Scary Clowns: why are they everywhere?


Another day, another meme, another attempt to explain how something spreads based on it’s essential characteristics.

Take this piece from Vulture for example: nice, clear, sensible Freud-enriched cultural-psychological speculation.

“There is an aspect of horror that Freud initially called the uncanny. That’s where something is familiar enough to be recognizable but weird enough to give you the shivers. The uncanny explains a lot of horror tropes, where you look at something and it’s not quite right — like a human face that’s decomposing. It’s recognizable, but just enough away from normal to scare you. In my lectures, I’ll show a slide of a beagle, and I have a series of Photoshopped slides where I keep changing the eyes of the beagle and it gets creepier and creepier, because you recognize that there’s something not right about it, and it takes you a second to place it.”

It makes an awful lot of sense, when you think about how individuals might respond. But it’s an answer to a different question than the one it seeks to answer. Not Why Are Scary Clowns Everywhere but Why Do People Get Scared By Clowns.

It’s all in the copying – that’s what “tropes” are anchored in. People copying what they’ve seen other people do. Individuals repeating a thing they’ve seen cause a stir elsewhere. From movies or games or wherever. It’s worked before, why not again? 01chainsawclown1110a.jpg


Pic c/o Evening Standard

When we ask Spread questions, it’s easy to imagine we’re seeking a specific question. Why this thing? Why now? Why in this way? 

But if we’re going to do anything about the Spread, we need to ask more general questions first: what kinda* of thing is this? What kinda* way is this spreading?  What kind of mechanics are enabling it or inhibiting the spread?

Only by asking kinda* questions can you hope to get to really good answers to this. Specifics are good but not only once you’ve chunked out the kinda* problem questions**.

How on earth can you stop the spread of scary clowns if all you know about is scary clowns?


*yes, I know it’s a deliberate misspelling to annoy John Willshire…

**I think this is what @willsh means by “metastrategy”