A new craze of people dressed as clowns, a frightening trend imported from Britain, is causing tremors in many regions of France.
It all started when a student at the University of Northampton standing on street corners last year had the effect of making this harmless prank into a global threat.
Vigilante groups are being formed in France to confront these people for fear that they may cause disruption and felony among law-abiding citizens who are certainly not amused by this latest foray into a form of occultist behaviour.
One group was arrested in Eastern France last week after being spotted on two CCTV cameras in Mulhouse and Colmar town centres, armed with baseball bats, tear gas and knuckledusters. Apprehended by police, the five suspects, aged between sixteen and nineteen, said they were on the lookout for clowns terrorising local people. They are expected to be summoned on trial for charges of carrying a dangerous weapon and are likely to face a maximum jail sentence of three years.
Calls for clowns to be hunted in other French cities are thriving on the internet – what a lecturer in communication at Belgium’s Louvain University called a ‘veritable psychosis’.
The panic started to take root with some confirmed reports that clowns were loitering outside schools in Northern France before the half-term holiday. Some people have been suffering with coulrophobia – apparently that’s the fear of clowns – which led them to imagine that they were being haunted by the characters.
Several pupils claimed to have been attacked and injured by armed clowns. Police said, however, that there was no evidence to substantiate this but the reports went viral on social media causing more pranksters to dress up.
In the Dordogne, an area favoured by the British, a sixteen-year-old boy who was arrested carrying a plastic knife while dressed up said he wanted to imitate the clown in It from Stephen King’s horror novel.
In Northern France, two men in the costumes were arrested in Pèronne for waving a hammer in a supermarket and a nineteen-year-old man was given a suspended jail sentence in Bèthune for chasing teenagers with a stick. Other incidents have been reported in Italy and California this month.
Whereas normally clowns are considered more of a laughing matter than a real menace, in today’s world we are now so inculcated with trepidation at the risk of perhaps losing our sense of humour.
If that were to happen, God forbid, it will also curtail our inherent feeling of adventure without which we cease to appraise the delights that life can offer.