Op-Ed

Creepy clowns give good clowns a bad name

TNS

It makes sense that the “clownapocalypse” has reached Florida.

The recent outbreak of people dressing up as creepy clowns to scare people sounds like one of those ideas that should have originated in Florida.

However, this ghoulish prank seems to have started in South Carolina this summer before spreading to Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and eventually to Florida last month.

Police in Ocala, Gainesville, Pensacola and Largo have been called to respond to posted videos of creepy clowns or reports of “suspicious clowns” in the area. And with Halloween approaching, it has never been a tougher time to be a legitimate happy, animal-balloon-inflating, smiley-faced, floppy-shoed clown.

“It’s giving us a bad name,” said Diane Foerch, 55, of Jupiter, otherwise known as Cookie the Clown.

Foerch has been a local clown for 17 years, and during that time she has seen the occasional adult cringe at the sight of her in a clown costume. So she’s fully aware of the aversion to clowns — known as coulrophobia — that some people have.

“So when I go to pre-schools I go as myself, and talk to the kids about being a clown,” she said. “And then I dress up and put my makeup on in front of them.”

It puts them at ease, she said, and gives her a chance to put some clown makeup on them too.

“I tell the kids there’s nothing to be afraid of,” she said. “I am a mom and a grandmother.”

That’s a far cry from teenagers and young adults dressing up as demonic-looking clowns in order to frighten people.

It may also be illegal. Florida law makes it a crime for anyone older than 16 to wear a “mask, hood, or device whereby any portion of the face is so hidden, concealed, or covered as to conceal the identity of the wearer” if the purpose of the concealment is to “intimidate, threaten, abuse, or harass” another person.

The law makes exemptions for holiday costumes, theatrical productions, masquerade balls, and gas masks.

It’s inevitable that something like this would happen. Pop culture is steeped with scary clowns, from theme park horror nights to movies and TV shows showcasing blood-dripping harlequins. And with the advent of social media, some people have started creating their own little scare-show productions.

For example, a woman in Pensacola posted a backyard video that seemed to show a clown lurking in the darkness. In the jumpy, hand-held video, she says, “What the hell! Did you see that?”

The video got 11.5 million views online and created two days of panic before the woman admitted that it was a hoax she had orchestrated.

Glenn Kohlberger, a Boynton Beach clown known as Clyde D. Scope, and a former president of the Clowns of America International, isn’t laughing along.

“These are impostors,” he said. “They’re not clowns. If they were dressed like doctors would we all be afraid of doctors?”

Frank Cerabino writes for The Palm Beach Post.

© Copyright 2016 Cox Newspapers

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