On Juggalos and Fanaticism

The Gentleman Juggalo LogoNothing 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.

The Metaphorical Imperative

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green Desklamp

Here at Brad OH Inc., I’m often asked why I write. Certainly, it’s a difficult question to answer. For me, pleasure would be one acceptable response—whether it’s my own, or that of the visitors who read and enjoy what I’ve written—both are wonderful reasons to write. I’ve heard other authors answer this question as well, with such varied responses as: ‘to elicit emotion’, ‘to express myself’, ‘to make money’, and of course, the old go-to, ‘because it’s what I’m meant to do’.

They’re all true enough, and all equally vague in their own ways. But dealing with such questions, it’s hard to avoid a little bit of abstraction, and that’s ok. When you try to dig any deeper—questioning things such as purpose and meaning—it becomes a real existential quagmire.

To me, writing is a sort of religion. Scratch that… like so many religions, that’s already a bit narrow-minded. Limiting this explanation to writing is unfair… more broadly, art as a whole—or metaphor more specifically—is my religion. Let me explain…

As humans, we occupy a level of intellectual complexity reserved for us alone. As a result, we have many abilities which are entirely foreign to all other known organisms. One of the most obvious, and arguably the most significant, is mortality salience. More clearly put, this refers to our awareness of our inevitable demise. This awareness, as fully explored in Ernest Becker’s ‘Terror Management Theory’, creates an existential terror in us that is unknown in other animals. It also creates something else… a drive for meaning.

Not only are we the only known animals to perceive that we will ultimately die, we are also the only ones capable of creating meaning from nothing—metaphor. The power of metaphor is something which must not be underestimated: it can give us hope, it can inspire courage, and—as applies in the case of mortality salience—it can provide us with comfort.

What makes us so special? Why do we alone have these powers of perception and creation? Well, simply put: evolution. Our brains, under the pressures of natural selection, have slowly expanded in form and function to get us where we are today. Now, this is certainly not the endpoint of evolution, but somewhere in that incredibly drawn out process, we’ve developed the capacities for both language and abstract thought. These developments are among the most crucial to defining our humanity.

Ever since the dawn of complex language in the early prehistory of man, we have been using it to ask such questions as where we came from, what our purpose is, and whether we are serving that purpose well. This delves into some deep religious and philosophical territory, but I believe the important point here is that abstract thinking—the ability create or attribute meaning and connections where they do not naturally exist—serves as both the impetus and the solution for such quandaries.

In short, the ability to ask ‘Why’ exists within us because of our propensity for abstract thought, which is also the reason we are able to answer that question with, ‘Because…’. Our need for meaning and our ability to create it are one in the same.

Metaphor is God—and vice versa. Everyone finds it somewhere—religions, movies, bands, relationships—we idealize and apply significance to everything within the limits of our perception. The fact that some of the most popular metaphors are now held as absolute truth (and used to justify both miracles and atrocities) doesn’t negate their reason for being or their power, but rather only affirms both.

Being human, we all share a sense of wonder. Looking up at the night sky, pondering the nature of deep emotions such as love or hate, reflecting on the direction of humanity and where we are to end up… these are natural behaviours which result inevitably from our very ability to articulate them. Once a question is asked, it cannot be unasked. There is no satisfying the human urge for understanding; only an ongoing effort to satiate it.

I call it the metaphorical imperative. To provide meaning is both the result of, and a response to, our ability to think metaphorically. Every story, song, painting—all works of art—are sincere grasps for meaning. Their success, the extent to which they succeed in this goal, is simply a matter of how strong an impact they have on their audience.
And… that’s why I write.

-Brad OH Inc.