THE MOST HATED BAND IN THE WORLD
What is a Juggalo?
That’s what it is
Well, fuck, if I know
What is a Juggalo?
I don’t know
But I’m down with the clown
And I’m down for life, yo
Universally misunderstood and hated upon, Juggalos are the fans of the hardcore hip-hop rap group the Insane Clown Posse (ICP). According to GQ magazine, the band is the “worst rap group of all time”. Initially formed around ICP, today the term Juggalo (female: Juggalette) describes fans associated with ICP along with other artists such as Anybody Killa, Big HooDoo and Lyte who are all signed with the independent record label Psychopathic Records. The leaders and founders of ICP, Joseph Bruce and Joseph Utsler who are more widely known under their stage names of Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, started Psychopathic Records in 1991. Today, it’s estimated that the label makes an average of $10 million dollars in revenue per year (McCollum, 2009).
According to Vice, the duo’s intense work ethic is the reason why ICP has ascended from a second-tier Detroit rap group into the leaders of their own subculture – a feat accomplished by virtually no other group in popular American music, save for maybe the Grateful Dead. The Juggalo identity has become a way of life or second “family” for tens of thousands of people in the United States and around the world. Paul Detrick, a journalist at Reason who has been covering the group for years stated that “there’s Juggalos in every city, in every part of America,” in a recent podcast.
Juggalos call themselves a family, but have been labeled as a gang by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) rewarding them the same status as the notorious Bloods, Crips, and MS-13. Juggalos were first labeled as a gang in the FBI’s 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment. In the assessment the FBI pinpoints the crimes committed by Juggalos as the driving force for their gang label. Specifically, the report says:
“Crimes committed by Juggalos are sporadic, disorganized, individualistic, and often involve simple assault, personal drug use and possession, petty theft, and vandalism. However, open source reporting suggests that a small number of Juggalos are forming more organized subsets and engaging in more gang-like criminal activity, such as felony assaults, thefts, robberies, and drug sales. Social networking websites are a popular conveyance for Juggalo sub-culture to communicate and expand.”
The gang label has caused quite the stir in the Juggalo community, and has prompted the Juggalo March on Washington on September 16th, 2017. According to the official March website, “[Juggalos] are a family united by music, love, fellowship, and camaraderie… and not a gang or any other criminally minded organization.
The FBI calls Juggalos a “loosely organized hybrid-gang,” since their membership crosses the racial and cultural lines around which traditional gangs form. According to the Juggalo run website True Juggalo Family, there are “no set laws or rules for being a Juggalo,” and “any and every type of person are Juggalos.” However, when examined more closely it appears that the diversity among them is not as extensive as described by the FBI and put forward by the website. A 2010 Wired magazine piece about the band describes the fans as such:
“Despite a sizable population of female fans (dubbed Juggalettes), ICP’s following is made up mostly of young white men from working-class backgrounds. They tend to feel that they’ve been misunderstood outsiders their whole lives, whether for being overweight, looking weird, being poor, or even for just liking ICP in the first place. It’s a world where man boobs are on proud display, where long-hairs and pink-hairs mingle, where nobody makes fun of the fat kid toweling off.”
It may come as no surprise that a majority of Juggalo’s are socioeconomically disenfranchised and emotionally wounded outsiders who frequently share stories of sexual abuse, domestic violence, bullying and numerous other sufferings associated with poverty when taken in the context of their leader’s childhoods. (Halnon 2014). These circumstances mirror the the conditions that Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J came to age in.
The duo grew up together in a low-income neighborhood in Detroit during the 1970s. At this time the city was full swing into its economic and sociopolitical decline. The companies that had brought hundreds of thousands of workers from all over the United States to work labor-intensive jobs in the automobile industry, the cornerstone of the Detroit economy, started moving to newer and larger factories outside of the city. Many people, mostly white individuals, moved out of the city in pursuit of a better life causing a drastic population decline. The remaining population was unable to support the city’s infrastructure and services due to the diminished tax base. Overall this led to heightened unemployment and poverty, provoking crime to go through the roof. The rampant violence and poverty in Detroit was apart of Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J’s every day lives both inside and outside their homes.
According to Violent J’s memoir Behind the Paint, Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J met in elementary school and became best friends due to their common life experiences. Both boys lived in extreme poverty and lacked a father figure. They both were teased and treated like “scrubs” for their lack of material wealth. In middle school Bruce and Utsler decided to embrace to “scrub life” and make it cool to have nothing, calling themselves “the floobs.” Even today, ICP glorifies having nothing, being an outsider and a freak similar to how they did in middle school. It is this mind set and acceptance of outsiders that attracts a lot of their fans that share a similar unfortunate background. Due to this shared identity, ICP offers a space outside of the mainstream culture that denigrates the rich, and celebrates poverty and being an outsider in a society that generally worships wealth and status inviting all “scrubs, misfits, and losers” to join their “Juggalo family” (Petering 2017). Overall, the Juggalos as individuals of low social status have joined together to give prestige to the characteristics they share, and make things they have access to cool.
The fact that many Juggalos are not accepted by mainstream society, and actively resist conventional values, plays a role in their deviant label. This rejection contributes to why ICP calls themselves, “the most hated band in the world.” Resistance to “the mainstream” through music, styles, and rituals is a shared trait of subcultures when attempting to describe what they are (Haenfler 2014). For example, Juggalos subvert the “mainstream” by claiming to invert conventional beauty standards by choosing to glorify “fat bitches,” and “freaks” (Halnon 2014). For more information on this topic scroll down to the section labeled “gender power dynamics.” Juggalos also tend to practice behaviors that are traditionally frowned upon such as wearing clown face paint, being completely or partially naked, using or selling drugs, and pouring Faygo, a sweetened and colorful soft drink manufactured in Detroit, on one’s own head or on other people during “showers.”
These specific behaviors are considered deviant to mainstream society, but in ICP they are socially acceptable and constructive contributions to the group’s family vibe and member acceptance and authenticity (Neely 2014). For example, at the Gathering of the Juggalos, ICP’s annual festival, the chant “Fam-il-y, Fam-il-y,” and greeting “whoop-whoop,” are pervasive and shouted by and to all participants regardless of familiarity.
Another aspect that sets the Juggalos apart as deviant, is their unique image. It is common knowledge that fashion and style are signficiant markings of authenticity and belonging in subcultures (Force 2009; Haenfler 2014). Juggalos are known for their painted clown faces, clown masks, t-shirts, and caps and jewelry that feature the symbol of ICP, the hatchet man (Neely 2014). They also use tattoos, such as the hatchet man symbol, as a permanent indicator of one’s sense of belonging in their community. Overall, Juggalos seem to be primarily brought together by a sense of rejection from mainstream culture.
THE DARK CARNIVAL
Welcome to the show, Shangri La of the Dark Carnival. Welcome to the show, it’s that carnival paradise
The Insane Clown Posse performs horrorcore, a subgenre of hip-hop that features explicit supernatural and horror inspired lyrics. Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope were motivated to make this style of music after hearing the Houston rap group, the Geto Boys. The Geto Boys create music that is inspired by both gangster and horror film imagery. ICP takes this theme even further, focusing their lyrics on the mythology of the Dark Carnival, a “liminal reality or ‘second life’ that inverts the inequalities of everyday life and centralizes on the grotesque, including ludic violence (Halnon 2014).” In the Dark Carnival, Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope perform under the personas of wicked clowns who dole out punishments to “unfair judges, selfish rich people, and an array of rapists, pedophiles, domestic batterers, bigots, and racists (Halnon 2014).” For example, in their lyrics rednecks are carved up and eaten (“Chicken Huntin‘”), and pedophiles are stabbed in the colon (“To Catch a Predator”). Violent J told Rolling Stone–
“It’s like a haunted carnival, you know what I mean? It’s coming to the racist people and fucking them up and punishing the evil! Getting the fucking wealthy ones, the evil, no-good suburbanites that don’t fucking give a shit about what’s happening in the city, in the ghetto neighborhoods. That’s where that’s where we were living when we were making that music, so that’s what was going through our mind.”
The Dark Carnival is the universe in which ICP’s mythology is based. Living within the Dark Carnival is a crew of extremely violent fictional characters such as the Great Milenko and the Ringmaster who judge and kill the selfish and perverted “chicken” and “piggies” of the world based on their individual actions (Halnon 2006). Each character in the Carnival is represented by his or her own “joker card,” which serves as the cover art for each character’s concept album in the bands LP’s. Currently, ICP has finished one whole deck of cards consisting of six albums: Ringmaster (1994), Riddle Box (1995), The Great Milenko (1997), The Amazing Jeckel Brothers (1999), The Wraith: Shangri-La (2002), and The Wraith: Hell’s pit. Currently, ICP is working on its second deck of cards starting with the release of Bang! Pow! Boom! in 2009.
Each card has a hidden message for the Juggalos to decipher. Often times the messages offer introspection and guidance for living a moral life. All together, the album cycle introduces, plunges the depths of and ultimately reveals the secret behind the Dark Carnival: it turns out that Insane Clown Posse has been religious all along. For more detail on this topic, scroll down to the section labeled “Religion.”
GENDER POWER DYNAMICS
Bitch! I love you, but now you gotta die
That’s right [Bitches!], that’s right
Girl you know I love you, but now you gotta die
One of the key insights listed at the end of chapter four in Subcultures is the notion that subculturists tend to both contest and reinforce established social hierarchies (Haenfler 2014). In other words, members of these groups have a habit of labeling themselves as “individuals,” or “different,” yet end up as mirrors of society despite their desires to stand apart. This irony has not escaped the Juggalos who claim to be an “inverted” culture. This discrepancy is evident in their gender power dynamics, which reflect the paradigms of the patriarchal mainstream society.
In society there are traditional gender roles that dictate how men and women are supposed to act. Women are taught to be “passive” and “feminine,” while men are encouraged to be “dominant” and “manly.” This concept is called hegemonic masculinity and is a part of R.W. Connell’s gender order theory, which recognizes multiple masculinities that vary across time, culture and the individual. Specifically, hegemonic masculinity is defined as a practice that legitimizes men’s dominant position in society and justifies the subordination of women, and other marginalized ways of being a man (Connell 2005).
The Juggalos mirror society by practicing hegemonic masculinity. For one, their group is noticeably patriarchal and seems to value traits associated with traditional masculinity such as assertiveness, independence, and homophobia. According to the journalist Emma Carmichael, at the Gathering of the Juggalos chants of “No Homo,” are as ubiquitous as “Woop woop.” Likewise, over the years ICP has used gay slurs such as “faggot” in their lyrics. They have also produced songs that make fun of people for being gay, depict beating up a man for coming onto them, and killing a kid for being homosexual. Together the chant and the lyrics demonstrate the Juggalos disapproval and marginalization of gays. Despite all of these displays of overt homophobia, in a past interview with Vice Shaggy 2 Dope claimed that they’re not “trying to slam gay people,” and that they know “plenty of gay people and they’re cool as hell, and I’ve got no problem with gay people at all.” Regardless of their true feelings, the atmosphere that the band creates is one of intolerance.
Along with traditional masculine identities, Juggalos also value a vast sexual appetite including the submission and objectification of women. One way this is evident is in the lyrics produced by Psychopathic Records. ICP’s music contains a lot of lewd sexual content that can be viewed as objectifying and denigrating women. It is not uncommon to hear lyrics that refer to women as “bitches,” “hos,” and “sluts.” There are also songs that gleefully murder, torture, abuse, and rape women. For example, in the song I Stuck Her With My Wang, ICP states, “I stuck her with my wang. She hit me in the balls. I grabbed her by her neck and I bounced her off the walls. She said it was an accident and then apologized. But I still took my elbow and blackened both her eyes.” ICP takes this theme even further in the song Bitches, which justifies the killing of a woman due to behaviors associated with slut shaming.
ICP claims that the lyrics of the vulgar sexual songs are meant to be humorous. However, it is hard to laugh when the objectification of women is so profoundly immersed in their subculture. The 2017 trailer for the Gathering of the Juggalos clearly portrays their deep patriarchal roots. The trailer depicts males having fun, drinking and bonding with each other. In contrast, the women in the video are almost naked and appear to be shaking their asses for the camera or for fellow Juggalos who act ravenous in response. Similar to mainstream society, it seems that this video takes advantage of the hypersexualization of women’s bodies to serve as an advertising strategy. This is analogous to ads that advertise burgers with breasts. The trailer is similar to a commercial telling outsiders what the group is about and what to expect at the Gathering. It seems to mainly appeal to men and their sexual appetites. In fact, Emma Carmichael claims that men predominantly attend the event.
At the annual Gathering of the Juggalos it is not uncommon to see cardboard signs held up by men that beg women to “show me yo titties!” or ask them to take their virginities. There is also a tradition of groups of Juggalos yelling, “show us your tiiiiiittttts!” or chants of “OOOOH AREOLA.” These are all examples of the overt objectification of women.
Women also play into traditional gender dynamics by offering their bodies as commodities for men to consume. For example, Juggalettes may hold up signs that read “smack my ass for a dollar,” or “suck my titty for a dollar.” Both of these are popular hustles that take advantage of overt sexualization in the subculture. In these cases, women purposely objectify themselves for profit. Even further, some Juggalette’s are content to show their titties to crowds of voracious young men that they don’t know without a monetary exchange. In fact, some choose to do so in front of huge crowds such as in the Miss Juggalette Pageant. In response Juggalos cheer, affirm and approve. Thus, this act of stripping becomes a display of identity affirmation and ritual acceptance in the subculture. According to interviews done with Halnon, most Juggalettes share the sentiment that this act makes them feel “incredibly edified, enhanced and redeemed,” and they experience “corporeal acceptance and approval in this setting (Halnon 2014).”
Despite the Juggalos inward acceptance of stripping, since the first gathering the public has seen Juggalettes as nothing more than glorified strippers who show their tits to impress Juggalo men. The annual Miss Juggalette Pageant held during the Gathering of the Juggalos has helped play into this stereotype. The event devolved from a celebration of women’s talents to an experience focused on their bodies. Porn legend Ron Jeremy facilitated this transformation after he was invited to start hosting and judging the pageant. According to past contestants, Ron dismissed Juggalettes who refused to perform sexual acts on stage, like putting Faygo bottles in their vaginas. It general it seems that males are the ones emceeing and judging the contest. This perpetuates the mainstream notion that a woman’s self-worth is according to the sexual approval of men.
Outwardly, Juggalos claim to love “fat bitches,” and “freaks.” According to Halnon, Juggalettes spurn the rejection and ridicule of weightest society by wearing tight clothing, showing skin, and exposing their breasts (Halnon 2014). However, the women who participate in the Miss Juggalette Pageant are overwhelmingly skinny, white, and scantily clad. These are all traits of “accepted” beauty standards in mainstream society. Take the annual Victoria’s secret fashion show for example. Most of the women who participate in this contest are judged according to the same traits. In general, the Juggalo subculture follows the dominant mainstream sexual script, which is defined by Ross Haenfler, the author of Subcultures, as: “dominant cultural norms around sex, sexuality and attraction learned via socialization. A commonly understood, but not fixed understanding of sex indicating “normative” and “deviant” sex and sexuality.”
Broadly travels to the 2015 Gathering of the Juggalos to find out what the Miss Juggalette Beauty Pageant is all about. While there’s still nudity involved, they find that the event has been taken over by Lette’s Respect, a feminist movement within the community, that rewards women of all different body types for their talents.
Fuck it, we got to tell. All secrets will now be told. No more hidden messages… Truth is we follow GOD!!! We’ve always been behind him. The carnival is GOD and may all Juggalos find him. We’re not sorry if we tricked you
Throughout the 90’s ICP released the Joker’s Cards: a series of six albums that describe the mythology of the Dark Carnival. In 2002, Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope shocked their fan base when they revealed that they believe in God. Specifically, they came out as Evangelical Christians. While there were clues about the secret dropped in previous albums such as The Riddle Box and the Ring Master, the news was officially released in the song Thy Unveiling in The Wraith: Shangri-La: the final album of the Joker series.
In a 2013 interview with Noisey, the duo explain that the Dark Carnival is a religious metaphor for God. The characters associated with each album, such as the Ring Master and the Great Milenko, are meant to teach the Juggalos lessons about morality through introspection. For example, the Ring Master urges individuals to think about their life: if they were to die today what would pop out? God or the Devil? According to Violent J, ICP had been pretending to be brutal and sadistic to “trick” their fans into faith. He explains an interview with a New Jersey newspaper:
“[sex and violence is] the stuff that people are talking about on the streets… to get attention, you have to speak their language. You have to interest them, gain their trust, talk to them and show you’re one of them. You’re a person from the street and speak of your experiences. Then at the end you can tell them God has helped me out like this and it might transfer over instead of just come straight out and just speak straight out of religion.”
While their method is uncommon, ICP’s desire to spread religion for the betterment of all people is similar to missionary work performed in traditional religious groups. There is a pervasive belief in society that religious people want to convert everybody to their (“only true”) belief system. Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J have taken advantage of their platform as music artists to spread their religious views. This strategy is similar to Colin Kaepernick who uses his visibility as a former NFL quarterback to promote race equality.
According to Violent J, coming out as a Christian was the most exciting moment of his life. Regardless of his positive feelings, the emotional impact of their message shook the Juggalo community. The Juggalos who disapproved felt deeply betrayed and outraged, while those who supported the message felt touched and loved. This wide range of responses demonstrates the polarizing nature of religion.
Despite the negative responses, the Juggalo fan base continues to expand and grow closer everyday. It seems that religion has helped their “family” become more connected. This fits in with Emile Durkheim‘s work on religion. Durkheim proposed that religion has three major functions in society: it provides social cohesion to help maintain social solidarity through shared rituals and beliefs, social control to enforce religious-based morals and norms to help maintain conformity and control in society, and it offers meaning and purpose to answer any existential questions (Durkheim 1915).
In regards to religion answering existential questions, not too long ago ICP released their most audacious Christian song to date: Miracles. In it they list God’s wonders that delight them each day such as hot lava, snow, long neck giraffes, and rainbows. In the same song they inquire over the nature of magnets, “Fuckin’ magnets, how do they work? And I don’t wanna talk to a scientist. Y’all motherfuckers lying and getting me pissed.”
Vimeo visits the Gathering of the Juggalos to better understand the subculture. During the video, attendees are interviewed and allowed to speak their minds.
Greybox TV visits the 2011 Gathering of the Juggalos to spend a weekend getting to know the Juggalos at their annual event in order to get a new perspective on their subculture.
This short documentary about the Gathering of the Juggalos shows the importance of family through personal interviews conducted with attendees.
Insane Clown Posse: Six Jokerz – Unauthorized is a DVD documentary that follows ICP from their earliest days to their current status to shed light on ICP’s background and history.
Miller, Steve. 2016. Juggalo: Insane Clown Posse and the World they Made. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press.
This book explores how ICP went from a small, Detroit rap group to a successful world-wide player/business in the music industry. Miller also goes into more detail about why the FBI has labeled Juggalos as a gang.
Rabin, Nathan. 2013. You Don’t Know Me but You Don’t Like Me: Phish, Insane Clown Posse, and My Misadventures with Two of Music’s Most Maligned Tribes. New York: Scribner.
In this book the author, Nathan Rabin, goes on a journey with the fan bases of Phish and Insane Clown Posse to explore the human need for community and acceptance.
J, Violent and Echlin, Hobey. 2003. ICP: Behind the Paint. Royal Oak, MI: Psychopathic Records.
This book is the autobiography of Violent J. It focuses on the entirety of his life beginning with his childhood, wrestling endeavors and ending with his current music career. Violent J goes into more detail about his inspiration for the Dark Carnival and the development of the Juggalos.
Petering, R., H. Rhoades, H. Winetrobe, D. Dent, and E. Rice. 2017. “Violence, Trauma, Mental Health, and Substance Use Among Homeless Youth Juggalos.” Child Psychiatry and Human Development 48(4): 642-650.