Monday, November 26, 2012

"Clown" Crimes Rampant This Fall: More than a dozen masked culprits arrested or sought by police in past two months

There've been a maelstrom of nefarious clown activities featured prominently in the media recently, so much so that I should really be updating this blog more often than every six or eight weeks. It helps that, as noted in past research on coulrophobia, media outlets are instinctively drawn to prominently featuring "clown" in headlines whenever there is any kind of criminal activity by anyone who at any time worked as a clown.  The underlying meme of the "evil clown" has become so culturally pervasive that the very idea of anyone associated with clowning engaging in questionable or bizarre activity is alluring in ways not seen with most occupations.

In fact, sometimes the media cannot resist even when the clown isn't even really a clown, as in this incident from Massachusetts last month, where CBS and several other sources blared about a "Naked Clown" leaping into a truck at a rest stop to proposition the trucker for sex, then go on to acknowledge that the acccused in fact just works as a delivery person for a party supply company.  Upon further investigation, sources disclose that the man had occasionally appeared at past functions as costumed characters, such as Elvis and Uncle Sam, then cling anew to the clown label based on the discovery that he dressed as a clown once in a parade.

The same week, four young men more clearly intending to appear clownish robbed and assaulted a 19 year old in Stroudsberg, Maine.  The four, dressed in clown makeup, took the stranger's wallet and then pummeled him, after which he escaped to a nearby McDonald's to call police.

That last week of October saw the beginning of an overall spike in clown crime coverage.  Take, for example, this incident from Wisconsin where a former Director of Clowns formerly with the Tripoli Shrine Center fired on police during a one hour standoff at his Waukeesha residence.

The late October/early November period saw even more clown-masked banditry, from a home invasion in Pittsburgh to a robbery in Manchester, UK by three clown garbed rogues caught on video.  Meanwhile, Toronto police continue to hunt a robber they have dubbed Krusty the Clown Bandit. On Nov. 3, a man in a particularly creepy clown mask robbed a Carl Jr.'s fast food restaurant in Surprise, AZ.  The torrent of costumed crime has continued throughout this month, from a misguided Boulder college student who was arrested while wearing a Joker mask to a movie theatre in a state still traumatized by the brutal theatre shooting during the release of the most recent Batman film, a clown bandit who robbed a gas station in Oklahoma while another heisted a laundromat in Springfield, Mass. the same day... and then, a putrid fiend in a Pennywise mask who sexually assaulted a woman in Brooklyn at knife point.

Vlad Evanick, evil clown drummer

 The most serious of coulrophobia-inducing news lately, though, was an evil-clown metal performer in Illinois arrested on child pornography charges.  "Police say Martin "Vlad" Evanick -- who regularly dons a creepy clown outfit and plays drums in an Illinois metal band -- was charged for allegedly producing and sharing child pornography for more than two years."              
Amidst the glut of clown crime stories this fall, one story of particular interest nearly slipped through the cracks: the inexplicable wave of rumors of a clown committing crimes which swept Kingsley, Iowa in mid-September.  Curiously, Police Chief Dave Kremer said that while these rumors, attributed in part to Facebook, had been running rampant for days there, no actual sighting or report of a clown doing anything untoward had come in to police, only vague rumors.  This occurrence is enough to raise an eyebrow with anyone aware of the Phantom Clown phenomenon, a rampant but strangely obscure trend which has plagued cities and towns across the world for several decades.  In phantom clown "flaps" (as termed to denote a sudden wave), rumors about a dangerous clown or clowns run rampant in a community for days, spreading inexplicably and often without media coverage to aid their circulation.  While some 20 known cities have experienced one of these bizarre waves or flaps, no individual has ever been arrested in connection with the rumored incidents, and the apparent mass hysteria has never been properly explained.  

Finally, just for laughs, this video of a police officer wrestling down an errant activist clown who had been blasting passing cars with a squirt gun in Milwaukee, Wisconsin last week has gone mildly viral.  Says the young man who captured it on his iPhone: "What's going through my head is 'A cop is beating up a clown.  Like, how could I not capture this on video and show it to all my friends?' "

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Summer Makes the Greasepaint Curdle: What's New in Evil Clowning

This August was a big one for Insane Clown Posse and its acolyte swarm of juggalos and juggalettes. Of course, there were the usual antics at their annual "Gathering of the Juggalos," arguably the country's oddest and most ridiculed yearly music festival. Ten of the painted face ones were arrested before the Faygo-sodden festivities began this year, followed by the usual tomfoolery, toothless public sex acts, geriatric teens, self-styled rappers, eye-damaging nudity, and drug retail blatant even for a festival. Journalist Nathan Rabin produced an excellent account of the madness for AV Club.

The real story for the Dark Carnivalites this year, though, was the group's recent announcement that they have launched a lawsuit against the FBI for its pseudo-gang classification of their fans. Despite the fact that album sales suggest the juggalo fan base is shrinking, in a report on gang activity last year, the Bureau labeled them as "a concern to law enforcement" due to their "general destructive and violent nature." This is preposterous, say the magnet-questioning Detroit dropouts, who have vowed to pursue the suit "no matter what it costs or what it takes."

Meanwhile, in Florida, where coulrophobia-inducing shenanigans seem to be fairly frequent, a man in a "killer clown" mask pulled a brutal home invasion against a couple in Boca Raton. The clown-mask wearing bandit, along with two other men, told the woman to leave the house and zipper tied the man while they unbolted and ran with a safe containing various valuables, including 120 Klonopin prescription pills, 6 Movado watches worth $5,000 and a brown, leather wallet holding $240 cash and credit cards.

Another scary clown made a more overtly public appearance this past month, on the reality TV show Big Brother. Housemates were subjected to disgusting beauty treatments by the show's own recurring evil clown, Mr Snuggles. One ran in terror twice before taking the challenge.

Mr. Snuggles, who can be found on Facebook, has appeared sporadically on Big Brother since 2010, first scaring the bejesus out of housemate Nikki Makosi during his own first home invasion.

"I ripped my dress. I just didn't ant it anywhere near me- I just didn't want it to touch me," said Makosi at the time, proving once again that coulrophobia is either extremely widespread, or at least very fashionable.

Elsewhere in the world, a CBS new report on medical clowning in Israeli hospitals (think Patch Adams as an institutional practice) revealed an interesting insight into the cultural variance of the coulro-phenomenon, with even the head of Behavioral Sciences at L.A. Children's hospital noting the especially American influences and concentration of the thing, this peculiarly loaded relationship our local culture has with the figure of the clown. This is not to say that "evil clown" motifs are unique to it, though, or that these anxieties are in any way limited to the United States, as this article on phobias from India last week proves.

In fictional realms, Cleaver Patterson reviews one of this year's crop of indie killer clown horror flicks, Connor McMahon's UK-filmed Stitches (2012), though I much prefer lead actor Ross Noble's own description in the behind the scenes teaser: "It's like Freddy Krueger has taken the month off and he's said to his daft mate, 'These kids need killing. Do you think you could just turn up, and do a bit of killing for me?' "

As in a majority of the Killer Clown subgenre, it's not just straight humanistic murder, but has a major supernatural factor in that the Stitches is returned from the dead. In my 2004 paper on the subject in the Journal of Trickster Studies, I maintained that linkages of the evil clown to the paranormal are endemic to the subject, and tied to ancient cultural histories and understandings of the archetype of the clown itself.

Finally, as a special treat off the You Tubes this month... I'm sure there was nothing terrifying intended about this by its original creators, but for anyone who cringes at the sight of one of our big-grinned bigtop friends is likely to lose at least an hour's sleep over watching this commercial (aka NSFC).

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Evil Clown is Alive and Well in American Culture

Return of the Dark Clowns Blog!

I first became interested in this subject nearly a decade ago, and after much research, published a study of the subject in Trickster's Way: The Journal of Trickster Studies. To date, it appears to still be the only peer-reviewed academic literature devoted to the subject, so I continue to receive many questions as interest in this subject seems to continue to grow yearly. It is for this reason which, after abandoning the Dark Clowns blog five years ago, I have decided to return to efforts to chronicle the weird world of evil clown motifs. Periodic entries from now on will roundup interesting information, news stories and curious odds and ends in a manner much like what follows.

Coulrophobia News in Brief

In wrestling, Doink the Clown returned to the WWE ring in this week's episode of Monday Night Raw. Doink, an evil clown gimmick character, was first played by Matt Osborne from 1992 to 1996 and has been popping up sporadically ever since. I believe this week marks his first appearance in the WWE world since 2010.

If you were wondering how to make yourself up as an evil clown, a pretty good make up tutorial was posted on youtube this week. Also new on the tubes this week is this odd little video of some kids simulating an evil clown attack (is that like Cowboys vs Indians for the new generation?), though the tables get turned on said clown in this followup clip.

In coulrophobic cinema, the much-discussed remake of the grand-daddy of all evil clown flicks, Stephen King's IT, continues to take shape. Two relatively unknown screenwriters, David Kajganich and Chase Palmer will assist young director Cary Fukunaga in drafting the script for the new adaptation, which is planned to be released as two films. The original 1990 television mini-series treatment of King's 1987 novel, with its chilling portrayal of Pennywise the Dancing Clown by Tim Curry, was massively influential in pushing the then-fringe fears of greasepainted villains to the forefront of pop culture.

Looking from another end of the entertainment sphere, Grand Junction Free Press music columnist examines the evolving role of clowns in music coinciding with the change in popular connotation of this figure, from Smokey Robinson's "Tears of a Clown" and Genesis's "Harlequin" to ICP and British 70s band The Klowns (fronted by Rocky Horror star Barry Bostwick!). Worth a read.

Authorities in Montreal are looking to find the source of two clown costumes used in a robbery in May. Stumped investigators are asking the public for any information about where clown costumery can be obtained in order to find two men who stole a large amount of cash during a break-in. Both were dressed in colorful wigs and clown suits, complete with decorative balloons.

A branch of CIRCA, the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army, a worldwide group of activists, have been active in Seattle recently. CIRCA clowns were seen at a recent protest of police brutality last week in Seattle, then added their own demonstration to a chorus of Seattle residents who've been protesting
controversial treatment of elephants at the Woodland Park Zoo.

In Arkansas, professional entertainer "Sondance the Clown," aka Thomas Henry Morgan, 47, plead not guilty to four child pornography charges on Thursday. My files are packed full of features in anti-clown and coulrophobic discussion, a perception of sexual similar cases, highlighting one of the most frequently cited deviance and pedophilia in particular. In fact, it's only been about a week since semi-retired clown William Mayo Dunlop plead guilty to sexually molesting a pre-adolescent girl in Oregon. Despite the apparent deluge of such incidents, it remains hard to get any real statistical sense of the issue- as I pointed out in my 2004 paper on the subject in the Journal of Trickster Studies, media sources are substantially more likely to mention the occupation of an offender in such a case if it is a profession directly involved with children. In particular, the sensationalism of the image of the sex offender clown is so attractive to the press that it is virtually unheard of to have the word clown not appear in the headline in such a story, as opposed to if the offender was an accountant, toll booth operator, mechanic, etc. In that research, I suggested that serial killer John Wayne Gacy helped coalesce this, perhaps the darkest coulrophobic association:

"The image of a killer hiding in a clown suit has become permanently etched into the mass conception of the Gacy killings, through a tabloid images and made-for-TV movies. One of the key books on Gacy, as mentioned above, is called Killer Clown. Almost any short bio that can be found on John Wayne Gacy (and there are hundreds on the internet) mention something about him working as a clown, while only a rare few mention his main occupation, as a contractor. "