Suggesting that the year 2016 — in general, but especially in politics — seems like it must have some key or some point of perspective that would make sense of the apparent madness, Roger Kimball raises the image of anamorphic paintings, which are distorted works that must be viewed from a particular spot in order for the image to make full sense. He writes:
… it would be nice if we could only discover that special privileged spot to stand wherein the confusing mess splayed out before us would resolve itself into an intelligible picture. I am not naive enough to believe I would necessarily like what I saw. But apprehending the truth of the matter, if but momentarily, would be its own satisfaction.
With this notion still floating around just beneath awareness in my mind, this morning, I came across a series of three tweets from RIBNS, which read as follows:
Central Falls police responding for a clown walking around
Central Falls RI, Police searching area, PD asked if he “had a form of transportation like a “unicycle”. Disp ” Nope, just waving,”
Officer ” Does he have a form of transportation, like a unicycle” – Dispatch says ” nope, just walking and waving, poss friendly clown”
Some sense can be made of the puzzling need to characterize the incident as a “possibly friendly clown” when one learns that “creepy clown” sightings have become a thing in the United States this year. Indeed, today brought a rash of related news, if Instapundit is any measure:
- New Haven may ban clown costumes, now that “the ‘creepy clown’ phenomena has put Americans in multiple states on edge.”
- At Merrimack College, outside Boston, reports of an armed clown sparked a dorm evacuation.
- And the “creepy clown craze” is drawing increased police response across the country.
Perhaps if one put all of the bizarre events of 2016 together and stepped back (and to the left), the image that would resolve itself before the eyes would be that of a creepy clown. Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s the meaning of the year. Superficially, of course, the Daily News has been running with the Trump Clown theme (picture), but Hillar-it-y is just a Photoshop away (picture, or try this one if that doesn’t do it for you).
Creepy clowns may be the perfect image of our era. What makes them so (for lack of a better word) creepy is that one doesn’t know whether to be amused or frightened. The great purpose of clowns is to make people laugh. (It’s in the guild’s code, I’m told.) Yet, coming across one displaced from the circus, the traveler can’t escape the fact that there’s a person beneath the red nose choosing to appear out and about like that, raising the specter of the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Thus the general anxiety of our times. We’ve destroyed our innocence, and we’ve destroyed the compartments that once created context for clowns within a circus, that once left social institutions like professional sports as a relief from socio-political peer pressure, and that once allowed us to feel about men in the women’s dressing room approximately the way we feel about clowns standing on residential street corners in the middle of the night.
The feeling of 2016 is akin to the anxiety of that moment when the responsible adult has walked out of the house to determine what’s going on. A rational explanation is still possible: Maybe it’s a joke or a costume-party-goer waiting for a ride, or perhaps the costumed person has a developmental issue that blocks an understanding that such behavior might be disconcerting to others. Or perhaps the threat is minor for the moment; the clown would be a danger to children but is easily collared and controlled by grown ups at this hour.
Or perhaps the nightmare is real and made worse by the vehemence with which the authorities are insisting that we’re the creepy ones for feeling uneasy.