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This isn’t a laughing matter

The term Coulrophobia was coined in the 1980s.

It’s literal translation from Greek means “a fear of one who walks on stilts.” Although it’s been labelled by the Online Etymology Dictionary as “the sort of thing idle pseudo-intellectuals invent on the internet”, it’s the best description we have today of describing one’s fear of clowns.

It’s not a common actual phobia, but there is little doubt that over time the evolution of clowns from fun tricksters to darker embodiments of evil has seen them become figures of scorn and widespread dislike.

Charles Dickens brought the tragic clown figure to life in his first novel, “The Pickwick Papers”, and not long after, the 1892 Italian opera,“Pagliacci”, gave us a dark tragic tale of a clown murdering his wife.

The clown’s public relation campaign was all but ended in the early 1980s when news emerged regarding the gruesome crimes of John Wayne Gacy.

Gacy was a registered clown who entertained at community events and hospitals under the name Pogo. He also sexually assaulted and killed more than 35 young men in the Chicago area.

He sealed the fate for clowns when he mockingly told investigators, “You know… clowns can get away with murder,” before his arrest.

The media soon referred to Gacy as the “Killer Clown,” and Gacy seemed to revel in his clown persona: While in prison, he began painting; many of his paintings were of clowns, some self-portraits of him as Pogo.

This case fuelled America’s already growing fears of “stranger danger” and sexual predation on children, and made clowns a real object of suspicion and fear.

A few years later the movie “Poltergeist” cashed in on this growing fear of clowns by scripting a scene wherein a little boy’s clown doll comes to life and tries to drag him under the bed.

Then, most famously, in 1986, Stephen King wrote “It”, in which a terrifying demon attacks children in the guise of Pennywise the Clown.

Well, this last week, in news that will unsettle any generation X’er, a ‘killer clown’ craze has taken hold in many Western countries with kids being terrorised by pranksters dressed as scary clowns.

The controversial new craze has resulted in a huge amount of scary clowns being spotted across England and America in recent weeks, and it’s now a thing here in Australia.

The craze is believed to have first began in the U.S with reports of clowns trying to lure children into woods in South Carolina in August.

This was unfortunately no one-off incident.

Since then, we have witnessed a number of clown groups sprouting up across the U.S and mass clown hunts have ensued.

This series of creepy clown sightings across the US has caused a wave of hysteria in many U.S states, forcing police and schools to scramble to contain spreading jitters, and even the White House to weigh in.

“I’m wondering if the President is aware of this phenomenon,” a reporter asked Press Secretary Josh Earnest earlier in the week, “And if the White House wants to say anything to discourage these types of pranks?”

“I don’t know that the President has been briefed on this particular situation,” Press Secretary Josh Earnest replied, “This is something that I’ve read about in some of the news coverage. Obviously this is a situation that local law enforcement authorities take quite seriously, and they should carefully and thoroughly review perceived threats to the safety of the community. They should do so prudently, but I can’t speak to any advice they may have received from law enforcement efforts at the federal level. But you can check with my colleagues at the FBI and DHS and see what they have to say about it, OK?”

Earnest might as well have answered, “the only clown the White House is focused on at the moment is Donald Trump.”

Social media has naturally played its role in fuelling the craze. The rise of the phenomenon has been boosted by a Facebook page which shares photos and videos of the scary sightings.

Australian Police are taking the matter seriously, however, with police in south-west Sydney having issued a stern warning to would-be clown pranksters following sightings reported on social media in Minto, Ingleburn, and Campbelltown.

Indeed, social media is awash with varying reports of the ‘killer crown’ craze and, with so many headlines, it can be hard for you to know what is fact and what is fiction.

In the U.S, 12 people are facing charges of making false reports or threats, or chasing people, with many cases seemingly attributable to children with overactive imaginations and teenagers just pulling pranks.

At least one death has been linked to the clown hoax however.

Many of the ‘clowns’ have been posting to Facebook pages claiming they will be at certain area at any given time.

A photo depicted a crowd that had gathered in Bankstown, with someone suggesting they had congregated after word one would appear there.

Australian Police have already told us, “There’s the potential for retaliation or people could be seriously hurt or could die by trying to get away.”

“You also don’t know if the person has a physical condition or mental condition where this behaviour could have disastrous effects.”

The incidents continue to divide opinion across the country. Some call them harmless pranks while others have branded the incidents a menace.

As for what author Stephen King, whose cult thriller gave rise to this craze, thinks, well, he weighed in this week on twitter. “Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria — most of them are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh,” the novelist tweeted last Monday.

That doesn’t really reassure me.