Creepy Clowns: Horror, social media and urban myth

Saturday 22 October, 16.00 - 17.15 , Free Stage Hot Off the Press

This Hot Off the Press session is free and open to non-ticket holders.

In a matter of weeks, the scary-clown craze has made its presence felt across the Anglo-American world. It began in small-town America, where supposed sightings of a few clowns turned into a social-media driven urban legend about vicious clowns chasing people with weapons. By the start of this month, there were reports about mobs of people going out to hunt down clowns. On 3 October, hundreds of students roamed around the campus of Pennsylvania State University on the lookout for clowns and a group in Bristol calling itself Clown Hunters set up a Facebook page calling for volunteers. In the UK, school authorities and the police have sent letters and emails to parents and even visited schools to warn them about the threat posed by clowns.

What’s remarkable about the clown craze is the speed with which it came to be globalised. Over the past few weeks, unsubstantiated stories of creepy clowns preying on people were being treated as hard facts by sections of the media across the globe, despite very few confirmed incidents.

What the hell is going on? Are creepy clowns a genuine threat – horror manifest in the real world? Or are they a symptom of broader societal anxiety – a society afraid of everything, even the fantastical? What is the role of urban myth in the age of social media? Or are ‘killer clowns’ the extreme selfie – meme culture come to life?