…and it’s not really Juggalos I’m defending here but civil rights, specifically the right to be an incredibly stupid kid who listens to shitty music and makes bad fashion choices.
First things first: I don’t know the two guys in the photo at the top of this article. I found their photo on Flickr. They look like they’re having a good time, don’t they? They appear to be at Wizard World, which I think is a comic book convention kind of thing. We might even be looking at a father-son bonding moment.
Here are two more random guys I found on Flickr:
They look like they’re having fun, too. Is that a cake plate? Cake is delicious. Hooray cake!
A 2011 FBI report flags one of these two pairs of buddies as part of a “loosely organized hybrid gang.” Did you guess that Mr. Cake and the Punch Cup Guy (coming to NBC this Fall) were public enemies? Guess again.
The first photo depicts two members of the weirdest subculture to come along since Fox & Friends: the diehard fans of Insane Clown Posse known as Juggalos. And what is an Insane Clown Posse? Detroit’s own Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, a couple of backyard wrestlers turned rappers whose gimmick is—well, just take a look.
If that does it for you then go in peace. I don’t get it, but my parents didn’t get my over the top allegiance to the KISS Army when I was 12, either. But for Juggalos, Insane Clown Posse (“ICP” for short) and their “horrorcore” genre of music and dress is a way of life. Think of them kind of like the hippies who used to follow The Grateful Dead, but with less patchouli and more makeup.
I get that. I feel like I know your average Juggalo even though I’ve never met one because I once was the kid who wanted to belong to something. The picture at left was taken in 1984 in a very small town in South Carolina where mullets, Members Only Jackets, and Camaros ruled the world. I felt completely alienated from my small town, had my share of problems at home, etc. and instead of trying to blend I did everything I could to set myself apart.
Acceptance in alienation, finding my tribe, working through my shit via eyeliner and a bad haircut. I embraced bands the Members Only crowd hated and took pride (at least outwardly) in being declared “that craphead who won’t make anything of himself” by the school’s psychology teacher. You know the story—you may have even lived it.
Back then punks were eyed suspiciously. Those freaks with the bad haircuts were bad news, and law enforcement had the data to prove it: fights at clubs, Sid stabbing Nancy, anything GG Allin or Wendy O. Williams did. The stereotype carried over into movies like Repo Man and the no-budget classic Class of 1984:
I wasn’t a bad kid. I was a sad kid, maybe a lonely kid, but I wasn’t going to set the teacher’s car on fire or hold up a convenience store. I just looked like a bad kid because I fit that era’s profile of a threat, and I endured my share of hassles because of that.
And this is where the Juggalos find themselves since the FBI designated them “a loosely organized hybrid gang,” a fight which found its way back in the news last week when four fans joined with the band in a lawsuit. Law enforcement contends that while most Juggalos are law abiding face painters, as many as ten percent have co-opted the band’s iconography—the face paint, the logos, even the name Juggalo—for criminal activity. Much like a kid wearing red or blue in Compton, the net result is that if it walks like a Juggalo and it quacks like a Juggalo, then according to the FBI it is a ten percenter Juggalo until proven otherwise.
These ten percenters allegedly are brutal, fighting with weapons like machetes and battle axes, committing arson, and even affiliating with more well-established gangs. Not unlike my misspent youth, a small percentage of guys with silly clothes and bad haircuts are ruining it for everyone.
In other words, the Juggalos are dealing with a rather surreal form of profiling. If you wear clown makeup and show up at Applebee’s with a machete, chances are any law enforcement in the area is going to look at you sideways. To an adolescent (or one with an adolescent mentality), this feels like persecution: Why can’t I just be me? Why is The Man hassling me? And then he or she doubles down on the face paint because this is war, goddammit! Juggalos for life!
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia captured this phenomenon beautifully a couple of seasons ago:
Yes, it’s a situation comedy, but Richard the Juggalo rings true to me: the outcast who creates his own family, no matter how silly or abstract it may seem.
The FBI painting the fictitious Richard and his Juggalo brethren with the same broad strokes as some small criminal element more than likely will result in the Juggalos embracing their lifestyle even more strongly. It makes law enforcement look like the bullies in the bathroom shoving them around because of their face paint, and more alienation breeds more desire for acceptance somewhere.
I don’t have a pithy conclusion to this rant. Law enforcement is almost always in a bad spot. I have no doubt that they are acting with the best of intentions, trying to serve and protect as best they can. I’m sure the majority of cops don’t think all party clowns are John Wayne Gacy, nor do they think everybody at an ICP show is a public threat.
But spiritually I’m with the 90% of the Juggalos on this one, and if you find this article here’s what you really need to know: You’re good kids, and you belong. Whatever is going on at home or at school or in your shitty little small town or neighborhood will pass. Someday you’ll be old and bald and a little thick around the middle and you’ll have a steady job, maybe even a family, but on the inside you’ll always be a Juggalo for life.
– cover photo Doug Kline / Flickr Creative Commons
– interior photo (bearded men) Parker Knight / Flickr Creative Commons
– originally posted at The Good Men Project
I took a different tack. As a gay teen in the 60s I knew I was different from the other guys. Since I was all alone there in my closet I assumed I was the only one of my kind in the high school. So for me there was no subgroup to emulate. Instead I became The Watcher. I made myself invisible by occupying the edge of society and just observing. I guess I was hoping to figure out what I could do to belong. It didn’t work. I graduated with honors but no significant friendships.
When I got to college I was desperate for something different. I decided to try to join some group and just fake it. So I joined a club called Circle K. It was a community service club sponsored by the Kiwanis. Glory be, I found out I could fake it and found myself in a circle of friends. I was still in the closet but what the heck. I had folks to eat lunch with and go to parties with. So I had a new kind of loneliness. I had friends who I thought would accept me as long as I kept my secret safely hidden. It wasn’t great but it was an improvement.
I didn’t come out until a couple of years after graduating from college. When I told those friends I was gay, they all accepted it and me just fine.
Bud, I wish I could drag you out of that closet far enough to write your story. You have such a great one to tell, and I want to read it.
I think it’s the normal looking kid who quietly walks into Applebee’s with a machete hidden under his jacket who’s gonna do the most damage. If the kiddies want to paint their faces ala ICP, good for them. But if they ever tangle with any of Alice’s mascara smeared minions, they’re gonna get their asses kicked. 😉
I think you nailed it. That’s a fundamental problem with profiling.
No fan of ICP or the Juggalos here either, but reading this also reminded me of the miscarriage of justice that was the West Memphis 3 case, and the “Satanic Panic” of the 80s and early 90s which demonized (no pun intended) heavy metal music and the kids who listened to it. I came of age in that era, and remember well the “special guest speakers” who gave talks to my youth group at church (and even at school!!!) claiming that listening to metal led them to take drugs and join satanic cults where they took part in “occult rituals” like slaughtering animals and sacrificing virgins at midnight on the full moon. Seriously. (All of which ended, of course, when they accepted Christ into their lives…)
I was an outsider myself in my high school days, cursed with the “gifted” tag and with health issues that made me an easy target for bullies. I didn’t fit into any one clique, but had a few friends spread across groups. A couple of my friends were among those accused of being “satan worshippers” because they were metalheads who had long hair and wore Metallica and Iron Maiden t-shirts. One English teacher in particular seemed to delight in sending them to the Vice Principal’s office anytime they showed up in a band t-shirt, because they so “offended” her. Other kids picked on them as well. I won’t say that my metal friends were saints, but behind their fearsome facades they were some of the kindest, most intelligent, thoughtful, and loyal friends I had in those days. And the way they were treated was grossly unfair, just as the Punk kids were where you came from (not much of a punk scene where I grew up); just as Goth kids were following the Columbine shootings; just as Juggalos are today. All because we fear what we don’t understand.
Hundreds of years later, we’re still hunting witches….
Okay, thanks to Katy D I’m instituting a new rule on WIM: No comments that are better than the original post. Everybody say “Thank you, Katy D!”
What a great comment, and wrapping it up with Rush? My goodness, you’re a reader after my own heart.
Aww, thank you. *blushing* Truly your post was excellent, it got me thinking about the Juggalo thing in a way I hadn’t thought about it before, which let me to revisit memories of my own high school days, and reminded me of my favorite Rush song ever, that just sort of tied it all together. Great inspiration., thank you!