“And where are the clowns? Send in the clowns. Don't bother, they're here.”
--Stephen Sondheim, “A Little Night Music”
Clowns are just clowns. Right?
Like Bozo the Clown, the one with the flaming swirl of bright red hair. Or Emmett Kelly, America’s most famous clown. His “Weary Willie” character headlined circuses for years. My favorite clown is “Willie Whistle”, a sailor hat wearing clown who hosted a kid’s cartoon show on Boston TV in the nineteen sixties. Willie never spoke but whistled and squeaked to an at home audience of kids like me who adored him.
He was funny. He was harmless. He was nice. He was a clown.
That’s what clowns are supposed to be: symbols of human foolishness, clowns as the fools who make us laugh. Clowns have been around a very long time in various guises, throughout history: the court jester, the trickster, the buffoon, the comic relief. Nothing out of the ordinary.
That is unless we encounter a “Creepy Clown”. Have you heard? So called “Creepy Clown” sightings and scares and rumors are currently all a’twitter on Twitter and Facebook, even the lead on mainstream news sites. This “story” is causing lots of cultural chatter and energy. Consider an October 10th NBC “news” story: “America Under Siege: Creepy Clown’ Reports and Hoaxes Keep Coming”.
How’s that for a creepy headline?
Correspondent Alex Johnson breathlessly reports about: “a spate of clown scares across the country….sightings of [creepy clowns] have spread to two dozen states.” So a Connecticut school district bans clown masks. A creepy parent in Auburn, Massachusetts is charged with disorderly conduct for wearing a clown mask while following a school bus in his car. A false clown scare locked down a New Hampshire college dorm. Google “Creepy Clown” and you’ll discover almost 7,000,000 results. My unscientific poll of several parents confirmed that fears about creepy clowns are now scaring lots of kids in schools and on playgrounds and at bedtime.
But dig deeper and you’ll find most of this “news” is not really news, not in a traditional sense. Not based on fact, but instead mostly fear. Much more heat than light, more rumor than reality. The overwhelming number of police reports about malevolent clowns are hoaxes, really bad practical jokes. Yet the reports continue and so a fake story becomes a fear story that just won’t quit, like a dog chasing its own tail.
Until the media finds something else to scare us with, or scare us about. Reminds me of the cliché about TV news: “If it bleeds, it leads.” If you want higher ratings, more views on your website, more hits on your digital headline, just frighten folks. Makes me wonder if maybe I am the rube in falling for this kind of tale. I’m not afraid of clowns, not yet, but maybe I should be!
We are living in strange days in America and yes, there are some realities to be feared. An out of control and bruising election season that seems to never end or just shut up. Gun ownership at historic highs, so many folks, so afraid. Hurricanes churning up the coast. If we really want to be scared all we need to do is turn on the TV or turn on the computer or scroll through our phones’ news feed. Then we’ll easily find lots of reports about everything that is supposed to frighten the heck out of us.
But as a person of faith (the polar opposite of fear) I’ve learned that if I seek and expect to see the bad in the world, I will absolutely find some bad news. The scary. The awful. The threatening. But so too: if I choose to seek some good news, I can find that as well. Acts of kindness. Glimmers of hope. The reality that most people are good at heart. Even clowns! As the blogger Seth Godin writes, “The real question is: what's our goal? Every time we hook ourselves up to a device that shocks us into a fear-based posture on a regular basis, we're making a choice about the world and how we experience it.”
So while the media may continue to send in the clowns, I, for one, refuse to take the bait. Better yet I think I’ll silence my phone, click off the news and instead take a nice long walk under a canopy of technicolor leaves. Say a prayer of thanks for all the good in this world, in my world. The good is always there to enjoy and appreciate.
I’d be a fool not to look for it.