When it's no longer just clowning around

The media needs to stop focusing on things that don't matter

Amid the purported “creepy clown epidemic” that’s terrified North America this year, Canadian Tire has discontinued clown-themed décor and costumes.

Beginning in August, social media posts began showing individuals dressed up as clowns in the United States. Some committed mildly mischievous acts and in rare cases, some committed crimes.

One of the first reported cases involved a clown trying to lure a child into his van and there’ve been other, equally alarming cases. But, generally most of these clowns are simply scaring people.

Social media has played a large role in exacerbating the phenomenon and perpetuating fear, but although the trend started to gain momentum on social media, mainstream media outlets have picked the story up.

In doing so, many have misled us to believe these instances deserve the distinction of being an “epidemic”.  

‘Creepy Clown’ sightings: Why the epidemic is spreading across Canada and the U.S. was the headline of one news source, Global News. Everything You Need to Know About the Creepy Clown Epidemic That Began This Summer read one Cosmopolitan lifestyle article.

The use of this term by news organizations is misleading and sensationalist. Polio was an epidemic, malaria is an epidemic, clowns are not.

The majority of coverage is based on unfounded clown sightings. There are a number of non-threatening reasons to dress up as a clown, but all the attention on the social media activity has blown the issue up tenfold and has made it seem like a much larger, more threatening circumstance than it is.

This clown trend seems to emphasize how quickly we are to frighten as a societal whole. The notion that entities with enormous clout like media outlets and Facebook can dictate what we should be afraid of to the point of altering merchandise is unnerving. We are so easily influenced in what we focus on by the products we buy and reports of what are, essentially, non-issues, used to sell papers.

The phenomenon serves to emphasize the importance of deconstructing messages the media sends us. We need to take active measures to see past sensationalist language and intensely scrutinize what we observe because our collective reaction to scattered clown sightings has been unwarranted.

In fact, our reaction is potentially more cause for concern then the people in face-paint.

We must be weary, not of clowns, but of what many term a culture of fear — the concept that people may incite fear in the public to achieve political or commercial goals through generating emotional bias.

Scare tactics turn trivial issues into major concerns by reacting disproportionately. Canadian Tire making the conscious decision to get rid of clown-affiliated merchandise is an example.

Canadian Tire’s spokesperson says the decision to pull all clown related merchandise was made to be “sensitive to recent pranks”.

If we’re so concerned about remaining sensitive may I ask where the outrage over the sexy Indigenous costumes that most retail stores are still stocking is? We’re creating a bubble-wrapped world by allowing ourselves to become so sensitive and soft to issues such as clowns, but walk right by institutionalized racism.

We need to get our priorities straight.

As much as I’m an advocate for people to wear, do and say whatever they want, disparaging, stereotype-perpetuating costumes do far more harm to society by trivializing the issues faced by marginalized peoples and their cultures.

Protecting our feelings and enabling irrational fear becomes more convenient in cases like this clown ‘epidemic’ because they easily play upon a common fear. The problem arises when the media continually ignores situations that disservice marginalized peoples to pander to the majority.

At the end of the day, clown costumes don’t scare people, people scare people. We need to spend our time worrying about and making moves toward fixing actual problems instead of feeding into fear for the sake of fear. 

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