I shall not judge.
I shall love my Family.
I am a Ninja.
The sentiments above are part of the Juggalo motto – A motto in which members of the underground subculture pledge an allegiance to themselves and other members of the community. A motto that preaches familial values, including love, honor, unity, and strength.
But what is a Juggalo?
A Juggalo is a person who is an extreme fan of the Insane Clown Posse or any other hip-hop group under Psychopathic Records. Characterized by clown-like face paint, listening to horror- themed rap music, drinking Faygo soda, and expressing a tongue and cheek obsession with murder and violence, Juggalo’s preach non-conformity; however, it is their absurd behavior that has landed the deviant subculture a place in today’s media.
Professor Ken Gelder’s book titled “Subcultures: Cultural Histories and Social Practices” discusses how nonconformity is a product of social dissatisfaction.
Founding members of the ICP (Insane Clown Posse) Joseph Bruce and his brother Robert grew up living in extreme poverty during the 1980s. They received and ate canned food from their school and wore clothes found at rummage sales, however they weren’t ashamed of their low economic status, rather the brothers embraced it. Growing up in lower than standard living conditions posed its share of problems, but ultimately resulted in what would become the Juggalo philosophy – a rejection of society with the promise to be supportive and inclusive to those who wished to join the underground subculture. (WIKI) Gelder writes, “This view of delinquency as a social outcome of nonconformity was very different to the prevailing view of non-nonconformity as a matter of alienation” (41). CONNECT TO JUGGS WITH TRANSITION
Media representations of Juggalos, both fictional and documentary, explore stereotypical aspects of the group, with the former attempting to debunk misconceptions and the latter fueling them.
However, before analyzing the subculture, it’s important to understand their connection (or lack thereof) to the mainstream dominant culture, and how the public shapes its perception of the group. Media theorist Dick Hebidge describes the “ideological effect” in which the media constructs a specific image or philosophy that shapes how people make sense of the world. (Hebdige 85). Juggalos’ challenge the conventional view of society by preaching non-conformity. While Juggalos are openly against the mainstream, as evident in their deviant dress and behavior, they don’t claim to be anti-society. What is the source of this discrepancy between how Juggalos want to be portrayed versus how the media portrays them?
American Juggalo is a 20 minute short documentary by Sean Dunne created to explore this tension, as well as other misconceptions about Juggalo subculture and looks specifically at the 4 day The Gathering of the Juggalos festival that takes place in Cave-in-Rock, Illinois. Through interviews with festivalgoers, Dunne captures the carefree spirit the Juggalos whole-heartedly embody. With that, the documentary also stresses the point that Juggalos come from different walks of life, and it is this annual festival that brings together cultures and people that are normally so estranged from each other. The festival is a different experience for everyone, and can include wholesome family time, partying, straightedge fun, and/or crazy drug trips. Dunne attempts to capture the various facets of the festival and the people that make up the subculture through 9 or so interviews that seem to lead the narrative of the film. Dunne wants to know, what does it mean to be a Juggalo?
“That shit made me the motherfucker who I am today. Honest to god man, if it weren’t for fucking Juggalos that shit would not be on I don’t even want to think about what kind of motherfucker I would have been. I grew up to be fucking decent, fucking good-hearted, good natured mother fucker. I’m a fucking nice person. I can cook like a motherfucker and can make some straight up motherfucking grub. Fucking chicken fried steak. Fucking collard greens. Fucking mashed potatoes. All that fucking good ass grub. Sausage, gravy, biscuits. Fucking everything man. I cook like a motherfucker. I want to find a skinny ass little bitch and make her fat and then we can lose weight together and bond.”
“Someone who’s down with the clown until they’re dead in the ground”
“Juggalos are about true ninjahood and about passion for music, love, and family. United family on Juggalo Island. It’s paradise. One week out of the year to feel at home.”
“Controlled anarchy, where Juggalos can party and still maintain [themselves] appropriately.”
It is with the fourth example that viewers begin to see aspects of an interactive mode of documentary representation. While Juggalo #4 explains his idea of controlled anarchy, in which Juggalos can “party and still maintain [themselves] appropriately” the camera cuts to a man licking a naked women’s breast.
Author Bill Nichols describes aspects of interactive mode including “unexpected juxtapositions [that] may involve graphic inter titles or unusual framing during an interview” (Nichols 45). This juxtaposition between text and image poke fun of the subculture and allows the viewer to reach his/her own conclusions as shots of trash, carnival rides, drugs, alcohol cigarettes seem to contrast the pure, loving message that Juggalos try to convey. With this, some legitimacy is taken away from the interviewee and power is given to the viewer because he/she doesn’t have to take everything the interviewee says as literal.
The interactive mode that Nichols describes revolves around an interview, or in the case of American Juggalo, multiple interviews. The purpose of doing multiple interviews is to give the viewer a range of thoughts and opinions; however, this raises questions about objectivity, framing, and authority (Nichols 47). Nichols explains that an interview requires subjects to stand directly in front of the camera, providing a frontal view of their body and face in order to comply with camera requirements involving depth of field and angle of view. With this, “the individual identity, autobiographical, or idiosyncratic qualities of those interview become secondary to an external referent: some aspect of the historical world to which they can contribute specific knowledge” (Nichols 53). What makes the interactive interview strategy unique in American Juggalo is that the interviewees openly admit to being high on a number of drugs and messed up on alcohol. By the interviewees openly admitting to being in an altered state, the filmmaker seizes power within the relationship. With this, Dunne pokes fun of the interviewees and advances his own judgements about the subculture.
Nichols writes, “The interviewer testifies to a power relation in which institutional hierarchy and regulation pertain to speech itself. As such, the interview figures into most of the fundamental discourses of sobriety, as I have term them, and into most of the dominant institutions in our culture” (Nichols 50). However, it is important to remember the point of view of the filmmaker. Psychopathic Records put out the short video with the intention of rectifying false perceptions about the subculture. Because of this, it can be assumed that all interviews included, to some extent, work to unveil stereotypical beliefs and/or representations. There is a common goal between the distrubitor and its subjects. However, as a viewer the common goal isn’t quite clear due to the bias and interactive mode that Dunne injects. While the multiple interview structure works to debunk misconceptions about the subculture, the visual cues (clown make up, wild hair color, naked people, etc.) hinder the message.
Last year, the FBI officially classified Juggalos as a gang. Sociologist Gerald D. Suttles defines gangs in terms of the following criteria: “delinquency, relations to the local (and wider) community, support networks and institutions, ethnicity, poverty, and involvement in organized crime” (Gelder 35). While Juggalos embody gang-like tendencies, their ideology seems more in line with hobo culture, as exemplified in the film. Gelder goes on to describe Hobohemia in terms of a social utopia, where different racial groups “could freely and comfortable cohabit without reproducing the racism and social hierarchies found in mainstream society” (Gelder 34). Hobohemia casts a utopia that produces a moment of “pure sociality” and creates a unique sense of togetherness. Gelder writes that this sense of utopia only can happen because it’s not part of a normative society. The Gathering of the Juggalo festival is a perfect example of a created utopia, in which all members of society, who wish to participate, can attend and erase pre-constructed social, economical, and political boundaries. As one Juggalo in the documentary exclaims, the subculture is “More than gangs and drugs. It’s about a united nation. Doesn’t matter race, gender, size, sex. As long as you claim the j-u-g-g-a-l-o. No bigotry in jugaalosism. We are a family. True life is inside the soul.”
The Juggalo subculture is unique in that it’s inclusive of many other estranged cultures. The Gathering of the Juggalo festival provides an outlet for various groups of people to unite and feel at home, and because the subculture values inclusion, Juggalos come from all walks of life. External factors seem to differentiate festivalgoers, however it is the underlying familial values that unite them.
While American Juggalo works to debunk stereotypical media representations of the perceived deviant subculture, fictional television shows like Workaholics and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia perpetuate these views.
In the Workaholics episode “Straight Up Juggahoe” (2011), Blake, Adam, and Derz try to set up their co-worker Jillian up on a blind date. The date “Jake Heisenripbower” ends up being a Juggalo and takes Jillian to what is assumed to be The Gathering of the Juggalo Festival. Here, Blake, Adam, and Derz must rescue Jillian from the potentially dangerous situation they put her in.
Juggalos are portrayed as violent and gang-like in the episode; yet still preach the familial values that they promote. As Blake puts it, “Much like buttholes, family is meant to be tight.” The festival scene opens with an array of festivalgoers amidst a sea signs that are associated with the Juggalo subculture – hatchets, clown-like makeup, Faygo soda, baggy clothes, chains, etc. And when the workaholics gang walks into the festival, the characters comment: “they all look like satin,” “the entire place should be firebombed” and the festival is like a “dark carnival of souls.”
Swiss linguist Saussure discusses language and representation in terms of “language is a system of signs” (Hall 31), and in this episode, the signifiers are the signs listed above. The hatchet represents aggression and violence, while the clown-make up represents aspects of deviance that stems from a rejection of the mainstream. A juggellete in the episode refers to Adam as a “faceless drone in society,” further commenting on Juggalo’s nonconformist outlook.
Interestingly, though the episode makes some attempt to demystify negative connotations associated with Juggalos. When Derz goes on a mission to find a beverage to quench his thirst, he meets a nice, seemingly normal Juggalo at the festival with his family. This encounter speaks to this idea that the documentary American Juggalo emphasizes – that Juggalos come from all walks of life. When Derz asks his new friend about what brings a normal guy to an Insane Clown Posse concert, he responds with “Juggalos don’t judge.” Derz, Adam, and Blake reconnect, and from this point on, befriend the Juggalos they meet at the festival, discovering a softer side to the marginalized group.
However, this attempt and the newfound friendships are short-winded, as the episode ends on a note that showcases Juggalos’ as animalistic and violent. While the attempt is admirable, the creators primarily only hit on stereotypical aspects of the subculture and use signs to quickly and effectively communicate what this underground subculture is all about.
Richard Dyer, professor in media studies, explains one tactic in which television shows stereotype though iconography. In other words, television shows rely on visual and aural signs to convey meaning that allows viewers to immediately recognize the subculture or group portrayed (Dyer 358). While necessary, it is the visual (clown make up, baggy clothing, etc.) and aural (foul language) cues that delegitimize the message that Juggalos wish to convey. While American Juggalo works to demystify such misconceptions, claiming that not all Juggalos are unemployed and lazy, everyone interviewed still presents themselves in a way that suggests the above. However without these visual and aural cues, what differentiates Juggalos from other people in society that value inclusion? Fictional representations must include the visual and aural cues associated with a subculture (negative or positive) in order to quickly classify a group of people, however, in doing so, television writers and shows inevitably fall victim to stereotyping. It is these stereotypical depictions that get recycled over and over – whether they are representative of the entire subculture or not.
Comparing the Workaholics episode to the American Juggalo documentary is interesting because both showcase Juggalos in the same festival setting; however, one is a real representation while the other fictional. The main difference between the two representations it that there are much less drugs and alcohol shown in the fictional account. Everyone interviewed and shown in American Juggalo were cracked out, with rotting teeth and crazy eyes. The fictional version is much more toned down.
Comparing the Workaholics episode to the American Juggalo documentary is interesting because both showcase Juggalos in the same festival setting; however, one is a real representation while the other fictional. While both representations may be constructed in their own right, the main difference between the two accounts is that there are much less drugs and alcohol shown in the fictional account. Everyone interviewed and shown in American Juggalo was cracked out, with rotting teeth and crazy eyes. The fictional version is much more toned down in order to fit within television restrictions.
[American Juggalo] [Workaholics]
Interestingly, though, there is conflicting information between the two accounts, in reference to their position to the mainstream. The documentary makes a point to explain how Juggalos aren’t anti society. Never do the Juggalos’ bash on the dominant culture, rather they make a point to explain that would just rather do their own thing and be left out of the limelight. However, the Workaholics episode continuously showcases Juggalos as actively opposing the mainstream. The episode accomplishes this by placing Juggalos in a workplace setting, where they clearly are uncomfortable and out of place. Additionally, the Juggalos’ in the episode continuously refer to people in society as “faceless sheep,” and in doing so, place a negative emphasis on the mainstream.
The It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia “Dee Reynolds Shaping America’s Youth” episode is another example of a fictional, yet constructed representation of Juggalos. In this episode, an overweight kid named Reggie wears clown make up and claims to be a dire hard fan of the Insane Clown Posse. The issue with this arises when the principle forbids Reggie from wearing his clown make up. While Reggie’s dialogue is limited throughout the episode, he repeatedly says, “Juggalo for life” when his character is on camera, showcasing a one dimensional portrayal of a Juggalo.
While the narrative doesn’t revolve around Reggie, his character brings up questions about representation and deviance, especially in youth. British Sociologist Paul Rock argues, “It is plausible that much of the expensive drama and ritual which surround the apprehension and denunciation of the deviant are directed at maintain the daemonic and isolated character of deviancy. Without these demonstrations, typifications would be weakened and social control would suffer correspondingly” (Dyer 356). While Rock discusses this idea in terms of gays, and their representation in primarily horror and comedy dramas, it is applicable to media depictions of subcultures as well.
So why rhetoric comedic?
As comedies, both Workaholics and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia allow viewers to laugh at an otherwise intense and deviant subculture. (It’s also worth noting that SNL has a skit that pokes fun of the subculture as well). The comedy format is appropriate in portraying the Juggalo subculture because it allows audiences to laugh at something they are unfamiliar with, but perhaps loosely aware of. It’s comedy’s commitement to efficacy – the power of the genre lies in its ability to control interpretations. Comedies are more flexible than other genre formats because they have to ability to “create multiple conflictions, and oppositional realities within the safe confines of the joke… laughter clarifies where tragedy mystifies” (Dow 37). However, this clarification similtaneously perpetuates stereotypical representations as viewers seem to accept the information that is portrayed.
What can media and/or Juggalos do to combat misrepresentation? What can be added to the discourse of Juggalo subculture?
Zines as an outlet for subcultures to promote views and ideologies have grown in popularity in recent years, especially within underground subcultures. However, this recent surge in popularity, as author O’Hara points out, has led to a “pressure to become more ‘professional’ or mainstream in order to gain mass acceptance (O’Hara 69). However, it is the unpolished look and feel of zines that make them a good fit for Juggalos as zines represents ideas “far outside what is regular (Duncombe 20). While the values that Juggalos represent may be seen as admirable, their lifestyle choices often times are not. Perhaps the zine can serve as an outlet for Juggalos to represent all aspects of their culture, not just facets that the media puts out. By eliminating the visual and aural cues, Juggalos will have an opportunity to present their ideas and values without being judged by external factors. Juggalos appear in the media for acts of violence or terror, but there are thousands of other Juggalos that lead normal, non-violent, drug free lives. The media just doesn’t cover these Juggalos because there is nothing newsworthy about the. However, because only violent Juggalos are portrayed in the media, the public perceives all Juggalos in this manner.
The Juggalo zine is not intended to convert members of society to Juggalo subculture by any means. Rather, a personal outlet to deconstruct common misconceptions about the subculture, as well as a platform to preach familial values. The personal connection that zines allow will be crucial connect with its readers and information will stay true to zine format and will “presented in a way that keeps it from being just another floating statistic in a sea of information, a way that makes some sort of personal connection between the zinester and ‘the facts’” (Duncombe 34).
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