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As reports of creepy clown threats and sightings continue to make the rounds, they underline the question: Where did these clowns come from, anyway? Folklorists at Utah State University are pointing to the complex ways economic instability, cultural stress, globalization and racial tension can influence society as a possible answer.

“When cultures are stressed it shows up in their folklore,” said Jeannie Thomas, head of the English department at Utah State University.

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