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The only clown we should be scared of is Donald Trump

A new creepy "killer clown" craze is distracting us from the real horror in our midst.

What has been touted as the clown apocalypse (and is actually some people going around dressed as clowns) began in the US this summer. Now that it’s spread to the UK, with “clown sightings” from County Durham to Somerset, mild perturbment has pervaded our shores like an incredibly thin mist.

So far, no one has been hurt by one of these particular lurking clowns. Although a knife-wielding specimen was spotted – I’m sorry – “sighted” in Manchester, and there was one with a chainsaw on the Brunel University campus, in London, this week. It’s been suggested that the craze was inspired by the upcoming remake of the 90s horror classic It, based on the Stephen King novel, in which Pennywise the clown terrorises a small town. But what these Pennywise-inspired “killer clowns” don’t seem to understand is that clowns don’t need chainsaws to be scary. It’s overkill. It’s like strapping a bomb to a really big spider. The point is – unarmed clowns are already scary.

Sometimes scary things are accidentally funny. Like a bad horror film, or a lacklustre ghost train. On the flipside, funny things that are accidentally scary can be very scary indeed. Seeing as no one (outside of France) has laughed at a clown since the 1400s, what we’re left with – clown-wise – is pure, uncut scary. Psychologists have used Freud’s theory of the uncanny, in which something is disturbing because it’s simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar, to explain why we’re scared of clowns. A grown man, or woman (but usually a man) in several layers of face paint and a baggy onesie is clearly a human adult, while at the same time something other, something awful, something Freud probably didn’t call “fucked up”.

One of the creepiest things about clowns is that they want to be liked. Like serial killer John Wayne Gacy lulling kids into a false sense of security as his alter ego and birthday party entertainer, Pogo the Clown. A clown with a chainsaw doesn’t want to be liked, which actively detracts from his scariness as a clown. Don’t get me wrong, a chainsaw-wielding person is scary, but that person could be dressed as a fish, a hedge, or Alex Salmond, and still be scary. When someone is potentially going to cut you into many, many pieces, their appearance is immaterial. 

This is why, if anything, this spate of try-hard “killers” is detracting from the scariness of clowns. In fact, professional clowns have started to hit out at the Clown Apocalypse clowns. The professionals claim that the pranksters are besmirching the good name of clowning. The irony being that the professionals (people so dedicated to slapstick they’ve made a career out of it) are way, way scarier than the amateurs. The scariest thing about the clown craze is that it’s ruining an effective horror trope. It’s turning clowns into… clowns. Although maybe this is a sign that the whole scary clown thing is utterly knackered, and we should all grow up and focus our collective fear on something like the US presidential election.

Besides, with his painted face and propensity for nonsense, is Donald Trump not the ultimate clown? Clowning is dead. It’s done the full circle. It may even — but don’t quote me on this — be funny again. In a tragic, “we’re all screwed” way, at least. Maybe this isn’t even new. After all, Juggalos (devotees to the hip hop group Insane Clown Posse) have been making clowns un-scary since the Nineties.

And in terms of accidentally scary things, I’ve always thought puppets were scarier, anyway.



Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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