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American Juggalo-A Look at a Subculture


American Juggalo from Sean Dunne on Vimeo.

American Juggalo is a look at the often mocked and misunderstood subculture of Juggalos, hardcore Insane Clown Posse fans who meet once a year for four days at The Gathering of the Juggalos.

We went to The Gathering of the Juggalos and let the Juggalos speak their minds.

I hope you enjoy it.

Sean Dunne (a Brooklyn-based director) recently uploaded this short documentary which features interviews of fans of the Insane Clown Posse (and related acts) while they’re attending the annual outdoor event known as The Gathering. These musicians, fans, and events are often heavily mocked by people online and by popular media.

While I enjoyed this video as a way for this community to express themselves in their own words, the intent of the project somewhat troubling to me. The description states that the director hoped to illuminate a misunderstood subculture by letting them speak and I wonder if it actually addresses how or why they are misconstrued.

Now, unless you’ve been living in a culture-cave for the last decade, you’ve probably developed some sort of knowledge (in one way or another) about ICP and the Juggalos. According the the zeitgeist around them, it is probably mostly negative. But, this particular documentary tends to focus on a particular point – Juggalos are not violent, scary youths. They are a “family” and accepting of everyone (seemingly). If your only knowledge of Juggalos comes from Douglas Rushkoff’s Merchants of Cool documentary from 2001, then perhaps Dunne’s film helped to change your mind on this one particular perspective about the subculture. However, that was over a decade ago, and the perception of these fans has changed. Why is it that the message that is central of the film trying to battle this dated perception? Is it the film maker’s oblivious cultural knowledge? Is it the fans themselves who are compelled to battle a decade old perception? Or is it mere coincidence? Again, the intent of the film is to let “Juggalos speak their minds” in order to “battle misconceptions”. No one is really lambasting ICP for their violent lyrics in the current day and the conception of the Juagglo has developed into something entirely different than it once was. I think it is probable that Dunne simply went to this event looking to score some footage for a quick-and-dirty viral video for his portfolio, without putting in serious research into the Juggalo subculture. Seeing as how documenting the annual Gathering of the Juggalos has become trendy over recent years, it is likely the case.

There is a near-universal cultural detest of Juggalos, but it isn’t really for the reasons that the documentary would suggest. Generally speaking, there is an outsider backlash of all subcultures. So, this idea of them being ostracized isn’t particularly new. The documentary fails to explore the lives of the people in this scene. We know nothing about the people who come to these events that might help to dismiss inaccurate representations, but have gathered that they are all generally easy going and get along.

I don’t think I’m grasping at straws if I were to suggest that a majority of Juggalos are working class, and may not have college degrees. I’m not trying to suggest that wealth and education are important beyond a personal desire for each, but I do believe there are issues of economic capital, education, and (by proxy) cultural capital that are present within the perceptions of Juggalos – and these issues are not at all addressed in the film. Cultural captial, as expressed Pierre Bourdieu can be briefly explained as such: while the artist or the scholar may not have much money, they do have higher cultural connections (art, literature, film, music, etc…). The banker or lawyer may have more money, but perhaps only interested in mainstream, mass produced media and culture. In essence, it is a way to help balance out social power beyond economic aspects. It gives someone a higher status due to their taste. But, the Juggalo has neither economic or cultural capital and this may explain their place as the lowest rung of the cultural ladder.

Juggalos have developed an immensely strong subcultural community regardless of all the blows against them. Their passion for the music is incredibly strong. If people on the outside are judging them based on economic or cultural reasons, the musicians and fans have countered this by building a “family”. Their acceptance of everyone at The Gathering is strong and a prominent element of this documentary. The music and culture is theirs. It is something detested by most, which helps to add to their reason for liking it more. If they are going to be looked down on, they will embrace their culture all the more. In a society where Juggalos are despised because of their economic status, their educations, and their taste, ICP and related musicians represent something in their lives that is their own in terms of creativity, expression, or subcultural transgression. It is all they have in terms of art and culture, and they have developed a strong community around that idea. But, the viewer of this documentary is forced to watch people painting their faces with actual spray paint (which is remarkably hazardous); a woman smoking cigarettes while visibly pregnant; countless numbers stumbling around drunk or high on any number of illegal drugs that are widely available for little cost. This is not helping anyone change their minds on what a Juggalo is, even if they are a passionate “family”.

Any subculture is going to be accepting of their own (with various exceptions…), and any subculture is going to offer a sort of empowerment to the participant. While this seems to be the suggested focal point of the film, it isn’t really explored. Our knowledge of Juggalos can only be gathered by what is immediately visible and the people in the video are mostly white, and mostly men. There are random people of color throughout the video, but the numbers are noticeably less. While they claim full acceptance of others,  it lead me to wonder – would Juggalos be as accepting of homosexual fans? Would they “Woo Woo” two men kissing the same they would two women? There is an overbearing notion of heternormativity throughout the crowds, as they gawk at women’s breasts. Women’s bodies even get used as a replacement of currency by men, who trade glimpses of their girlfriend’s bodies for cash or goods. Men’s bodies are not on display in any similar capacity. The general consensus that I’ve gathered from this film is that it supports the previous ideas of white, heterosexual, misogyny and issues of social class, education, and cultural capital. There is nothing presented in the film to counter these perceptions.