One of the oddest yet amazingly unknown subcultures in the music world is that of the followers of Insane Clown Posse, known as Juggalos. They’re the subject of criticism, satire, and misunderstanding, even being officially labeled a gang. But these super-fans aren’t monsters, they’re people–often their wild behavior masks a very principled, very progressive mindset. Writer Craven Rock delved into their society, returning with Juggalo Country, a book that initially might have started off being a cynical documentation of their Gathering, but in fact offers up a rather interesting look into a world very few know about. In this selection, you’ll learn of the appeal of the Juggalo life.
THE FOUR CORNERSTONES OF JUGGALO ATTRACTION
We’ll never die alone,
Juggalos will carry on,
Swing our hatchets if we must,
Each and every one of us…
–Insane Clown Posse, “Juggalo Chant”
There is an important difference between the words “loser” and “outlaw.” One is passive and one is active. –Hunter S. Thompson
I’ve said a lot about the aesthetics of Juggalo culture, how appealing it is to the Juggalo while being completely inaccessible and revolting to everyone else. What I started to get clued into early on, though, was that a future Juggalo has to already be susceptible to the long, bony beckoning finger of the Wicked Clown. As much as some non-Juggalos might not want to admit it, this predisposition is not far off from feelings and desires we’ve had ourselves. Really, how far off is the defiant nature of punk rock with its liberty spikes and safety pins from painting yourself up like a clown? How many steps away is the Axl Rose-idolizing redneck chugging a Budweiser and shouting, “I don’t give a fuuuck!” from a Juggalo shouting “If I only could I’d set the world on fire, FUCK THE WORLD!” along with Violent J and Shaggy? At the core, most of what Juggalo culture offers is transgressive, which has an appeal to the poor, to the outcast, to the marginalized. It was something I picked up early on in my research and is totally being confirmed at The Gathering. I came up with The Four Cornerstones of Juggalo Attraction, starting with some initial draws and ending on what keeps one swinging their hatchet for life. The Four Cornerstones of Juggalo Attraction are the Wicked Clown Face, to be reviled, The Family, and The Dark Carnival.
The First Cornerstone: The Wicked Clown Face
Let’s say, a young person who falls outside the cruel standards of high school becomes an outcast because they are too nerdy, too socially awkward, or maybe even too sociopathic. Physically, they may be too fat, too ugly, or too small. Maybe they are too poor and circumstantially wear raggedy clothes like Violent J. Maybe it’s their home life. Maybe they’re beaten or diddled senseless at a young age until their self-esteem shatters so much they don’t stand a chance at fitting in with the popular, or even the other unpopular, kids at school. They are floobs and scrubs, and their life is a living hell. The floob sees an Evil Clown grinning from a t-shirt and goes home and looks up the name of the band on the shirt. Or maybe the guy wearing the t-shirt takes them in, sends them home with some burnt CDs of Insane Clown Posse and Twiztid. The floob gets it. The music serves as a vessel for their anger, the extreme violence an outlet for all the times they are picked on and unable to defend themselves. The Clown attracts them because the Clown doesn’t give a fuck. The Clown is marginalized because it’s violent, psychopathic, and insane. This misfit starts to see themselves in that Clown face. They join the Juggalo family, embody that evil clown face, and their marginalization becomes voluntary. They portray themselves as violent, wicked, and they’ll split your wig if you fuck with them. Don’t fuck with a Juggalo.
The Second Cornerstone: To Be Reviled
Identifying as a Juggalo means shedding an involuntary marginalization for a marginalization of choice. The Juggalo gets tight with their Family and revels in their outcast status. They feel they are involved in something so dark, violent, and edgy that the rest of the world simply never understands. They love the hatred they receive from those outside the Dark Carnival. They see through evil Clown eyes now. It doesn’t matter that most haters of Wicked Shit judge it on unintelligent and violent lyrics, or crass merchandising, or perhaps aren’t buying the spiritual message, think painting faces up is kind of goofy, and don’t care to be covered in soda pop. Maybe haters call ICP’s music misogynistic or wish to further deconstruct it. But the Juggalos know the world will never understand the obscured positive message behind it all. The Juggalo only becomes more headstrong through this hate, swinging the hatchet because they must.
The Third Cornerstone: The Family
The Family offers important security and gives Juggalos the community they seek. Welcomed into an elite group of outcasts, they obtain a family of people who really understand them, unlike the abusive one at home. They no longer walk the hallways in their high schools with their head down alone, getting their asses kicked. Now they twist their fingers up in the shape of the Wicked Clown symbol and shout “WHOOP! WHOOP!” with all their fellow ’los. They will never die alone. Juggalos will carry on. They’re close to the Juggalos in their town but they also know ’los all over the country have their back. The Family is warm, treats them well, and accepts them for who they are. The Family is strong and takes care of their own. The Juggalo feels Clown Love and never wants to leave.
The Fourth Cornerstone: The Dark Carnival
The Dark Carnival seals the deal. The rest of the world doesn’t comprehend the Juggalo’s faith, just as they don’t understand anything about the Juggalo—only the Family understands. The trickiness of how the Dark Carnival faith works confuses and eludes me as always, but why it works is starting to make sense. The genius of ICP—they believe in something absurd and kooky, but as masters of self-promotion they can easily package and market it with expert precision. When I first began research, I flipped back and forth between thinking they really believed in their Dark Carnival or were just having us on. In the end, it seems like a bit of both. Just like they manipulate the Juggalos, it seems they fool themselves as well.
One thing to take into account when considering the influence of the Dark Carnival is that Violent J has publicly acknowledged his mental-health issues. Besides the fact that he based his entire career on an incident of hallucinating clowns in his living room, he also says he experiences panic attacks where he hears demons speaking to him and telling him he’s going to hell. He’s talked about being highly medicated, depressed, and prone to nervous breakdowns. Considering his background of childhood abuse and trauma, it’s really surprising. Nonetheless, everything that makes the Juggalos think Violent J is onto something and getting visions from God would strike non-Juggalo laymen as the ramblings of a delusional man. His religious fervor reminds me a lot of the psychology of geniuses such as Van Gogh and Dostoyevsky, who were both prone to anxiety, manias, religious revelations, and psychotic breakdowns. Any kook who sees weird shit that isn’t there could attempt to start a religion, though usually they wander the streets mumbling to themselves or shouting their doctrine to nonplussed and disinterested passers-by. But Violent J has charisma—Wicked Clown charisma. This draws the Juggalos in.
For the non-Juggalo who looks in on the Dark Carnival or watches the “Miracles” video, there’s a whole lot of evidence ICP is just plain stupid. But maybe it’s not a matter of how intelligent they are, but how they are intelligent. It’s easy to dismiss them because of their anti-intellectualism and puerile lyrics, sure, but they created a whole Wicked Clown empire.
The contradictory nature of Psychopathic Records and Wicked Shit is a slippery, confused (and confusing) reality, to say the least, but it simply works because it’s always adaptable. Violent J feels called to teach God’s message, but he doesn’t necessarily believe in the Bible’s definition of sin. Without the gospel, ICP takes the “righteousness” in scripture and strips it of all accountability. With no solid guidelines for behavior, the Dark Carnival adapts to the lifestyle of the follower. And while it may be easy to suspect ICP are just having us on, upon deeper inspection, it doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, ICP created a religion, not unlike a long line of religious zealots, that justifies all their behavior (if they just tweak it here and there). For instance, for all the justified hatred of “richies” in their songs and culture, Violent J and Shaggy will never be held accountable for their own wealth, or for gaining it by exploiting their disenfranchised followers. Psychopathic Records, indeed.
So the Dark Carnival is the final hook. A lot of Juggalos I talk to don’t trust mainstream religion. Some even feel harmed by it. But a more adaptable religion just may be something to help them get through life, especially if it comes with the Wicked packaging. Once they’re “down with the Clown,” tight with their homies and proudly withdrawn from society, they become receptive to the Dark Carnival’s message.
Juggalo Country is available for order from Microcosm Publishing.