By Anthony Lucas ,AFP
PARIS — Evil, armed clowns sow terror as part of an eerie trend that spreads from city to city: while this may sound like Hollywood’s latest horror blockbuster, it’s real and happening in France. Police have jailed or arrested more than a dozen teenagers across the country in recent weeks after they dressed up as the pranksters and wreaked havoc on the streets, at times armed with pistols, knives or baseball bats, sometimes beating people up. The phenomenon in France has even prompted anti-clown vigilantism, forcing police to step in to try and quell growing hysteria. But why clowns? And could the approach of Halloween have something to do with it? From Batman’s Joker to Stephen King’s child-killer in ��It�� or Twisty the Clown in U.S. series American Horror Story, the colorful buffoon who is supposed to make children laugh has often morphed into pure evil in films or books. ��For 30 years now, the malevolent clown is a character that has been exploited by popular culture with films, books that have gradually built up a theme… that everyone knows,�� said anthropologist Veronique Campion-Vincent, an expert on rumor. ��Urban legends are based on the idea that we are in a world where things are not what they seem. ��That’s the case for this apparently amusing being who makes children laugh, but who is actually really nasty. The clown could even be seen as a victim, someone who is awkward, who takes his revenge.��
The Very Real ‘killer clown’ Whether these fictional characters have been inspired by or contributed to coulrophobia �X a fear of clowns �X remains to be seen. While little is understood about the cause of this phobia, it is thought to result from not knowing what lies behind the excessive make-up, red nose and hair color. Like many other fears such as arachnophobia, authors and filmmakers have been inspired by coulrophobia for their books or movies. And it’s not just fiction that has fuelled a fear of clowns. U.S. serial killer and rapist John Wayne Gacy, who was executed in 1994 for torturing and murdering 33 people, became known as the ��Killer Clown�� as he would dress up as the prankster for children’s parties. In France, where Halloween never used to be celebrated but is gradually becoming more popular, the phenomenon of terror-inducing clowns appeared earlier this month in the north. According to police, people increasingly reported spotting clowns ��outside schools, but also on public roads, in bushes, in a square.�� ��Their targets are often young children or teenagers, but also adults,�� a police source in northern France told AFP. Last week, a 19-year-old got a six-month suspended jail term for threatening passers-by while dressed as a clown in the town of Bethune.