ICP: RIP, Part 3

This is the third installment of a three-part essay. Part 1 can be found here; Part 2 is here.

The release of the Insane Clown Posse’s sixth joker card album, The Wraith: Shangri La, did not mark the end of the world, but for many Juggalos, it may as well have. On the album’s final track, “Thy Unveiling,” the duo revealed that their mission as musicians had always been to serve a higher power: “When we speak of Shangri-La, what you think we mean? Truth is we follow God! We’ve always been behind Him! The Carnival is God. And may all Juggalos find Him!”

Much hay was made of this revelation, particularly by the journalist Jon Ronson, who published an article last October in The Guardian entitled “And God Created Controversy.” He writes that ICP have always been evangelical Christians, “pretending to be brutal and sadistic to trick their fans into believing in God.” This is damning stuff. Or at least, it would be, if it were true. But, while ICP sometimes eggs on this kind of condemnation from the media, when you look a little closer you find that their piety is also a charade. “Man, I never been to a church in my life. I wouldn’t even know how to go into a church.” Shaggy 2 Dope said on G4’s Attack of the Show. Violent J elaborated on this point: “We were taught there’s a heaven and a hell. But that’s all we were taught. We weren’t taught about the commandments, and what chapter 3:16 slash… o-Atheists… means. We don’t have that type of education about what’s in the Bible or all of that.”

In his interview with ICP, Ronson and the group watched a YouTube clip—by what the article describes as a college professor, but is actually Zinnia Jones, a transboy blogger who dresses like a catholic schoolgirl and speaks with an offputtingly sonorous voice of a television news anchorman—which describes “Miracles” as “not merely dumb, but enthusiastically dumb, endorsing a ferocious breed of ignorance that can only be described as militant. The entire song is practically a tribute to not knowing things.” Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J took great offense to this critique, but it’s dead on. Violent J himself has confessed to a pro-ignorance stance in the past.  “It’s a lot funner being the dumb guy,” he said to Machinima TV. “Because then you get to appreciate all of the beautiful things.”

Juggaloism—the inchoate religion hidden in the lyrics of ICP—is evangelicalism for dummies. Its radically anti-hierarchical ethos appeals to people who despise authoritarian truth, as well as its arbiters—teachers, parents, bosses, and politicians. It provides a basic moral system and a divine presence without the burdens of complicated metaphysics or history. It is the stuff of dreams and nightmares, stoned reveries and horror flicks. It is (as ICP sings in “Miracles”) “everything you believed in as kids.”

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If you want to get at the heart of Juggaloism, you need only watch an infamous exchange from the Upchuck the Clown web radio show, in which a woman named Jules describes the death of her infant daughter due to her drug and alcohol use during the pregnancy. The video includes pictures of the funeral, in which Jules—pink-haired, extremely overweight, and wearing a red ICP hoody—and her fiancé bury their daughter in a casket emblazoned with ICP lyrics and insignia. They could not afford a headstone, in part because their house had burned down a few years back. Her only solace, she said, came from her family. Not her real family, but the family of Insane Clown Posse fans who pitched in to cover $350 of her funeral expenses. “If Shangri-La is really what it seems, my daughter Annabelle Lotus can hear me now and I just want to say mommy and daddy love you,” she told Upchuck. “And I want to give a shout-out to all of the Juggalos and Juggalettes who are beyond in Shangri-La right now.”

Not unlike ICP itself, the combination of rank sentimentality, melancholia, and absurdity in this video are tough to stomach: at one point we see the scrunch-faced baby in an open casket, swaddled in an ICP sweatshirt and, over that, a fake gold necklace bearing the “hatchet man” logo of Psychopathic Records. Our natural impulse is to laugh uncomfortably and to turn away.

The dismissive label I hear most often attached to Juggalos is “trashy.” But what repulses us about this new white trash is not their bigotry—indeed, their tolerance of black culture borders on outright mimicry—or even their fixation with mock violence, but their gleeful ignorance. The Juggalo’s rejection of intellectualism, education, and positivist orders of knowledge at once angers and delights us—scratches that delicious itch—because it prompts an argument we feel we can win.  (The more pertinent question of whether these people failed school, or whether the school system failed them, is one with which we appear less willing to engage.)

There is nothing funny about the lives of Juggalo Jules and her ilk. Not to downplay the extant reality of racial inequality, but let’s go ahead and state the obvious: white privilege doesn’t amount to much when you’re on welfare, or digging ditches, or slaughtering cows, or working a fryolator. It sucks to be white and uneducated and underemployed in America. And, despite what Violent J may have told you, it isn’t funner being the dumb guy, especially in a country in which intelligence is the primary requisite for any job other than the menial.

Not all ICP fans are unintelligent, of course, just like not all of their fans are white, or poor. But these are the fans that ICP, in its lyrics and its branding, actively courts. Juggaloism offers these people an escape from the late capitalist American rat maze, with its blinking, neon-advertised dead ends in money, and organized religion, and fame. ICP’s promise to its fans—that togetherness and transgressive humor and a faceless God will set you free—may be another one of those dead ends. Yet it has probably done more to alleviate their collective suffering than any other American institution, religious, pharmaceutical or otherwise.

So stop hating the Insane Clown Posse. In their funhouse reflections we can see ourselves on those days when we felt trapped in our own shitty existences; when we cackled in the face of authority; when we raged; when we cussed; when we goofed off; when we too yearned to wear a different face.

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