For locations across America, the circus is in town, and, as usual, no one is particularly thrilled. Specifically, an epidemic of creepy clown sightings has wound throughout the land like one of those long multi-colored handkerchiefs that never seem to end. And it’s equally un-funny.
Unfortunately, the Commonwealth of Virginia has not been spared from this clownfestation, and macabre merrymakers have been shocking unsuspecting citizens like so many hand buzzers; and things have gotten in-tents.
In Chesterfield Clownty alone, clowns allegedly made seven separate appearances in a 24-hour timespan from September 27 to September 28. Several incidents were merely eerie: clowns piloting bicycles, pick-up trucks, and cars, or loitering near convenience store dumpsters and wooded areas. Others were more malicious: one clown supposedly attempted to enter the passenger side of a car stopped at an intersection, and another in a pick-up reportedly brandished a knife.
Meanwhile, in Henrico Clownty, also on September 28, clowns were spotted roaming around a neighborhood and tapping on house windows, and two teens were arrested that morning as a result. And, earlier in the week, a driver filmed someone in a clown mask waving from the passenger seat of a moving car, not unlike a scrub.
A middle-schooler in Hampton contacted someone posing as a clown on Facebook, requesting the joker kill her teacher with kindness and weapons, hold the kindness.
Closer to home, residents of Augusta Clownty have seen pernicious pranksters leering in the woods or on street corners. And texts circulating around James Madison University in early October alerted students to the presence of a sinister smiley-face lurking around campus, but mobs of frenzied bros armed with pepper spray and flashlights came up empty-handed.
And, since the first incidents, many more reports, mostly unsubstantiated, have come flooding in from all across the state. Authorities are busy juggling the fact that most reported sightings are likely hoaxes with the responsibility of following up on the influx of clown-related calls in a state where wearing a mask may carry criminal penalties.
Your humble journalist recently sat down on a whoopee cushion and heard from W&L Law’s Clown Prince of Criminology, Professor John (no relation to Stephen) King, to better understand the legal nature of this phenomenon.
It is often said that there are two types of people in this world: those who fear clowns and clowns; and Prof. King’s confessed “profound aversion to clowns” was reassuring. According to Prof. King, under the Code of Virginia § 18.2-422, a holdover from “Anti-Klan” statutes of the 1940s, anyone over sixteen who wears a mask in public with intent to obscure identity is committing a Class 6 felony, and the punch-line is a maximum sentence of five years in the Big Top and/or a $25,000 fine. No laughing matter, to which the two Henrico clownvicts can attest. In King’s words, “If you violate Virginia’s mask law, you might end up looking like a real joker even if you think that the law must have been written by a bunch of bozos.”
Among the limited exceptions, according to King, however, is the wearing of “traditional holiday costumes.” This seems to offer little comfort to the public as Halloween this way comes and clown costumes become more reasonable and, thus, legal. Moreover, the ban on masks applies only to someone covering his face “with the intent to conceal his identity,” and so, should you choose to wear a mask at all this Halloween, King suggests “you might want to wear a nametag to be on the safe side.”
The reality of the phenomenon should provide a reason to smile: Excepting hoaxers and a handful of malicious copyclowns, reported incidents have been confirmed at roughly the same rate as Bigfoot sightings.
“I gotta tell ya, Ron. This all-day breakfast thing . . . I’m loving it.”
For example, while police have yet to make an official comment as to just how many clowns can fit inside one car, the mystery of Henrico’s waving passenger clown has, at least, been solved – the hair-raising harlequin was simply a 12-year-old, autistic Stephen (no relation to John) King fan, trying on his new Pennywise Halloween costume while out and about, for some reason. The bad news is, like certain politicians and the wait between World Cups, he can continue inconveniencing people for four years with relative impunity.
Are we living in a Batman comic? Sadly, no. Apart from the very few instances of opportunistic knaves getting in on the gag and, even less frequently, causing actual harm, we’ve largely become the butt of a dark joke, stepping on the business end of the proverbial rake with each click on a coulrophobic link, getting pie in the face with each thought wasted on a “threat” about as limp and inauthentic as a rubber chicken, inhabiting a version of reality as inflated and twisted as a balloon animal.
My advice, dear readers, besides mobilizing a grassroots army of people dressed as Batman (sans full facemasks, of course) is to carry a magnet on your person at all times in order to befuddle clownish criminals and make your getaway – as the Insane Clown Posse has demonstrated, clowns are idiots. Also, don’t research spooky clowns; trust your sleepless newsman on this one.
But King’s (both John and Stephen) better counsel is to not feed into the hype. The clowns, like It, feast on fear, so the best tactic is to starve them/It. Remember that, for all but the smallest minority of sightings, the repugnant Ronald McDonald types are really either benign Bozos with a bad sense of humor or pure make-believe. Some people just want to watch the world squirm.
There is no clownpocalypse save the one we’ve created in our collective imagination. So enjoy the appropriately eerie ambiance for this time of year, or, if not, know that it’s all in our heads. Either way, pay no mind to whispers of things that go honk in the night. Seriously, stop reading this article.