Ashley, one of TPD’s public information officers, told me: “As of now, I have not heard of Tulsa receiving any clown-related threats. I also hope it doesn’t trend this way.”
Casey Roebuck, director of TCSO’s PIO office, said the same. “I’m happy to report that TCSO has not received any reports of creepy or suspicious clown activity,” she said.
So, for now, it looks like we’re safe.
Over the weekend I read an interesting article on The Daily Beast written by psychologist Frank T. McAndrew, about why humans seem to be instinctively afraid of clowns. If asked to describe what a clown should be, most would probably offer some description along the lines of a “person in makeup meant to entertain children.” However, the article pointed to a 2008 study that found most kids don’t actually like clowns.
Why is this?
It doesn’t necessarily begin with John-Wayne Gacy, though the famous serial killer known for donning clown makeup makes a convenient scapegoat. Instead, the article says, studies say the fear is more instinctual.
“The results indicated that people we perceive as creepy are much more likely to be males than females (as are most clowns), that unpredictability is an important component of creepiness, and that unusual patterns of eye contact and other nonverbal behaviors set off our creepiness detectors big time.”
The story pointed out that “uncertainty” plays a big role in being creeped out. And while news reports show police around the country are mostly investigating specific clown-related online threats toward schools, the major hysteria on social media has been focused on people in clown suits just kind of wandering around silently.
The Daily Beast article pointed out that sense of the unknown is exactly what freaks us out.
“For example, it would be considered rude and strange to run away in the middle of a conversation with someone who is sending out a creepy vibe but is actually harmless; at the same time, it could be perilous to ignore your intuition and engage with that individual if he is, in fact, a threat,” the author writes. “The ambivalence leaves you frozen in place, wallowing in discomfort. This reaction could be adaptive, something humans have evolved to feel, with being ‘creeped out’ a way to maintain vigilance during a situation that could be dangerous.”
So there you go. If you happen to see anyone walking around Tulsa dressed like a clown, don’t bother calling the police, just tell that Bozo to take a hike.