“Just a Juggalo” – ICP sues the FBI
I admit that I know absolutely nothing about the music of Insane Clown Posse (ICP). I’ve seen them profiled several times in recent years, on mainstream News outlets (i.e. CNN), but never paid much attention. My own preconceptions have ruled my decisions to continue to ignore what is, for better or worse, a growing cultural phenomenon.
But practice-based research demands that I try to inform myself with issues which relate to the freedoms associated with expression, belief systems, association, presentation and distribution.
ICP always seemed to me, at least from a visual context, as a highly derivative act, KISS meets NWA ( or maybe Vanilla Ice), but without the self-parody. Perhaps they are nothing more than a cheap attempt to cash in on the genre of rap, only targeted to angry suburban white kids. Or perhaps they represent something more, something substantive.
Maybe it’s time for me to be less prejudiced, and take a deeper look. Maybe I should take an hour, purchase and download some iTunes of their music, and listen to it before going any further with writing this essay. Or be a cheapskate and just watch some of their videos, for free, on YouTube.
But, in order to make sure that I am not unintentionally (through an iTunes purchase), endorsing, even out of ignorance, materials which may be overtly sexist, violent, racist of otherwise unacceptable, I decided that my knowledge of ICP’s work might not need to be expanded.
Actually, I don’t really need to know anything about ICP’s music (or watch their videos), or be influenced either adversely of positively by their talent, or lack thereof. Therefore I will save myself a few bucks and hold off on the iTunes downloads, at least for now. Because for me, this story isn’t about their talent, or even their politics. It is about the rights not just of the duo, but also of their fans to express themselves, and whether such expressions are still to be protected by the U.S.’s 1st Amendment.
ICP has fostered a true micro culture, perhaps even a larger and influential subculture. They call themselves “Juggalos” and have attracted the attention of the FBI. Now ICP and four of their fans are suing the guys who work at the J. Edgar Hoover Building. On first read of their allegations, I hope the Juggalos win.
Basically, the FBI has labeled the Juggalos as ‘a loosely organized hybrid gang’ (2011 FBI National Gang Assessment) because of their annual get-together, their tattoos, and their love of ICP. There have been instances of violence which have taken place at ICP concerts, but there have also been such occurrences at sports events, street fairs, and many other events attracting large groups of people (many of whom have easy access to legally sold alcohol, or equally easily accessed illegal substances).
The Juggalos are suing on the grounds that the FBI’s actions are violating rights of freedom of speech, association and due process. These are rights are the core beliefs in U.S. ‘constitutional’ culture, held in an almost religious stature. It’s used as the reason why U.S. soldiers have gone off to war to die (which of course I do not for a minute think why U’S. wars take place).
Among the plaintiffs, is a guy who owns/operates a trucking company. He’s been pulled over for displaying ICP fan logos on his truck. This does not sound to me as a prudent use of police funds. Or adherence to the pledge that all U.S. civil servants take, namely to defend the constitution.
I think back to my younger days, when another subculture was widespread. “Dead Heads”, fans of the Grateful Dead, was a widely discussed and equally misunderstood phenomenon. Many independent small businesses followed the Grateful Dead around, setting up shop selling T-shirts, incense, and bootlegged Dead albums (which the band not only tolerated but actually allowed to be distributed). Later on “Burners”, those who treat the Burning Man festival as a near-religious experience, also come to mind. Violence has also taken place at Burning Man, but Burners, often Silicon Valley tech-execs, are to the best of my knowledge, not being harassed by the FBI.
I never considered myself a Dead Head, yet I attended Grateful Dead concerts a number of times. Was I part of a ‘loosely organized hybrid gang’ (whatever that means)? Of course not. And neither was anyone else there.
I am also old enough (and lucky enough) to have attended Woodstock in 1969. During those several days of experimenting with a large-scale alternative culture, I did a number of things which may not have been prudent, safe, or without question, legal. I did not then turn to a life of gang criminality, or become brutally destructive to either myself or others.
Obviously in all these aforementioned subcultures, it had not been difficult to wander around and find whatever mind-altering tools one might wish to imbibe. Or participate in unprotected sex, and maybe even some violent activities (i.e. the ‘drive-by target practice” games at Burning Man).
And in every one of these events, I witnessed a variety of cultural practices, some sexist, some even racist. Even at the now mythologized Woodstock Music & Art Festival, it was largely a white, middle-class group, where the women were often objectified, and sometimes persons of color were treated as some sort of novelty.
But no one ever, no matter how critical, labeled these subcultures as ‘gangs’. Because they were not gangs, and neither are the Juggalos.
In societies in which male domination still struggles to hold on to its preeminence (such as in many pockets of the U.S.), no doubt much popular culture conveys antiquated and diminishing notions of sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia and other once prevalent tendencies.
Do ICP’s songs promote violence? Misogyny? Racism? Maybe, I don’t know, I haven’t heard them. But I know that absent any particular actions, which result in actual instances such as vandalism, arson, theft, assault, battery, work place discrimination, or out-right harassment, U.S. law guarantees these types of expression. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you still have the right to be an asshole, under U.S. law. I think that’s still a good thing, and one of the greatest contributions that the sagging U.S. influence on world culture has made. Someday, hopefully, these unfortunate and ignorant beliefs will further decline to almost extinction (I’d be naïve to think that anytime soon they will ever be fully extinct) through education and personal multicultural experiences.
The simple fact is that freedom of expression means nothing at all, if it does not protect controversial, even objectionable work. What is offensive to some is transcendent for others. There is no ‘freedom of expression’ in endorsing the conventional, or acceptable. Even the citizens of North Korea can do that.
Like Russia’s Pussy Riot, ICP provokes and challenges the status quo, and that’s always a dangerous move. Or at least perceived to be dangerous by the powers that be, both commercial as well as governmental. Maybe ICP and Pussy Riot do it for opposite reasons, or maybe they both do it for the same reasons. ICP claims that they put forth a positive message. In their lawsuit against the FBI they state “JUggalos are a family of people who love and help one another, enjoy one another’s company, and bond over the music and philosophy of life”. It further states
“Among the supporters of almost any group — whether it be a band, sports team, university, political organization or religion — there will be some people who violate the law. Inevitably, some will do so while sporting the group’s logos or symbols,…However, it is wrong to designate the entire group of supporters as a criminal gang based on the acts of a few. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened here.”
That does intrigue me. Clearly they are correct in this assertion. This leads to another question. What exactly are they saying, that is so threatening to the FBI and the powers that they protect? Well, maybe I now should go watch some of their videos for free on YouTube, so I can see what side of the fence I’ll be sitting on.