ARE JUGGALOS THE NEW HELL’S ANGELS?
Hear me out, people.
Yes, I have been re-reading Hunter S. Thompson’s incredible book, Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga for what must be the 18th time, but I’ve been thinking about juggalos since long before that. I realize that Insane Clown Posse and their fans, aka juggalos, have gone through such a strange rollercoaster of public opinion (nobody, really famous, nobody, really famous for being universally mocked, and now occupy some weird space that can only be summed up by the phrase ‘I hated juggalos before hating juggalos was cool’) that everyone’s pretty much sick of hearing about them, but I can’t stop.
There’s something so incredibly wonderful and compelling about Insane Clown Posse and their bizarre, sprawling fan-base/subculture. I’m not sure if a more viciously derided group of music fans has ever existed outside of white supremacist rock, but even that tends to mostly be ignored. To be fair and allow for 100% accountability, juggalos are eminently mockable for the following reasons (disclaimer: I realize these are huge generalizations):
*They listen to music that most people agree is terrible (but is it really that much worse than other stuff that won’t get you treated like a social pariah if you admit to liking it?)
*They look strange. (You’d think this was no longer a socially acceptable reason to mock people, but what do you know.)
*They possess a certain sneering contempt for normalcy that seems sadly reminiscent of the attitude 14-year-old goth kids have. (In other words, they seem obsessed with how much people hate them.)
*Their ethos of their movement seems to be based around the idea of doing whatever you want, but for most, that seems to boil down to listening to Psychopathic Records (ICP’s label) artists, getting fucked up, and not much else.
I should state for the record that I’m not sure if I’ve ever even seen a juggalo in real life, so all of this speculation comes from secondhand source material. I do remember knowing people who had ICP albums when I was in middle school, but that seemed tied up in the general “rebel against your parents by listening to weird music” phase, and also included artists like KoRn and Limp Bizkit.. It wasn’t until Insane Clown Posse re-entered the public consciousness sometime around 2009 with their song and music video “Miracles” that people really began to try and pour gas on the fire.
Like juggalos themselves, the lyrics and video for “Miracles” were very easy to make fun of, but the vicious outpouring of snide comedy that followed should raise a few eyebrows about the current cultural climate we’re in. For all their faults (and believe me, there are many), I don’t think many people would question ICP/juggalos sincerity. “Miracles” seems to be a fairly mediocre song about how cool life and the universe is, and why it shouldn’t be taken for granted. I’m not saying Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope are visionaries for writing a typical song about how cool stuff is, but the song, coupled with the knowledge that ICP were totally into God led many a hipster to go and on about how ICP thought magnets were evidence of the almighty (a claim that’s hard to cast aside with lyrics like “I don’t want to talk to a scientist/Y’all motherfuckers lying/And getting me pissed”).
The entire debacle made me wonder if there’s something more to the juggalo lifestyle than meets the eye, but as with any maligned subculture, things aren’t that simple. All juggalos who appear on camera or in print are quick to talk about how all-inclusive the subculture is: anybody can be a juggalo, in theory. You just have to accept people for who they are and not judge. Hippie-dippie as this philosophy might sound for a band and fanbase that are so obsessed with a violent fantasy world, it’s further confused by the fact that juggalos might be the most sealed-off subculture that exists today. Nearly every journalist who has attended the Gathering of the Juggalos makes at least a passing reference to how suspiciously they were viewed, presumably for not looking, talking, and acting like the other thousands of juggalos attending the event.
This is what got me thinking about the Hell’s Angels. While there are plenty (PLENTY) of difference between the two groups, there are too many similarities to ignore. Both are universally maligned in their day. Both are viewed as the dregs of society and have turned that into their own badge of pride. Both go out of their way to wig out “normal” people by behavior, dress, and general commitment to the notion of “doing whatever the fuck I want”—which as said before, usually entails copious amounts of booze, drugs, and sex.
The biggest difference, of course, is that there was always something romantic and alluring about outlaw motorcycles, and there’s clearly nothing romantic and alluring (to outsiders) about juggalos, aside from their value as walking punchlines. In short, the Hell’s Angels were fascinating enough for a zonked-out reporter to write an entire book about them and their history, whereas all media coverage of juggalos has thus far been limited to snide and admittedly biased speculation like this essay. To date, the most objective writing about juggalos can probably be found on Wikipedia.
Like the Hell’s Angels, juggalos are leery of outsiders, to the point that even thinking about a serious, meticulously researched book on the subculture and its history seems nearly impossible. Unlike the Angels, juggalos, or at least, Insane Clown Posse, exist in a state of near-total independence: they run their own events, sell their own merchandise, run their own record label…the list goes on and on. We might never see a serious journalist get access to ICP and their fanbase long enough to write something truly informative simply because they don’t really need publicity.
In another odd twist of fate, bikers and juggalos now occupy close to the same cultural space. Nobody really fears roving bands of outlaw Harley-riders anymore, in fact, they’ve been parodied on South Park, which is as close to a universal “not controversial anymore” stamp as exists in popular culture. If given a choice, most people would probably choose to fight a band of juggalos over a band of bikers, but in terms of how much mockery they produce in private, both subcultures are probably equal.
I’m convinced that there’s a lot of information to mine here, I’m just not sure if anybody can get to it. Something as quintessentially American as juggalos (could this subculture even exist without the underclass of the Midwestern diaspora? Is juggalodom the ultimate melting pot of all other subcultures?) demands to be inspected as the relevant thing that it is in our society, hidden from view and mired in confusion though it may be. So far, I’ve been given only two real inspections of the phenomenon. There’s Vice magazine’s “In the Land of the Juggalos”, which, while wildly entertaining, is so full of snarky asides and peering-down-the-bridge-of-the-glasses superiority, it kind of makes you identify more with the juggalos. Much better is the half hour mini-documentary American Juggalo, which is available streaming for free online, and desperately needs to be turned into a full-length movie (the director wisely went the route of no commentary, the whole thing is nothing but talking-head juggalo interviews). If someone could get enough access to write a fair and accurate history of the country’s most peculiar set of outcasts, I could die a happy man.