As I write this, France is in the grip of a crime wave without precedent. A seemingly endless string of senseless assaults has plunged us into a vicious circus. All over the country, police officers are filing reports like this one:
“Complainant was jogging in City Park when she found herself confronted by a smiling, colorfully dressed individual armed with a handgun that had a flag emerging from the barrel. He then proceeded to chase her around in ‘ring patterns’ in three adjacent locations.
“After pursuing the complainant for several minutes, the suspect joined a group of 10 to 12 similarly dressed individuals, all of whom rapidly boarded a red late-model Austin Mini (partial plate: BARNU) and drove away slowly, weaving erratically and repeatedly honking the horn.
“Further evidence and definite perp ID are unlikely. CSI was dispatched to the scene but all they found were shoe prints too big to make casts, and the complainant was unable to complete a facial composite sketch because the Identikit system has no noses that match the assailant’s.”
Yes, clown attacks are on the rise all across France. The trend has been widely reported in just about every news source, although for readers who are not yet aware of it, I recommend this article from The Daily Beast because it has the cleverest ending.
This childhood-nightmare-come-true began on October 10 in the southwestern town of Périgueux, where a 17-year-old boy wearing clown makeup caused a panic by menacing people in the street with a (fake) pistol. He later claimed that the only thing he intended to shoot was a video that would make him famous on YouTube.
So far viral fame has eluded him, but if his intention had been to offer the world a lesson in the breadth, depth and scope of idiocy achievable by the teenage male mind, he did an excellent job: despite being immature, unfunny and illegal, the stunt inspired a horde of imitators.
About a week later, two 14-year-olds in northern France were detained for parading around dressed as clowns and carrying plastic hatchets. Almost simultaneously, a clown clone in a Paris suburb pursued a woman while waving a stage-prop axe. His rampage didn’t last long — when he was himself threatened by a passerby wielding a baseball bat, he ran away, no doubt yelling, “Did you have to bring a bat to a fake axe fight?!”
Predictably, as the Internet rumor mill kicked into hyperspace mode, these real-life incidents led to a flood of reports of fictitious clown attacks. A Facebook page offering “information on the [evil] clowns of northern France” quickly racked up more than 70,000 followers. In some cities, so many people became so fearful of harmful harlequins that they formed vigilante groups — self-appointed protectors who patrol the streets keeping an eye out for greasepaint smears and unicycle tracks.
Of course, most of the actual assaults caused more emotional than physical harm. But not all: one ballistic buffoon severely beat a man with a metal bar and is now behind many of the same.
And in a town near the Belgian border, another copyclown was convicted of endangerment after chasing children with a sharp stick and a tear-gas gun. He was sentenced to six months, which he is being allowed to serve by staying inside an invisible box, and any coins that he finds behind people’s ears during that period must be donated to the victims.
As the end of the month approached, the craze was seen as cause for genuine concern. So much so that the Mediterranean town of Vendargues passed an ordinance banning clown costumes on Halloween for anyone over the age of 13. A similar decree was issued in nearby Agde, which had also had trouble with Puck-headed punks.
However, this was seen as a largely symbolic gesture, since Agde is home to Europe’s largest nudist colony, Cap d’Agde, so no one over the age of 13 had any intention of wearing a clown costume on Halloween in the first place. Or any costume. Or anything at all except a lascivious grin.
Meanwhile, in the clothed part of France, officials began to worry that clown attacks would surge, along with blood-sugar levels, on the 31st. The cover story in the French daily Libération for October 30 opened with a quote from a police commissioner entreating the media “not to fuel the rumor machine and give other would-be pranksters ideas.”
Always willing to help the authorities, Libération then continued its coverage for five full pages. One entire page, which was subtitled “Tribune” but should have been called “Oh Man, This Is So-o-o-o French,” was devoted to a psychological analysis of the phenomenon by a prominent sociologist.
His essay is packed with insights that are certain to give thousands of would-be pranksters hundreds of ideas, such as: “The mask not only ensures anonymity, but is also propitious to the revocation of restrictions, catalyzing those buried or repressed temptations that find, in the principle of identity, as embodied by the face, their custodial safeguard.” Figuring out sentences like that is what French newspaper subscribers do instead of Sudoku.
As a result of all the in-depth analysis going on, the ultimate responsibility for this fool-fueled fad has been traced back to its root cause. Not surprisingly, it turns out to be the usual culprit, the pervasive, inescapable force that generates virtually all of the evil in the world: Stephen King.
Many of the jester-molesters who have been arrested report having got the idea from King’s novel It, whose main character is a maleficent supernatural being that terrorizes innocent children by appearing in the earthly form that they dread the most: a dead smartphone battery. Oops — I mean a clown.
But the public can rest assured: the forces of order are taking action. All police stations in the country have been issued video copies of Stephen King movies to sensitize them to the danger.
However, a recent inspection found in most precincts all but one of the DVDs still in the carton, and the opening locker-room scene from the 1976 version of Carrie set on repeat play. In a more sensible move, public-safety notices have been posted all across France warning people to avoid large tents and to report any suspicious calliope music.
And the police are backing up words with action. In a press conference attended by only one journalist, because it took place in my head, the Minister of the Interior has announced the deployment in every major city of fast-intervention special brigades equipped with military-grade anti-clown devices.
The arsenal includes a laser balloon popper, a lead-filled rubber chicken, a rapid-fire cream-pie launcher and, for extreme cases, a weapon that’s guaranteed to stop any marauding merrymaker dead in his tracks: a truck-mounted seltzer cannon.
© 2014 Paris UpdateFavorite
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