Filed under: Analysis, Music
I’m here to blast through the media-fueled classist and closed-minded opinions on Juggalo culture and talk about Juggalos as our allies. Ultimately, I hope that other anarchists like myself will show up to the Juggalo March on Washington on September 16th and try to make genuine connections with a subculture who should be our natural allies in struggle.
Just so you know where I’m coming from: I’m a settler, my family colonized the Appalachian Mountains in the 1600s and hasn’t ever really left this spot, I’m 16 and non-binary. I wanna share my insight on Juggalos with people who are maybe unsure of what they stand for and who they are. I’ve spent the last two years seriously studying this subculture, its fans and its bands and making my own conclusions. I’ll admit I find myself connecting with these people and identifying with them more and more. I’m going to look critically at the Insane Clown Posse and their fans, talk about the difference between the two, discuss their outlooks on racism, and address misogyny and their lyrics. I encourage you to read this with as open a mind as possible, but I’m not going to try and place an entire subculture on a pedestal.
WHAT IS A JUGGALO?
“Juggalo” describes folks who either 1) follow the white rap duo Insane Clown Posse (or ICP) from Detroit or 2) identify as a member of a family of thousands who gather to drink Faygo soda and feel as if they finally have somewhere to fit in.
ICP was started by two working-class white kids in the late 80’s who wanted just that, somewhere to fit in. Since then, Juggalo culture has spread from the Midwest and become a large and interesting community of mostly poor outcasts. For years, this was a majority white and male subculture, probably due to misogyny in the lyrics. However, in the last while, Juggalo subculture has had a growing amount of women, LGBTQA, and people of color at Family Gatherings. The subculture itself has blossomed to be more accepting of people outside the original fanbase of ICP themselves. They’re often described with classist terms like trashy, uneducated, druggie, and so on. I wanna talk about Juggalos as our allies and about the truth of this community.
There is no official political affiliation for Juggalos. It’s an unspoken rule that politics aren’t really talked about at gatherings, but people can sometimes be seen sporting communist or black flags. The political views of ICP themselves don’t seem to control the Juggalos. To think that Juggalos and ICP are the same would be kind of silly, Juggalo subculture has become very much its own thing outside of Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope (the members of ICP) themselves. There is not one way to be Juggalo or any rule they all agree to because in the Dark Carnival there aren’t any rules.
I’ve found from my experience that you can find people on any part of the political spectrum in Juggalo spaces but some ideas are more widely accepted than others. The idea behind Juggalo spaces is not “wow ICP is an incredible group” it’s moreso about a laid back, community atmosphere where you can be as loud and ridiculous as you want without getting weird looks (don’t get me wrong though, plenty of people are very serious fans of ICP and lots of people have been fans for a very, very long time). I can promise you, no one in Juggalo spaces is judging you (unless you seem like a richie, that is). Imagine living in poverty, being picked on in school, maybe being told you’ll amount to nothing and then finding a bunch of people ready to hand you a Faygo without questioning your background or your style of dress, way of talking, or appearance. Sounds pretty liberating, right?
If you’re still having a hard time separating the two, I like to explain it like a Phish or Grateful Dead parking lot scene. Some people are there to see the show, some people are just there to hangout and enjoy the scene and the people it brings. Just like hippie festival parking lots, many people are just around for the long strange trip and not necessarily the show. Juggalo subculture is just that, a subculture, just like the deadheads and the punks. Most people at The Gathering are Juggalos, but that’s their identity outside of the music, it’s who they feel they belong with as a group of people. Pssssst, if you aren’t that familiar with The Family Gathering I’ll be referring to a lot, this is the video they made at one of them, it’s basically like a Juggalo festival held every year.
RACISM, ICP, AND THE N-WORD
In 1994, Insane Clown Posse released the song “Fuck Your Rebel Flag.” An obvious rejection to the confederate flag and its racist background, it was an interesting song for the time period. Notable lines are “Goddamn biggots ain’t all that,” “Teachin kids what pops taught you, and he’s a funky ass biggot too,” “Punk, I’ll put a slug in your bald head, scalp a skinhead quick and your greasy-ass triple clan and shit, and zip you up in a bag, and I’ll shit on a mother fuckin rebel flag, yeah shit on a rebel flag!!” Or take this line from the song “My Axe,” “My axe is my buddy, we right the planet’s wrongs, me and my axe leave bigots dead on richie lawns.”
When it comes to ICP, Juggalos and racism, I have to bring up the use of the word “ninja” in place of the n-word. Since ICP started very much as a largely white subculture in the hood of Detroit, somewhere along the way Juggalos adopted “ninja” in place of the n-word usually found in rap music. This was a tacit acknowledgment of the reclaiming of that word and whose word it is to be reclaimed by. Some might say using a word so similar to the original word is still problematic, but these are working-class folks creating their own subculture and sometimes things won’t be completely politically correct, but the fact that they even try to address things like white people using the n-word shows that their hearts are in the right place.
GENDER, JUGGALOS, AND JUGGALETTES
Juggalos consider much of ICP’s lyrics to be mostly shock value “horrorcore,” a genre known for groups like Three 6 Mafia. ICP considers themselves “wicked shit,” a subgenre of horrorcore that they pioneered along with another group, Twiztid. Regardless of intent or shock value, a lot of people are thrown off or concerned when they hear the often misogynistic and queerphobic violent lyrics, and wonder if the fans find this as normal for every day life or see it as funny.
Allow me to discuss my personal feelings as an AFAB, non-binary person and share with you some of the things Juggalettes (femme Juggalos) have shared with me. Lots of Juggalettes have expressed feeling like Juggalo spaces are more body positive. It’s normal to see ‘lettes seen as desirable and beautiful while being far outside the normal media-fed beauty standards. This plays into the level of respect placed on ‘lettes by the ‘los. Dating a Jugalette is seen less as a right and more of a privilege by a lot of people, and you’re lucky to have one if you do. There’s a good sense of loyalty from Juggalos to the Jugalettes, almost as if there’s not as much male ego placed on attracting a woman to you, but being chosen by her.
I’ve also heard ‘lettes talk about feeling a sense of security if someone acts creepy or gross toward them. One jugalette account of a family gathering she attended is that a man slapped her butt and she told some nearby ‘los and they held him accountable (I’ll get to their process, trust me, its interesting) and she felt like it was taken very seriously by the community. It wasn’t seen as a norm to disrespect her and touch her non-consensually.
CRIMINALIZATION OF THE JUGGALO COMMUNITY
The September 16th march on DC is about resisting the FBI classifying Juggalos as a gang. Since the FBI classification people have lost their jobs, had gang charges added on to petty crime to extend the amount of time they spend incarcerated, and even had their children taken away—just for simply having any sort of Juggalo symbolism in tattoos or memorabilia or for attending gatherings.
Why would the FBI classify Juggalos as a gang? Does anyone remember good ole Bill O’Reilly’s segments from the 90s where he would report on music ruining children and turning them into violet, suicidal, anti-capitalist demons? Marilyn Manson was of course one of his more famous targets, but ICP were also in his crosshairs. “Some of the things they’re saying make the black rappers look like Shirley Temple.” Ouch, Bill. Zip your fly, your racism is showing.
The media took the violent lyrics, over the top aesthetic and clown facepaint and ran with it. Bill wasn’t the only person to report on ICP and their “crazed” fans. What started to be purposefully horrific as the genre name states and made for shock value (as, lets face it, a lot of the alternative scenes in the 90’s were) was now being broadcast as a threat to the innocent teenage youth of the times on many local news stations and of course on Fox News.
In the brief interview, Violent J discusses Columbine. He basically says that regardless of what band a person listens to or who they associate with, if they have it in them to do violent crimes then it’s all on their own, in their own head, not the band’s fault. This becomes important because in 2009 two men who were Juggalos (one even wearing an ICP shirt at the time of his arrest) murdered another Juggalo who had snitched on a crime. They stabbed him 20 times and left him for dead in the woods.
Regardless of your stance on my question, Juggalos are having their lives ruined by the law for simply associating with symbolism from a rap group or associating with people who do. This march is about saying that behind the facepaint and the Faygo and all the jokes at their expense, these are people who have found a community they feel accepted in and are resisting the notion they are all violent people.
An excerpt from the official website for the Juggalo March: “This is the day that we are asking every single Juggalo to join us in our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., to make a collective statement from the Juggalo Family to the world about what we are and what we are not. Recently Psychopathic Records’ court case in our lawsuit against the F.B.I. and Department of Justice for listing Juggalos as a “loosely organized hybrid gang” in their 2011 Gang Task Force report was once again dismissed, meaning we are back to square one from a legal standpoint. We have tried to use the American judicial system to achieve justice and we failed. So on Saturday, September 16, 2017, we are taking out fight to the streets. Literally. As many of you are no doubt personally aware, the FBI’s inclusion of Juggalos as a “gang” has resulted in hundreds if not thousands of people subjected to various forms of discrimination, harassment, and profiling simply for identifying as a Juggalo. Over the past five years, our legal team has heard testimonies and reports from Juggalos all over the nation who have lost custody of their children, been fired from jobs, denied access into the armed forces, and the most common consequence — being officially labeled as a gang member by law enforcement agencies for wearing Juggalo related clothing or brandishing one or more Juggalo tattoos. A simple traffic stop for a broken tail light can — and has — resulted in an otherwise law-abiding, hard-working, taxpaying citizen being put on a local or state list of gang members simply for displaying their Juggalo pride. Being labeled a gang member can be a permanent stain on an individual’s life, since it will come up in a simple background check every single time. Whether that person is applying for a job, trying to adopt a child, join the armed forces, or attempting to acquire housing … their name may pop up as being “gang-affiliated,” even if that person has never been charged with any kind of crime.”
Like many criminalized communities and subcultures, the Juggalos have developed their own alternative practices of justice. First of all, there is no sense among Juggalos that cops are our friends. The Family Gathering is held on private land so no cops are allowed onto the premises and no one can get gang or drug charges for attending the event.
They have even created their own accountability-like process for when someone violates the loose community guidelines. If you’re caught disrespecting a Jugalette or being a jerk in general, people may start pointing at you and chanting “you fucked up” until you are escorted to “The Pit” which is a spot near the main stage. You have to stand in there and people may throw things like their plastic water bottles or beer cans at you for breaking the guidelines. Interesting, right? It works for the Juggalos as their own alternative way of accountability, regardless of how others judge it.
AN ANTI-CAPITALISTIC CARNIVAL?
So, with all of this presented, are Juggalos our allies in the fight against capitalism? You can see in the Bill O’Reilly interview that Shaggy 2 Dope talks about record labels being the devil back in the 1990s. The Juggalos themselves have adopted a sort of anti-capitalist attitude of their own. Again these are mostly working-class folks whose lives have been forgotten under capitalism. The theme of ICP’s Hokus Pokus video is lower class jobs. It features a shoe salesman fighting a cop, popular expropriation of an ATM’s cash, and a garbage man trashing rich, suburban lawns.
NOT JUST CLOWNING AROUND
I want to address all the jokes about Juggalos in general, but especially the jokes on the left about Juggalos as comrades. I think Violent J said it best himself in the O’Reilly interview when he said, “look at me, I’m wearing clown paint.” Juggalos have a pretty good sense of humor and everyone either takes them too seriously or not seriously enough. These people are taking pride in being outside the norms of society or how you should act when you grow up and get your 9-5 office job after college. They have rejected all of that, either because that kind of life was never a real possibility for them due to growing up working class or just because they believe there’s more to life and people should all be able to get together, drink Faygo, and have fun.
While I know the Family can take plenty of jokes and can laugh at themselves, I don’t want the idea of Juggalos-as-allies to just be a meme that gets forgotten, I don’t want it to just be some joke to those of us on the left. Right now, I think there is rising importance to teaming up with people who have their hearts in the right and I don’t want classist misunderstandings and ingrained opinions making the Juggalo March merely a brief laugh online. There is so much value in seeing things from other people’s side and respecting these folks who, as a community themselves and their overall image, are misunderstood. From my encounters and people’s stories, they have blossomed into a complex community of weirdos who just wanna have fun and spread clown love.
It’s no laughing matter when people get the confidence to say “fuck you” to society and the standards placed on them and becoming free to be as weird as they want together. I think it’s what makes subcultures so interesting to study and explore. I see it as a beautiful thing. ICP may be problematic, but not every Juggalo is going to think the same way. These people have created something that’s their own rejection of what the rest of the world is pressuring people into and the community has exhibited lots of growth and progress and is actively still growing every day. How could you scoff and reject these people as allies if they’re willing to do some dirty work and strongly want a change for the world? After all, they’ve attempted to create a safe space utopia of their own just as leftist communities try to do as well.
To think that these people are uneducated and nothing but a joke is classist and, quite frankly, blind. Don’t be afraid of your local Juggalos. Show some respect for this subculture that’s been around a long time and has created a family for so many people who felt like they had none. There are still problematic things about Juggalo culture and ICP, but I encourage you to respectfully engage with them. You might find they share a lot of the same ideals as you. I also encourage you to educate people from the family if they’re engaging in some sort of harmful behavior. Juggalos aren’t dumb.
Struggalo Circus at Berkeley, CA antifa mobilization.
JUGGALOS: ENEMIES OF THE STATE AND CAPITALIST SOCIETY. JUST LIKE YOU AND ME.
I leave you with this conclusion: in every subculture you will come across so many different types of people, with different ideas about the world and some of those people will really suck. A subculture about loving yourself regardless of being poor or weird or not fitting beauty standards placed on you by the world around you is a wonderful thing to find. ICP and Juggalo culture has become a very important piece of poor white American culture and has molded itself to become less problematic and more of an inclusive space. There is still work to do. It’s still predominantly white cis-folks, but these folks are not our enemy, so don’t they deserve to be treated respectfully while they fight for a better world by our side?
See ya’ll in DC September 16th, WHOOP WHOOP!