Nothing I do elicits more abject disdain than my passionate enjoyment of the Insane Clown Posse. ‘Enjoyment’ may be a slight understatement mind you, I am a self-proclaimed Juggalo, and that comes with some pretty loaded implications.
Childish insults and hateful slurs aside, Juggalos are known for taking their musical-affections a step beyond most other fan-bases. In fact, I’ve heard it justly claimed that for Juggalos, the term ‘fan’ is short for ‘fanatical’. It’s as apt an analogy as any I could come up with, so I’m happy to appropriate it here—it’s true, Juggalos almost to the last are entirely fanatical about their love of ICP.
But behind this trend of obsession and fanaticism lies a deeper insight into the nature of the music—one perhaps that can be applied more broadly to all those things which bring some small sub-sect of people to their knees while being lost entirely on everyone else. A key part of this is the high entry point of the music, due to its very nature.
ICP are often accused of being vulgar, juvenile, or much worse. None of these labels are entirely untrue, but they also miss a big part of the picture, and the entire context. One of the chief reminders I give to people attacking the artistic merit of ICP is to consider what the letters stand for—they advertise it right up front; they are clowns.
So the silly and obscene is all a part of the act, but it’s the larger theme of this act which represents the buy-in, and that comes only to listeners who hang around long enough to read the brightly coloured writing on the big top walls.
You see, beneath the greasepaint and pantomime there is a much greater sense of sincerity that most casual listeners miss completely. It was Oscar Wilde who once claimed ‘give a man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth,’ and there could be no more perfect proof of this platitude than ICP. By donning their outlandish personalities and presenting their ideas as revelations from the ‘Dark Carnival’, ICP create a farcical mirror of reality through which they can comment on the deeper realities of life.
Each album is created around a central, all-encompassing theme: usually grounded in notions of facing your own sin after death, karmic retributions, and personal accountability. On each album, these themes are explored through songs shifting in perspective, point of view, and more often than not, even through the eyes of briefly encountered and little explored alter egos. Some songs will be bright, cheery, and seemingly of little substance, while others will be aggressive and dark—with the clowns claiming in the first person to commit heinous acts and hold despicable beliefs.
Seldom is the intention spelled out plainly, and the ICP leave it up to their listeners to sort out the clues and piece together the bigger picture. A lifetime of listening can certainly make this an easy process, but if a song like ‘You Should Know’ (Link) is your first introduction to the band, it’s understandable you’d be left with a pretty bad taste in your mouth.
Truly, to hear any single song out of context, one could easily assume some pretty awful things about the motivations and beliefs of the duo—and their fan-base. A thorough understanding requires a listener to immerse themselves in the lore of the band, the story of each album (Joker’s Cards), and eventually the Juggalo culture itself to fully suss out the depth of meaning in ICP’s music.
But herein lies the rub, and to my mind one of the most incredible things about art presented in this once-removed way. The high buy-in level acts as a sort of built-in gate-keeper for the music itself. It’s kind of like an ‘extreme’ sport. You really don’t see a lot of people merely dabbling in the hobby of wingsuits, and listening to ICP is no different.
It’s exactly why there is such a sharp divide between people who like ICP’s music (‘like’ being an admittedly weak description), and those who don’t (…or inevitably hate it with a passion). It’s an all or nothing situation. If you hear a bit and get turned off, you’ll think little of them ever again, and potentially fear their dedicated following. But if you do the work needed to understand them, you’ll emerge from the other end with a more secure understanding of the art of metaphor in general, and a ‘family’ of Juggalos banded together all the more tightly by their outlier status and shared vision. At that point, it’s only a matter of time before the baptismal Faygo shower makes it official—welcome to the family ninja!
-Brad OH Inc.