2016 — The Year of the Creepy Clown
by Susan Kramer O’Neill (Venezuela 1973–74
IT STARTED WITH RANDOM GUYS who showed up in public places, their very presence disturbing the peace. Rumors flew that some attempted to entrap children. I doubt they accomplished it. Children are smarter than adults; they know to be wary of the white face, the painted grin, gigantic feet and orange hair.
I remember one picture: a lone clown, hands on hips, head tipped to one side, across from a rural apartment complex somewhere down south. Just standing. Watching.
It creeped me out.
In no time, the clowns claimed 2016. They owned it.
I must add this disclaimer: There were good clowns in the year’s mix. Lovely, heartbreaking clowns. Muhammed Ali; Prince, and Bowie. Gene Wilder. The wry Zen master, Leonard Cohen. These fine clowns will be linked with 2016 only because that was when they tiptoed off stage and left us, bereft, in their monumental shadows.
But so many of 2016’s clowns were very, very creepy — and not just those guys lurking at the edges of the woods.
There were creepy hacker clowns. There were inhumanly creepy clowns who danced behind a black flag, waving bloody swords; creepy clowns who marched in white hoods; creepy clowns who torched dry forests. There were creepy clowns who pointed at those who wore different makeup — or none at all — and called them creeps. There were creepy clowns who drew up fake newspaper headlines, and creepy clowns who passed them along with manic glee. And “serious” creepy clowns who spun their own headlines from the fluff of outrageous proclamations and base insults, rejecting sturdier materials that might have been important.
We saw bullying clowns. Divisive clowns. Denigrating clowns. Corrupt clowns. Clowns with little roving white gloves; clowns with forked tongues. Independent clowns. And great masses of clowns flapping their nasty clown shoes in lockstep.
Perhaps it’s an epidemic. Perhaps we would do well to watch our own feet: are they growing? Is that a hint of orange in my hair? Are these my makeup jars?
In October, creepy clowns were sighted in England and Australia. Some were armed with knives and sticks. It is possible that they will invade the entire world.
That they are Zombies. That they have come to eat our brains.
That they are succeeding.
Susan O’Neill is the author of Don’t Mean Nothing: Short Stories of Viet Nam (UMass Press, 2004), a collection based on her stint as an army nurse during the Viet Nam war, and Calling New Delhi for Free (and other ephemeral truths of the 21st century) (Peace Corps Writers, 2013).
She edits Vestal Review, a literary magazine for flash/sudden fiction. Her essay blog and some of her fiction and non-fiction can be found at her home page at SusanOneill.us. Susan is a photographer in addition to being a writer, and you can see her black and white prints at her site. She and her fellow military and Peace Corps veteran husband live in the fantastic foreign land of Brooklyn, New York.