Have you ever had a man or woman in your life that makes you so uncomfortable that you wish you’d go out of your way to be in a different time zone? What was it about them that made you so uncomfortable that you were poised to become an Olympic sprinter if they got within 10 feet of you? Would you describe them as “creepy?”
Chances are, calling them “creepy” would probably be the most polite way to describe such people. Everybody’s concept of “creepy” may be different to some degree, but like bad porno, we all know it when we see it. In biological terms, it’s our “fight or flight” instinct going into overdrive for reasons that have nothing to do with facing a hungry grizzly bear.
Even if we all have an idea of what constitutes “creepy,” it’s one of those ideas we don’t scrutinize that much. Again, it’s one of those “I know it when I see it” type feelings and unlike bad porno, it can affect our lives in pretty profound ways. It’s led to a plague of creepy clown sightings. I’d say it’s more serious now than it has ever been in recent years.
What does it mean to be “creepy” though? This is one of those concepts for which a dictionary just doesn’t do the trick. It’s so subjective and personal that one person’s phobia is another person’s fetish. Those who are into clown porn probably understand this more than most.
It’s also a serious question for a guy like me. Recently, I talked about some of the strange looks I get when people find out I’m in my 30s and still single. While I don’t dress like a clown and collect hairs of young women, that does evoke a certain “creepiness” factor for some people. They see a single guy in his 30s and a part of them thinks that’s just wrong somehow, even if there’s nothing on the surface that comes close to clown makeup.
At its core, our revulsion to those we deep creepy is an extension of our gag reflex. When it comes to protecting our frail, fleshy forms, nature can’t be gentle. It has to make the process of vomiting or wanting to vomit so debilitating and uncomfortable that it drives us away from distressing situations. Without that sort of gag reflex, what would stop us from swimming in a pool of elephant poop too cool off on a hot summer day?
As is often the case with nature, our gag reflex tends to be overly broad and for some people, it severely overcompensates. That means the things that make us gag don’t always involve seeing a dead horse floating around in a pool. They can involve how and why we avoid certain people.
Sometimes those people do have a reason for being avoided. I’ve walked by homeless people who clearly have issues that go beyond just being homeless. Some of them do a lot more than just ask for money. Some will go out of their way to tell you that there’s a fairy on their shoulder who refuses to scratch their butthole. That’s usually going to trigger a gag reflex for most reasonable people.
However, those situations are the obvious ones. The situations that effect most people, including some people like me, are a bit more subtle. We all have traits and quirks that set us apart. We can’t always control when someone sees those things and calls them “creepy.”
For some people, my love of comic books and infatuation with sexy superhero women counts as creepy. For others, it’s a reason to hold a major convention in New York City. One person’s creepy obsession can be another person’s passion.
Then, there’s the added bit of overcompensation that we as a society heap on all things creepy. What does that entail? Well, most kids who attend a public school these days get a crash course in something called “stranger danger.”
When I was in school, it was a big fucking deal. We would have assemblies in the middle of the day to hear counselors and police officers tell us about the danger of talking to strangers. Never mind the fact that the amount of dangerous strangers is a tiny sub-set of most strangers. Never mind that a good chunk of crime and abuse comes from intimate partners and not strangers. We need to keep kids from getting kidnapped, damn it!
I get it. This is a big fear for parents and communities. It’s not an unreasonable fear, wanting to protect kids from creeps, but urging the to stay away from strangers can have side-effects. It can make kids mistrustful, paranoid, and even xenophobic. Later in life, these kids will become the adults that wants to kick minorities and foreigners out of their country.
We’ve already seen recently how this can have some pretty serious impacts on society. I won’t go into details, but I think recent trends in wall-building enthusiasts speak for themselves.
Now I’m not going to say that we should ignore the things that spike our “creep” factor. Again, that feeling is there for a damn good reason. Until we become superhuman cyborgs, which may happen one day, we need that reflex to remain. However, we also need to avoid pushing people to the fringes of society who don’t deserve it.
This might just be the hugger in me, but we do ourselves no favors by focusing on the “creepiness” in everybody. We all have our quirks. So long as those quirks don’t involve mutilation, exploitation, or clowns, we should give people a chance. If they mess up that chance, then that’s their problem and not yours at that point.
We want to be safe. We want to protect our kids. However, it is possible to overdo it. We can be doing more harm than good to those around us. Let’s not assume the extremes of creepiness outright. Until they put on clown makeup, let’s give people the chance they deserve.