Reconsidering the Clown Effect

Social critic Jeff Merrion takes another look at the juggalo subculture surrounding the Insane Clown Posse and examines the positive aspects of this community.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote an article in which I lambasted the music of Insane Clown Posse and its followers. In retrospect, I might have been too blinded by personal prejudice to properly probe the issue of juggalos.

Last week, the Denver independent weekly Westword printed an article about local juggalo culture that was a bit more open-minded than mine. The article separated the idiotic music of the band (I’ll never stop deriding the music of ICP) from the subculture that has congealed around the band. Perhaps most salient among the article’s claims was that juggalo culture provides a caring, supportive network for kids who “are having a fucked-up time.” This claim was supported by various angry emails that I got after The Bygone Bureau published my last juggalo article, all of which said that I focused on juggalo violence at the expense of the beneficial aspects of juggalo culture.

Before I reconsider my stance on juggalo culture, I would like to look at mainstream suburban culture. Jordan’s recent article and books such as Bowling Alone touch on the lack of community and large support networks that pervades suburbia. Sprawling, auto-centric suburbs limit interaction in communities. In fact, the six-foot fence that surrounds most yards demonstrates that privacy and isolation, not community, are sacrosanct in suburbia. For the “fucked-up kids” that become juggalos, suburban desolation is even more severe. Perhaps that is why the all-enveloping community of the juggalos has occurred with such force (at least in vast, sprawling Denver).

The Westword article highlighted many of the beneficial aspects of juggalo culture. A store called Primos gives out Faygo (a dearly-loved juggalo soda brand) to juggalos who get good grades. The Primos store is the nexus of the Denver juggalo universe, and its owners profess a desire to help steer juggalos away from the violent mistakes that they made as youngsters.

Of course, such a tightly-knit community can easily be as suffocating and limiting as it can be nurturing. For example, recalling a recent brawl between juggalos and Crips, one witness said, “One [juggalo] won’t do much for you, but forty of them, they get the mob mentality. There’s like four Crips and forty [juggalos] just beating the fuck out of these guys.” However, the dangers of mob mentality are innate to humanity and are not unique to the juggalos. I’ve seen similar fights break out at hockey games between Red Wings and Avalanche fans.

The Westword article is also peppered with the more familiar anecdotes about juggalos slinging drugs, robbing stores, and wreaking havoc. The author glosses over these accounts, obliquely arguing that those juggalos in lower socio-economic circles have no other choice than to turn to crime. That is an issue of social stratification and mobility to me and doesn’t sway my opinion of the juggalos one way or another.

For me, the question ends up being whether the beneficial aspects of juggalo culture outweigh the negative facets. That doesn’t have an easy answer. If you ask a juggalo sympathizer, he or she will claim that they are a big family amid a cultural wasteland that has ignored them, and that their hostility to mainstream culture is a response to the unbridled disdain shown to them by everyone else. If you ask a juggalo detractor, he or she will say that juggalos choose to remain mired in a stifling subculture of drugs and violence and senselessly lash out at non-juggalos.

Do juggalos have a greater statistical incidence of violence and mischief than other cohesive cultural communities? My experience would say yes, but all my evidence is purely anecdotal. Fraternities are rife with date rape, and I know hipsters that sling drugs. I spend far less time decrying these injustices than I do complaining about juggalos. Perhaps the juggalos are so vocally derided because they are an extremely outspoken countercultural group as opposed to subcultures like fraternities and hipster circles. Or maybe they are decried because they are actually just a gang of thugs, adhered together and made stronger by the idiotic music of a couple fat white guys from Detroit.

Lately, though, I’ve been leaning more towards the former. I’ve had positive experiences with friendly juggalos. Denver has at least 20,000 juggalos (they filled Red Rocks Amphitheatre and the 700-person Gothic venue just last week). If every juggalo were as much of a terror as they are popularly portrayed, the city would be in ruins.

Maybe the juggalo tree has just as many bad apples as any other tree, only the bad juggalo apples are especially noticeable. Or maybe there really are more bad apples in the juggalo circle than in other groups. Regardless, they aren’t all a scourge of terrors, and I regret making such unfair claims in my last article.

I sure don’t love juggalos (I caught one breaking into my house a few weeks ago), but after reconsidering, I can’t write off the whole lot of them anymore.

While he excels in most other areas, Jeff Merrion’s spatial logic falls within the lower third percentile of United States citizens. He is a Religious Studies major and, as such, has a long life of administrative assistantship awaiting him. To potential employers: Jeff makes a mean cup of coffee.