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Fear-Based Pranks Are Scarcely Appropriate


Illustration: Madalyn Drewno

Just when it seemed 2016 couldn’t get any more outlandish, clowns started showing up across the nation’s neighborhoods, campuses, and nightmares.

Some clowns are more menacing than others. People have been caught on video clad in wigs, ruffles, and red noses while knocking on residential doors with large knives in hand; some have even gone so far as to don the costume to commit armed robbery. Though taking advantage of a common phobia adds an extra layer of sadism to these behaviors, this variety of clown would likely be engaging in criminal activity regardless of what they’re wearing. Benevolent clowns—the ones who have blurred the line between comedy and cruelty by intentionally terrorizing people just for the fun of it—are the ones who have hitched themselves to a more insidious problem. It’s not a prank, it’s not funny, and it needs to stop.

In the weeks surrounding Halloween, people often forget basic human decency in the pursuit of a joke. Wandering around an apartment complex dressed as a clown because it will incite genuine fear is (on top of being a good way to get shot) as damaging as it is lazy. Intentionally eroding someone’s sense of safety is a pretty nasty way to kick of the holiday season, and no one’s laughing about it.

This phenomenon predates 2016’s clown epidemic by decades. It includes screamer videos (wherein innocuous footage of something like a sleeping baby suddenly turns gory, demonic, and/or cacophonous) and misuse of SFX makeup (where someone wears makeup meant to make them look severely wounded in a mundane environment, like 16th St., to scare people into thinking they’re in real danger).

Pranks don’t have to be sanitized of all their fun, but people need to be aware of how their actions might affect others. Those who enjoy a fear-fueled adrenaline rush are spending this time of year visiting haunted houses and watching horror f licks. But many don’t enjoy those activities—hate them, in fact—and should be afforded the right to opt-out. By scaring people while they scroll through their Facebook feeds, go shopping, or peer out from their windows at home, a dangerous lack of regard for personal agency is being fostered.

That the essence of screamer videos has been translated to real life behavior (such as dressing up like a murder clown) indicates a decreasing sense of empathy for others. An unexpected scare on social media might trigger a panic attack, but the willingness of so many to take to the streets of the communities they are part of and make people feel fundamentally unsafe in their own homes is cause for a larger sense of alarm.

These smaller, seemingly harmless pranks might be contributing to a culture that thrives on establishing power over others and disregards individual consent. To combat this, assume that life threatening jokes aren’t funny, and reserve the major scares for an appropriate setting: Halloween day.

Taylor Kirby
Taylor Kirby

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