Friday, March 26, 2010

COLUMN: Juggalo

I can't believe I'm about to do this. Steady hands. Deep breaths. Positive thoughts. You've done worse, Shane. Focus.

I am about to -- (shudder) -- defend the honor of the Insane Clown Posse.

ABC News' Martin Bashir is one of my least favorite people ever. Some (aka ME) feel he is an over-the-top muck-raker with a habit of sensationalizing one-sided stories for mass consumption of shock and awe. He first came to prominence with his revelatory interview of Princess Diana of Wales, where he easily got his subject to open up about everything from bulemia to divorce. A good interview, yes, but there were rumblings at the time that Bashir had goaded Diana into such a confessional through faux friendship and ingratiating himself into the family.

After spending years trying to gain the reclusive singer's trust, it was Bashir's hour-long interview with Michael Jackson that got the attention of the world. It was the biggest, fastest celebrity flame-out in history. At the beginning of the program, you thought Michael Jackson was a wacky, eccentric, misunderstood pop star. By the time it was over, you were putting chain locks on your children's doors to keep Michael out. Jackson's camp at the time said that Bashir promised it would be Michael's chance to be heard and turn his life around. Instead it turned him into a suspected child molester and global joke, despite Jackson's wounded claims of "betrayal" and "deception" against Bashir.

Well, now it looks like Bashir's got a new victim in the form of a two-headed, face-painted juggernaut: The Insane Clown Posse.

It shouldn't have shocked me when I was channel-flipping the other night and caught the teaser: "Tonight on Nightline, Martin Bashir explores the underground world of HORRORCORE music. While groups like the Insane Clown Posse rap about acts of savagery and violence, some of their devoted fans are living them. Should these artists share in the blame?" For the next ten minutes, I watched as Bashir presented horrorcore as the biggest danger to hit the youth of America since mixing Pop Rocks with soda. I call hooey.

The Insane Clown Posse (ICP to their fans) are a DIY pop culture phenomenon and the perfect case study for any Marketing 101 class. The ICP duo began their career in the same Detroit rap scene that spawned Kid Rock and Eminem, but there's not much similar between them. Dressing in clown make-up and spitting lyrics that would make Freddie Krueger proud, the decidedly MTV-UNfriendly ICP shuffled from one record label to the next with mediocre sales while their contemporaries found global success.

Eventually, ICP shunned the mainstream altogether and set up shop for themselves, releasing records on their own label, Psychopathic. Somewhere along the way, it clicked. Gaining a reputation for their carnival-like concerts and absurdly violent lyrics (it's like listening to Alice Cooper rap the plotlines to every "Friday the 13th" movie,) the band quickly gained a wide underground network of fans known as Juggalos. Today, nearly every ICP album that's released sails effortlessly to the top of the charts without a lick of radio or TV airplay to support it.

Instead, the ICP marketing machine rolls forth a surplus of products aimed directly at the Juggalo fanbase. From albums and t-shirts to lighters and belt-buckles, if there's a way for Psychopathic to stick their Hatchet-Man logo on it, it's probably on sale to the Juggalo Nation. There are movies and DVD's and documentaries. Heck, they even have their own wrestling league. ICP knows how to make money and keep their fans happy.

They just don't know how to make good music. Sorry, Juggalo family, I'll defend you 'til I'm blue in the face, but I really can't stand ICP. It's puerile, poorly produced, thoughtless playground humor. There's not a music critic alive that's had much good to say about ICP, but that's part of the magic. Every time someone new comes along and hates them, the band gets to go, "SEE, Juggalos? They just don't understand what we're about!" Juggalo Nation draws together and unites as fans. More belt buckles are sold. Everyone wins.

ICP tends to connect with the outcasts and the misfits. Once upon a high school, I was an outcast and misfit myself. Back then, I sought solace with bands like Joy Division and The Cure (who are, in essence, the Depressed Clown Posse.) I forged friendships for life based primarily on shared music interests. We had a nickname back then, too - they called us "corn chips." (No, we don't know why.) But had the corn chips not stuck together, we probably would have been beat up consistently by the metalhead kids. I know the power that music holds.

What it DOESN'T hold, though, is the power to influence deranged action among the innocent, and that's where Bashir's story went. In short, some nutbag somewhere went on a killing spree and was photographed being arrested in an ICP t-shirt. Hence, the music MUST be to blame. I'll give ICP some credit. They consented to an interview and heroically stood up to Bashir's pointed questioning.

"How do you respond to a 21-year-old who kills a man in a gay bar with a hatchet and calls himself a Juggalo?"

"There's something wrong with that kid," replied the duo. "You better holla at his parents and see why they raised him all messed up."

Not English majors, then, the ICP - this is, after all, a band whose most Shakespearean moment to date is the line "We be underground famous/from Pluto to your anus." But I can't help but agree with them. There IS something wrong with that kid and somebody HAD better holla at his parents. Sadly, Martin, nutbags are everywhere. I'll guarantee that someone out there has had a murderous thought while listening to the Backstreet Boys. I can tell you in all honesty that Celine Dion's voice makes me think violent thoughts (mostly towards my radio.) Charles Manson, the grand high poobah of nutbags, thought that the Beatles were telling him to start a race war. Did we send a lynch mob after Ringo?

I just wanted to say it because no one else seems to want to in print: Parents, don't listen to the hype of sensationalist journalism, and don't fret if your kid's a Juggalo. He or she is just trying to fit in and find their niche. ICP are no more likely to cause killing sprees than your average slasher flick. The only thing horrifying about the Insane Clown Posse is their rhyming skill. If you've raised your kids right, have confidence in their actions and tastes - just maybe slip 'em a Radiohead record or something when they're not looking.

1 comment:

Mel said...

Amen! On all counts. ICP makes me feel icky but murderous? No. Only Justin Bieber could accomplish that.