England’s Clowns Are Furious

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So says Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing, and he appears to be correct. According to this article in The Guardian, they are mad about a recent wave of incidents involving clowns or people dressed as clowns running around and trying to shock or scare people in Britain. Police believe these are copycats inspired by the behavior of the "Northampton Clown." See "Police Warn of Alarming Clown Epidemic," Lowering the Bar (Nov. 30, 2013).

The problem has now spread to Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, which to date have "recorded 29 and 28 clown-related incidents respectively." Sussex has reported three, including a speeding ticket given to a "motorcyclist in full clown costume."

Bluebottle the Clown, an officer of Clowns International, did seem angry and he certainly has a point:

"The people behind it might see it as a bit of a laugh, but for the victims it can be a horrible experience. The fear of clowns—coulrophobia—is a real thing and some people will react very badly to this. Not to mention people who are elderly or vulnerable. This has nothing to do with clowning, it's a small group of people with stupid views and it spoils the fun for everybody else."

Crazy Bananas was similarly upset:

"Before this happened I would pop into the petrol station in costume on my way to a job but now I can't do that," she said. "Even my own children who grew up around clowns have been scared by this. It's more than just a job, it's something we love, but people's reaction to us has changed—I was getting messages on Facebook asking if I was responsible for scaring people. This is my business and I don't like frightening people."

It seems that no one has actually been injured or attacked by any of these clown impostors, although some of the incidents have clearly frightened people and there was at least one unconfirmed report of a quasi-clown brandishing a knife. Which is in no way funny. Probably.

The Guardian report quoted Bluebottle as saying that most legitimate clowns followed a "code of clown conduct" that includes not wearing a costume in public unless actually clowning. I had trouble finding the Clowns International code itself, but the version adopted by Electric City Clowns, for example, requires one to swear that "I will remove my makeup and change into my street clothes as soon as possible following my appearance, so that I cannot be associated with any incident which may be detrimental to the good name of clowning." Bluebottle was probably referring to a rule like that, which the UK pseudo-clowns are plainly violating.

As you would expect, there does not seem to be a single Clown Code but rather many written versions of certain underlying clownish standards. One very professional example is the Code of Ethics of Red Noses: Clowndoctors International, a group that focuses on cheering up kids in hospitals. This code covers safety, patient confidentiality, and management neutrality, in addition to requiring the clown to have "the necessary training and experience in the area of clownery."

The various codes also generally prohibit "drinking while clowning," and that is almost certainly at issue in these recent incidents, too.