American Juggalo

Last night, I couldn’t sleep due to all of the coughing, so I curled up in bed with my laptop and watched New York filmmaker Sean Dunne’s short documentary piece on Juggalo culture, entitled American Juggalo. As we’ve had several conversations here in the past on the clown-faced disciples of Detroit’s ICP, I thought that I’d share it. I wish I had some deep analysis to pass along with it, but, as of right now, I’m still wrestling with what I’d like to say. I think, if I’d stayed in academia, this is exactly the kind of thing I’d be researching. I find nihilistic end-time cults fascinating, but this one, I think, is particularly interesting for its emphasis on “family.” I know that in itself isn’t all that unique, as groups like this have always grown by taking in those who otherwise felt alone, friendless, and without the loving support of family, but something about this strikes me as different. Maybe it’s the fact that all of this “we love everyone for who they are” stuff coexists alongside the yelling of lyrics about stabbing a woman in the stomach that rhyme phrases like “now she’s screamin’ like I care” with “blood soaked hair.”

I’m not sure if the director had an agenda in mind when he made the film, but quite a few of the young people interviewed come across as fairly sympathetic. At least I found myself kind of liking a few of them, and wondering to myself what other realistic options there are out there for people who, for whatever reason, just didn’t fit into this increasingly complicated world we find ourselves in. I can definitely see how, for some people, the appeal of one week a year at The Gathering of Juggalos (where this documentary was filmed) could almost make all the other shit tolerable. I actually found myself more than once feeling happy for these people that they had this in their lives to look forward to, which I wasn’t expecting. I was expecting to be terrified from begging to end, as I was when I watched the post-apocolyptic footage that Tom Green shot there the night that reality television personality Tila Tequila was pelted with rocks, garbage and human waste.

I’m reminded of an American Studies professor I had at U-M about eighteen years ago, and his views on the degeneration of American culture. I remember in particular a certain lecture in which he referred to the pop icon Madonna as a “whore.” He’s probably in his 90’s now, but I’d love to ask him what he makes of things today. Actually, what I’d really love to do is to airlift him into the Gathering of the Juggalos inside a glass cube and have him offer running commentary though a loudspeaker system. His name, in case anyone would like to help me find him, is Stephen Tonsor. (He was incredibly conservative, and I’d always wanted to ask him whether that fact got him his job in the U-M History department in 1954, as McCarthyism was in full swing, and as other faculty were being driven out for fear that they might look too “red”.)

Speaking of the degeneration of culture, one of my favorite art exhibitions ever was a late-80’s recreation of a show first curated by the Nazis in 1937. The exhibition, entitled “Entartete Kunst,” or “Degenerate Art,” contained some 650 works removed from the museums of Germany by the Nazis once they came to power. The pieces, which were abstract and modern in nature, didn’t conform with their definition of beauty, or the ideology of blood and soil that they were so keen on at the time. Anyway, when I find myself wanting to condemn modern cultural trends, I try to keep in mind that I don’t want to sound like those fucking Nazis did when they condemned jazz music and abstract art. Then again, I think it’s pretty unlikely that Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope will fare as well as van Gogh and Picasso, historically speaking.

American Juggalo from Sean Dunne on Vimeo.

[Also, I don’t have the time to pursue it now, but I was thinking it might be interesting to do a print campaign encouraging people to treat Juggalos with respect. I’ve got a few ideas as to how to tackle it, but, as of right now, my favorite is to take photos of prominent community leaders made up in black and white face paint, and put them on posters with text reading, “We’re all Juggalos… please treat the Juggalos in our community as you would anyone else… according to scientists they are the same as we are in all significant ways.”}

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  1. Posted October 1, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    This looks like an important documentary.

  2. Bob
    Posted October 1, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure it’s any scarier or weirder than Deadheads or Phish-whatever they ares. It’s probably less intelligent and less musical, but more or less the same thing for those who follow it. As much as I hate the ugly art they produce, I’ve always admired ICP’s work ethic and how much they accomplish outside what used to be an established music industry. I worked in record stores and remember those guys coming in to consign product. They did it better than anyone I ever encountered. They were more organized, professional, diligent and cool than just about anybody else. They moved more product than anyone else too. I worked for the Repeat the Beat chain in the 90’s and it was hard to keep their stuff in stock. When they did in-stores they were complete pros and never dicks. I’ve only heard good stuff from other stores about how their fans behaved during events too.

  3. Posted October 1, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    You should read the whole post, Pete. I mention professor Tonsor.

    And thanks for the note, Bob. It’s cool to hear from someone who has first hand knowledge of the band. There’s no doubt that they’ve been able to create something pretty big without industry support, and in spite of somewhat limited ability. And I don’t mean that last part as an insult. Most of my favorite musicians are individuals who have persevered despite limited ability. I think it’s a badge of honor. I’d be lying, though, if I didn’t say that their fan base freaks me out. Still, though, I can completely see how they might be good guys.

    Oh, and was anyone else caught off guard when Gallagher showed up at the end of that Tom Green piece on the Gathering? Fucking bizarre, right?

  4. Posted October 1, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    I did. You really should get an interview with him before he goes.

  5. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    Don’t tell me that ICP hasn’t contributed to high culture.

  6. Levi
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 2:26 am | Permalink

    Well, I watched all twenty or whatever minutes of that thing and my first reaction was “Whatever.”
    But then after thinking for a couple minutes my lasting impression was “So what the fuck is a juggalo?’ I expected that over long video to kind of clear that up for me, but no.
    Titties for a dollar?
    Well, I guess that is about the going rate for ones like those. You wouldn’t really call them exquisite or anything.
    Lots of obese youngsters in that movie.
    So that is basically what I took away from it.

  7. Edward
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    I’ve never been to Burning Man, but the Gathering of Juggalos seems to me like a poor man’s Burning Man. Can someone verify this?

    For what it’s worth, I think this is our future. I think we’ll break up into nomadic tribes. The future will be like Mad Max.

  8. dirtgrain
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Some of my students are Juggalos. I have to raise their test scores or else.

  9. Posted October 2, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    I met Icp out of makeup once at their managers house.

  10. Paw
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    My great grandfather was a Juggalo. When he landed at Ellis Island, though, he decided, for the the good of the family, to change his name from Big Money Hustla to Michael O’Connor. I’m happy we now live in a time where things like this aren’t necessary.

  11. Paw
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    Were you in a white jacket, serving Faygo, Peter?

  12. 734
    Posted October 3, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Thanks for turning me onto Tonsor. I’m reading his “Why I am a Conservative” now. Here’s a clip.

    In the autumn of 1941 I went off to Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois. I was seventeen years old. I had rejected Antioch College because the dean who interviewed us had a pedicure.

    No mention as of yet as to why he wasn’t enlisting to fight in 1941, like everyone else.

  13. 734
    Posted October 3, 2011 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    And I found some words of comfort for you, Mark, in an interview Tonsor did about 4 years ago.

    Bernard Chapin: Would you agree with me in saying that the culture war has been lost?

    Dr. Stephen Tonsor: No I would not. I don’t agree with you at all. All kinds of people say the same thing to me that you did, but you’re all wrong. The culture war isn’t over. I’m a historian. I’ll wait those people out. You know, what you have to understand is that the universities have always been in a messy condition. The culture war is no more lost today than it was when Cardinal Newman was a student at Oxford before the whole English university system was transformed in the nineteenth century. The culture war is not lost. No, it’s only just beginning. Look, Queen Victoria took up power in 1837 and things were not in good shape back then in England but soon came the entirety of the nineteenth century with the Oxford Reforms, Victoria’s reign, and the return of Catholicism to England. Of course, you won’t be surprised that a German, Victoria’s husband, was directly involved.

  14. Mr. X
    Posted October 3, 2011 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Pete, you have to tell us why you were hanging out at the home of their manager. Were you begging to have Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope cover something in the Bulb back catalog? Were you asking to have 25 Suaves added to the tour lineup? Were you looking for makeup advice?

  15. Posted October 3, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    A friend of mine sold a stand up video game (Disney’s Dragon’s Lair) to their manager on Ebay. For $300, I drove it out to Canton, MI from Providence, RI in 2000.

    It was completely weird. I tried everything I could to get in to the house, but they would only let me in as far as the bathroom in the garage. I did see a bong, though.

  16. Posted October 3, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    I checked out a collection of Tonsor’s essays from the library once. I don’t agree with a lot of what he says, but he is an interesting read.

    His essay on why Christ was a conservative was a pretty convincing argument against lefties who try to paint Christ as a socialist. I read it three times because I had struggled with Christianity for several years previous to that.

    In the end, I was pretty convinced. The result was that I rejected Christianity entirely, not an result that Tonsor would have liked as a hardcore Catholic, though I’m thankful.

    He’s an interesting guy. I wish there were still someone like him around at the UM.

  17. Posted October 3, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Tonsor is an avowed conservative.

    It is a crime that idiots like Glen Beck, Sean Hannity and TaterSalad attempt to share the same label.

  18. Eel
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Just read this in an interview with Violent Jay and thought of you.

    Everybody is included, and nobody is excluded. Everyone is welcome, no matter who you are, or where you are from, or what how you look like. That shit has nothing to do with ICP. That shit came from the Juggalos. All of that, the whole “family” thing.

    The reason why they chant “family” at shows, is because that’s the only way to describe what it feels like to them.

  19. Interrobang
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    I got into ICP’s music years and years ago (I live in London, ON, the Canadian extreme of the Detroit Culture Belt) through a friend, and, while there’s stuff about their music I don’t like (less misogyny and homophobia, please), there’s a lot of stuff I *do* like. (If you’ve never heard “Play With Me,” go, now. And be prepared to laugh delightedly.)

    I suppose you could say I’m not really a Juggalo, either — I’m female, in my mid-30s, got into the music way back, Master’s degree, bachelor’s degree in literature (lots in there to chew on, actually, if you know what you’re looking for, and lots of sly humour for people to catch if you’re quick), and when I actually have a job, I’m a white collar IT professional. And I’d certainly never go around wearing face paint, unless I was actually going to an ICP show. (Friend says their live shows are a blast, FWIW.)

    The way I look at it is that the face-painted Juggalos of the ‘o0s are not really that much different than the extremely made-up and outrageously hair-styled punks of the early-to-mid ’80s…and people had more or less the same reaction to them. Food for thought.

  20. ljc
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    I know it’s not completely on topic, but when will they finally remake the film Mother, Juggs and Speed?

  21. Tatersalad
    Posted October 8, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    America’s #1 “Jiggalo” is………………….

One Trackback

  1. By The proud heritage of the North American Juggalo on December 30, 2011 at 9:53 am

    […] Juggalo.” The exhibition, while very small, was truly moving. I had, of course, known that Juggaloism had a rich history, but I had no idea just how far back it went. Pictured here are ceremonial masks […]

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