I think it’s safe to say everybody is familiar with the Insane Clown Posse, and I think it’s safe to say you KNOW when ICP is playing in your town. You probably even have a good idea when either Twiztid, Kottonmouth Kings, Dark Lotus, Wolfpac, Tech N9ne, or any other band that screws up my spellcheck and is related to the Psychopathic Records label is playing at your local theater or mid-size concert venue.
How do you know? The fans. The crazed, demented, frothing hordes of teenagers and young adults lined up all day and waiting for the main event. They’re usually clad in JNCO jeans, wallet chains down to their feet, band t-shirts, patchy facial hair, mind-boggling braided hair and they often have tattoos of little men running with hatchets. Then there’s the clown make-up, the tell-tale sign of dedication. They paint their faces in the visages of their idols Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, the masterminds behind ICP. These fans are all the way down with the clown. You can hear their battle cries for city blocks before you see them. The chants of “WHOOP WHOOP!” and “FAMILY!” drown out the sound of traffic and send chills down the spines of normal city folk.
You know who they are. You’ve discussed them with your friends and co-workers. You’ve goofed on the ICP music videos and you’ve joked about their IQs, their weight and their predilection for backyard wrestling. You’ve laughed at the Saturday Night Live skits skewering their lifestyle. Some of you have dressed up like them for Halloween. You might have even bought Faygo, their soda pop of choice, and poured a few rounds for your “Ninjas.” You know who I’m talking about.
Say it with me.
To some, they’re the lowest common denominator, the bottom of the barrel, the sewer floor of sub-cultures. To others, they’re merely joke fodder and seeing one in public is the equivalent to spotting Amish youth in the mall or dorky Mormon missionaries on bicycles canvassing your neighborhood. Everybody seems to have an opinion on Juggalos (females in the clan are known as Juggalettes, of course).
So what’s the deal with these denizens of the Dark Carnival? You remember Deadheads, right? Those were the wavy gravy dudes and dudettes in tye-dye shirts with tattoos of dancing bears that “followed” hippie stalwarts The Grateful Dead for most of their career. They were a culture all of their own, setting up camp in amphitheater parking lots wherever the Dead played, peddling their wares and twirling the night away to the umpteenth Bob Weir guitar solo. Juggalos are the freak-show mirror image of these peaceful fans, they’re the ICP’s Dionysian warriors as opposed to the Dead’s Apollonian flower-gatherers.
Or put it this way - trashy clothes, bad attitudes, wacky hair, tattoos, piercings, misunderstood by society at large, and stereotyped by the media (and the FBI) as moronic miscreants with a penchant for violence and gang-like activities. Sound familiar? Ever seen an episode of 20/20, Donahue, Geraldo, or Morton Downey Jr., on punk rockers? There’s a connection there. Every youth culture and subculture has been spat upon and painted with a malicious brush since the dawn of time. Greaser J.D.’s were disrespectful no-goodniks, hippies were long-hair cowards, punk rockers were violent cretins on a deathtrip and so on and so on.
However, it seems the buck stops with the Juggalos and the stereotypes are here to stay. It’s as if there’s no going back or going forward. That seems to be just fine with them. They don’t need you and they don’t need your acceptance. They have each other. There’s a reason the shouts and yells of “Family!” are so persistent wherever these clowns congregate. They are what they have. From a Juggalo entry in the Urban Dictionary:
“we are here for each other. We respect one another, we get one another and we fight for one another. we have catch phrases and sayings that any non-family member would laugh at. we have a bigger family then anyone out there, and we love to show it off. Like every family we have the retards, but we still love them as well. We dont have to rep a hatchet man/girl or wear psychopathic record clothing. We love who we are, and we love who our fellow Juggalo's are. WE ARE THE DARK CARNIVAL, AND WE DONT CARE WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK!!!”
Is there anything wrong with that, at least on the surface? Don’t the majority of us seek out like-minded people to collaborate, cohabitat and commiserate with? A large percentage of the Juggalos are from broken homes, dead-end towns with not a lot of hope or future. ICP themselves are from Detroit, Michigan, the closest city we have to “Bartertown” in the U.S. They’ve found something in each other, and it doesn’t matter what race, creed or color you might be, as long as you’re down with the clown, you’re family. Whoop Whoop.
I’ve had a few run-in with Juggalos, and it’s ranged from amusement to downright fear. I once watched a mass of them pushing up against a chain-link fence like George Romero’s zombies in Day of the Dead in anticipation of an ICP show. I once watched them get creative while waiting for a Twiztid show. They broke out into a football game - with a brick. A brick that landed through a window of a business on the opposite side of the street. I once murmured to a friend about these “fucking clown morons”, only to have a linebacker in full face-paint threaten to “slaughter me and my family.” I once had a bouncy Juggalette plant a kiss on my cheek and give me a flower. A dark flower.
Everybody has an opinion on them. I recently polled my Facebook friends and answers ranged from “they don’t need anymore press” to “bartending an ICP show in Detroit was a nightmare” to “they’re the unwanted tribe” to “they’re the last of the punk rockers.” Clearly, Juggalos have a struck a chord with people. I heartily recommend the short doc American Juggalo. It’s a frightening and touching piece on the day in the life at the Gathering of the Juggalos. When they’re not getting fucked up on whippets, flashing their titties for gas money, using spray-paint for clown makeup and other garish displays of immaturity, their love for each other and the bands they’ve dedicated their lives to shines through and reminds me of my own allegiance to my punk rocker friends and the bands we worshipped once upon a time. All in all, whenever I see the Midway start to form in front of a music venue and there’s an army of clowns in bad clothes who can’t wait to get in, all I’m really seeing is a bunch of people stoked on each other and music. Music I can’t stand, but that doesn’t matter. I’m not supposed to get it. I’m not family.