Sociology in the News (8) – Killer Clowns and Donald Trump’s Misogyny

The Killer Clown Craze 


The societal response to the so called ‘Killer Clown Craze‘ seems like a good example of a moral panic. Piers Morgan (moral entrepreneur supremo) has waded in against the craze, and as soon as he gets involved in anything, that’s a sure sign of moral panic). Twenty years ago, people dressed in scary clown costumes would have been regarded as ‘Halloween pranksters’, today they’re regarded as public menaces who are a threat to public order and child well-being.

Thames Valley Police reported that

‘In the last 24 hours we have been called to 14 incidents across the region where people have reported being intimidated or frightened by others dressed as clowns. This follows the report of other incidents across the country which have been widely reported in the national media. While we don’t want to be accused of stopping people enjoying themselves we would also ask those same people to think of the impact of their behaviour on others and themselves.’ 

The public have been warned that dressing up as a clown with the intent to scare people could result in a criminal record, and children have been advised to phone child line if they are distressed by such sightings. Staffordshire police have further advised that people don’t ‘like’ Killer Clown pages on Facebook.

Maybe the chainsaw wielding clowns are taking this a step-too far, but as far as I can see, most of the incidents are harmless pranks, meaning the panic over this is almost certainly disproportionate, possibly a response to living in a culture of fear in which paranoid parents construct children as delicate objects in need of protection. Surely 30 years ago clown pranks would have been laughed off as funny?

This is also a great example of a ‘hyperreal’ deviant phenomenon – some people are even dressing up as superheros and chasing the Killer Clowns…



Donald Trump’s Downfall


Donald Trump’s downfall is a useful example of how Synoptic Surveillance can bring down the powerful – It looks like his chances of winning the US election are now extremely slim after video footage came to light of him engaged in what he thought was a private conversation in which he described his failure to ‘fuck’ (his words) a married T.V. presenter even thought he’d ‘moved on her like a bitch’, shortly after he himself had just married. He also boasted of groping women in the same conversation.

Synoptic Surveillance is a concept developed by Thomas Mathiesson to describe how surveillance is now carried out by a diverse range of people, rather than just the state keeping citizens under surveillance – as a result power is now more widely dispersed and those with political power are subject to more control from below, through journalistic surveillance for example.

Maybe the next moral panic will consist of people dressing up in Donald Trump masks groping women?  (‘Honest love, it was just a joke’.)

Trump -almost certainly more terrifying than killer clowns



Labelling Theory of Crime – A Summary

People do not become criminals because of their social background, crime emerges because of labelling by authorities. Crime is the product of interactions between certain individuals and the police, rather than social background.

NB these are very brief summary notes, for a much more in-depth post on everything below please see my main post on the labelling theory of crime.

Crime is Sociology Constructed

  • There is no such thing as an inherently deviance act

  • Howard Becker (1963) “Deviancy is not a quality of the act a person commits, but rather a consequences of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an ‘offender’.”

  • Becker – The Outsiders – Malinowski – Incest example

  • Applies to drugs – compare illegal ‘legal’ highs UK to legal weed in Colorado

Not everyone who is deviant gets labelled as such

  • Whether an actor is labelled as deviant depends on: their interactions with the police, their background/ appearance, the circumstances of the offence.

  • negative labels (deviant/ criminal) are generally given to the powerless by the powerful.

  • Cicourel – first stage – working class kids more likely to be labelled as deviant by police; second stage – more likely to be prosecuted by courts, most of this is based on appearance and language, not the deviant act.

Labelling has real consequences – it can lead to deviancy amplification, the self-fulfilling prophecy and deviant careers

  • Lemert – primary and secondary deviance

  • Becker – labelling, the deviant career and the master status

  • Labelling theory applied to education – the self-fulfilling prophecy

  • Moral panics, folk devils and deviancy amplification

Labelling theory should promote policies that prevent labelling minor acts as deviant

  • Decriminalisation (of drugs for example)

  • Reintegrative shaming to label the act, not the criminal.




Labelling theory emphasises the following:

– That the law is not ‘set in stone’ – it is actively constructed and changes over time

– That law enforcement is often discriminatory

– That we cannot trust crime statistics

– That attempts to control crime can backfire and may make the situation worse

– That agents of social control may actually be one of the major causes of crime, so we should think twice about giving them more power.

– It tends to be determinstic, not everyone accepts their labels

– It assumes offenders are just passive – it doesn’t recognise the role of personal choice in committing crime

– It gives the offender a ‘victim status’ – Realists argue that this perspective actually ignores the actual victims of crime.

– It tends to emphasise the negativesides of labelling rather than the positive side

– It fails to explain why acts of primary deviance exist, focussing mainly on secondary deviance.

– Structural sociologists argue that there are deeper, structural explanations of crime, it isn’t all just a product of labelling and interactions.

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