Clowning around with mass hysteria

Dylan Webb is a teaching English as a second language major. Contact him at [email protected].

Dylan Webb

After watching a KentWired video of a massive “hunt” involving dozens of Kent State’s police officers and students following a report of suspicious clown activity, one term came to mind: mass hysteria.

Mass hysteria is “a condition affecting a group of persons, characterized by excitement or anxiety, irrational behavior or beliefs,” according to This shows how people can readily accept false or poorly supported beliefs just to fit in.

Less than 50 years ago, clowns were a paradigm of harmless fun and silliness. My grandfather vividly remembers his time on “Bozo’s Circus,” a show with an eight-year waiting list, as one of the crowning moments of his childhood. However, with media from Stephen King’s “It” to “American Horror Story” and urban legends based on fabricated reports, clowns have become a symbol of a sinister murderer with an appearance far too goofy and innocent to be taken seriously until it is too late.

Hysteria is how people can come to believe things such as the idea that we didn’t land on the moon, and these victims can fall into the ideologies of doomsday cults like Heaven’s Gate. Once people accept a belief mindlessly, it isn’t too hard to make that jump to an entire ideology.

For example take the Majestic-12 Documents. The document claims that the leaders of the post-World War II generation had contact with aliens, with signatures from President Harry Truman and high-profile scientists on the document.

Upon further analysis, it was proven that the Truman signature was indeed forged. Proven hoaxes still create subcultures of die-hard followers. Many people believe not only that aliens are real, but that they make contact with world leaders and have provided the knowledge that sparked the exponential increase in technology.

Yet, despite the proof of the evidence as a hoax, there exists a vast subculture dedicated to the search of and conspiracy theories on extraterrestrial life.

With the instant access of overwhelming amounts of information, we lost an essential skill: critical thinking. In other words, the ability to not accept all data coming our way blindly at face value, but investigate the claim and come up with your own conclusion with sufficient evidence.

So instead of hunting clowns, you should hunt the books of philosophers like Marcel Proust, Baruch Spinoza, or even the works of Sigmund Freud who commented on the phenomenon.

This is college after all — not a clown hunting school. I am left to question, if the mob had caught the clown: what would have happened? At the very least, it could have assaulted a clown who might have had just been returning from his little sister’s birthday.

More then likely, these are student pranksters trying to get attention with their Halloween costumes, rather than posing any fearsome threat. Don’t give into the hysteria, but keep your guard up and stay safe.

Dylan Webb is a columnist, contact him at [email protected].