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Send in the Clowns
Daniel J. Flynn
by

The monsters clowns are due on Maple Street.

Tucson braces for a Clown Lives Matter march a week from Saturday. Organizers call the demonstration “a peaceful way to show clowns are not psycho killers.”

Sure, John Wayne Gacy painted his face on occasion. But a preponderance of clowns do not prey on people for amusement.

These people of color fall victim to terrible stereotypes perpetuated by mass media. Strangers cross to the other side of the street, quickly, when clowns approach. Clown Cars get stopped by profiling police without cause. The armed services forbade a follower of the Insane Clown Posse from joining its ranks for a tattoo tribute to the group. Clown Colleges lack accreditation. People laugh (and increasingly cry) at clowns.

At the University of Connecticut on Monday night, hundreds of students, some armed with golf clubs and hockey sticks, ventured out of their dorms in search of a presumably evil clown allegedly inhabiting a local cemetery. A Kentucky man fired an AR-15 in the air because he mistook a woman wearing a white afghan for a clown. The police charged the bozo with second-degree wanton endangerment and took his rifle. In Modesto, the cops warn citizens that “if you see anything or anyone suspicious, including individuals dressed as clowns, to avoid contact and report the circumstances to us immediately.” New Haven, Connecticut schools ban the familiar costumes this Halloween after the system’s security director petitioned principles to “prohibit clown costumes and any symbols of terror during this Halloween season.”

Closer to home at my kids’ school, a potential daytime clown sighting near a local woods prompted a call to the authorities. Upon investigation, the cops found something less terrifying: a man mowing his lawn.

Freak-faced Dinks, Doinks, and Pennywises populate social media. But confirmed sightings in the real world remain scarce. As a kid in suburban Boston, an urban myth of clowns in a white van abducting children and feeding them LSD passed for a schoolyard truth. So, scary people with happy painted faces haunted our imaginations long before 2016.

An Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds vibe colors this colorful current controversy. We smugly chuckle from a distance with Charles Mackay at the mania for tulips in Holland, the king of Bavaria ordering the arrest of people with mustaches, or Nostradamus captivating people in the past with his vague prophecies of the future. People years from now laugh at us for not laughing at clowns.

Fear sells. Anti-bacterial cleansers for people who fear germs and flag football helmets for parents who fear concussions make dollars even if they don’t quite make sense. People in Omaha fear the shark attacks reported on cable news. People in 2016 fear the Y2K bug.

The depiction of the characters who make children smile as the monsters who make adults scream screams irony. So, too, does our wave of coulrophobia. You want to believe the mobs are in on the joke. But even the adults in the room behave as children, which may come across as an insult to children, who generally love adults in supersized shoes and rainbow wigs. Leaders never so zealously embrace recklessness when they believe they act on behalf of responsibility.

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” once served a favorite line among Democrats. “Obviously,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest earnestly told reporters about the alleged threat, “this is a situation that local law enforcement authorities take quite seriously and they should carefully and thoroughly review.” Whoever said “don’t make a federal case out of it” never said it within earshot of Washington, D.C.

Hysteria has consequences.

“I’ve done 5,000 birthday parties and events over the last 27 years,” Flippo the Clown tells me. “Over the last ten years, they’re calling me but asking me to leave off the makeup.” Flippo the Clown says he now does about ”99 percent of my business” as Flippo the Juggling Magician.

A man in the business of promoting two of America’s most successful, and most despised, clowns throws up his hands.

“It hasn’t really affected our business but we have been inundated with messages on social media who want to know if the Insane Clown Posse has anything to do with this mass hysteria,” ICP spokesman Jason Webber, who offers an emphatic “no” to the question, told me. “I had one reporter ask me if this was an Insane Clown Posse promotional stunt.”

Webber says that “discrimination” against Juggalos—kind of like ICP’s Deadheads—launched plans for a 2017 Juggalo March on Washington.

“The people who are perpetuating this mass hysteria,” the ICP spokesman offers, “they are the scary ones.”

Strange times when something called the Insane Clown Posse speaks as the voice of sanity.

We used to laugh at clowns. Now clowns laugh at us. They act as a mirror to our ridiculous faces. The clowns, as they are wont to do, clown us.

Don’t you love farce? Our fault, I fear.

Daniel J. Flynn
Daniel J. Flynn
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Daniel J. Flynn, a senior editor of The American Spectator, is the author of Cult City: Harvey Milk, Jim Jones, and 10 Days That Shook San Francisco (ISI Books, 2018), The War on Football (Regnery, 2013), Blue Collar Intellectuals (ISI Books, 2011), A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). His articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, New York Post, City Journal, National Review, and his own website, www.flynnfiles.com.   
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