As fear of creepy clowns sweeps the nation, stoked by social media, free-floating neuroses and people with too much free time, you’ve got to wonder what will be the next big panic meme:
- Skulking cowboys in really big hats and boots with spurs
- Body-oiled men wearing Greco-Roman wrestling singlets, loitering in alleys
- Guys in ill-fitting three-piece suits carrying briefcases in each hand, wearing backpacks
- Women in evening dresses with curlers in their hair, lurking on the edge of wooded areas, playing sad trombones
Think I’m being crazy? Are you sure? Just imagine seeing numerous pics of leering, bald dudes in huge, threadbare, flawlessly matched vested suits on Twitter and Facebook. Imagine every one of them carried a battered briefcase in each hand and wore a backpack, and they all hung out by park entrances.
Admittedly, compared to these examples, clowns have a head start in creepiness. Many kids instinctively fear both the sad and happy versions, and never outgrow the disquiet. What bugs us about them is that they’re not dressed up as anything recognizable, like a monster or an alien or a witch or a football player. It’s as if the get-up says, “It’s not a costume, per se. I’m wearing a disguise so you can’t identify me after.”
But there is not an epidemic of creepy clowns sweeping the nation, or even our area, no matter how much it’s reported or how many schools go on lockdown or how many of your shut-in Facebook friends swear their cousins’ shut-in Facebook friends saw a clown with a bloody chain saw.
Even so, clown sightings have been reported in at least 10 states in the last few weeks, and recently on Long Island. Police stations around the nation have received reports of clowns spotted in wooded areas or chasing children. Many have been determined to be hoaxes, and several people have been charged with making false reports.
“I don’t believe it’s a valid fear,” Nassau County Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said yesterday of the clown panics. “But it is a fear people really feel, unfortunately.” He added that his department is investigating three “clown cases” but no clown-related violence.
“There are no clowns, I can tell you that,” said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini of his county. “We see this as a social media hoax.”
Even in New York City, where you’d expect edgy clown antics, Intelligence and Counterterrorism Deputy Commissioner John Miller told the New York Daily News, “Don’t believe the hype and don’t be afraid of the clowns. Our people that deal in the threat world every day and assess these threats have found none of these to be credible.”
It seems like sensible people would know that, but Friday night as we sat in the Dix Hills Diner, a friend of mine and his fiancee confessed their clown panic. “Why would people be claiming to see killer clowns everywhere if there are no killer clowns?” Dan sorta bellowed.
I could only respond, “Dude, you’re not allowed to be worried about the danger of clowns until you quit smoking.”
“I can worry about whatever I want,” he replied.
Well, sure. In that vein, both Krumpter and Sini shared their frustration: For the large majority of Long Islanders, living in the lowest-crime metropolitan area in the nation, their fear of crime in general vastly outweighs the dangers they face, but they don’t believe they’re safe.
We often fear the wrong things. We text while driving but fear lightning. We overeat to the point of obesity, but worry about the tiny odds of being killed by a terrorist. And we fixate on killer clowns, when all the while trombone-playing women in evening dresses are poised to strike!
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.