The Insane Clown Posse (ICP) (Link) are no strangers to hate and controversy, and have even gone so far as to proudly wear the label of ‘World’s Most Hated Band’ (Link) like a badge of honour. But recently, things were taken in an unimaginably strange direction, when the FBI took the absurd action of labelling the Juggalos (the dedicated followers of ICP’s music) as a hybrid gang (Link).
The move was a very serious one, and has needlessly affected countless Juggalos since (Link). By labelling the Juggalos a gang, the FBI and United States government have created a near insurmountable obstacle for many law-abiding music-lovers. At present, having a ‘Juggalo’-related tattoo, merchandise, etc. could prevent a person from joining the military, could be considered a breach of probation terms, has been cited to affect custody agreements between parents, and extend sentences for minor crimes—reclassifying them as gang-related crimes (Source).
Even the self-styled ‘Most-Hated Band’ sees this as a step too far. While they’ve borne the brunt of media scorn with an optimistic grin, the ICP have taken the FBI Gang-ruling to court. Backed by the ACLU (Link), and toting a long list of grievances reported by Juggalos to stem from the ruling, ICP have invested a great deal of time and capital into suing the Federal Government to justify or overturn the ruling.
…Not bad for a couple of Clowns.
Thus far, the lawsuit has met with little success, initially being thrown out of court, and continuing to languish under delays and red-tape. But say what you will about ICP’s music, their fight against this ruling is entirely justified, and potentially one of the more important debates of our time in the realm of art and music.
You see, a gang is something which essentially functions to create meaning for an individual who suffers a desperate lack of such. It can provide a place of belonging, an identity, even a sense of purpose and community. Unfortunately, these perceived benefits tend to come—in the case of organized, criminal gangs—with their share of drawbacks—ranging from risk of injury or death, to the harm of others, and of course criminal charges.
But gangs aren’t the only way for a wayward person to find meaning. As discussed in our article, ‘The Metaphorical Imperative’ (Link), stories and art can also serve this function. By finding a sense of acceptance, guidance, and structure in the confines of a well-constructed metaphor, people throughout history have escaped from the dismal confines of their daily life and been elevated to something far greater.
In the case of ICP, this is quite literally what happened. As discussed in our article, ‘Circular Journey’ (Link), Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope initially founded ICP (then ‘Inner City Posse’) as a legitimate (if somewhat unimposing) street-gang. Rapping was just a small part of that identity. But as Violent J shares in his book, ‘Behind the Paint’ (Link), the Inner City Posse quickly fell prey to the more dangerous gangs of inner city Detroit at the time, experienced myriad legal conflicts, and all but fell apart. Violent J, ultimately finding himself in a jail cell, came to the epiphany that the gang life was not for him, and resolved thereafter to focus his efforts on music.
The Inner City Posse soon became the Insane Clown Posse, and the rest was history. ICP’s musical career is what raised them out of the gang life and gave them purpose. Likewise, many of their colleagues at their self-founded ‘Psychopathic Records’ came from similar backgrounds, and as such ICP stand as a true bastion against the gang life in Detroit. They have been a source of reprieve for anyone seeking something more meaningful for their lives. In fact, they have created purpose and employment opportunities in the poverty stricken city of Detroit, where the government has only lamented for the lost.
This effect continues today. When asked exactly what ‘Juggalos’ are, the most common answer you can expect to get is ‘family’. ICP have created for their fans a sense of unity and belonging rarely achieved—whether in music, community organizations, or even religious institutions. They have fostered a sense of meaning and purpose for countless youth—often as disenfranchised and wayward as the two Clowns were in their early life.
It is true that throughout their music, there have been themes of violence, misogyny, and even gang affiliation. In point of fact, in the song ‘Gang Related’, Violent J states it in unambiguous terms: ‘Do you rep the Hatchetman—you’re in a gang!’.
Now surely to the wise men and women of the US court system, this is as clear a confession as you could ever ask for. But the funny thing about art is that what is said is not always meant to be taken literally—that’s the beauty of metaphor after all. This point is not some foreign notion, nor is it a stretch to expect the good people of the judicial system to maintain this basic understanding of the creative process. In his song ‘Nebraska’, Bruce Springsteen admits to the mindless killing of ten individuals, but it’s unlikely he will ever be summoned before a jury on those charges, isn’t it?
Ultimately, the ‘Gang’ designation placed on the Juggalos is an affront to freedom of expression. What’s more, considering the incredible work ICP have done to improve the city of Detroit, and how their work has saved innumerable people from the gang life, it seems rather akin to striking at the hand that’s doing your work.
If the government had the clairvoyance to provide for its citizens in an informed and just way, it may be we would see far fewer people so devoid of meaning and desperate to belong. As it is however, we must simply embrace the power of music (and all metaphor) to provide these intrinsic human needs, and fight doggedly against any judicial ruling which seeks to punish the well-intentioned for fear that their decency would unveil the system’s own complacency.
So fight on ICP! The Juggalos—and the artistic world moreover—are behind you. The Wicked Clowns will never die!
-Brad OH Inc.