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My Daughter Is A Juggalo. Or How I Learned About The Insane Clown Posse

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I was your basic nerd in high school and college. If there were orgies of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, I wasn’t on the invite list. Now I’m well into middle-age–one of those Baby Boomers without the communal memory of the hippies or the cool of the Gen Xers. I can truly say, not without a little embarrassment, that I never inhaled, which seems to be a prerequisite for having attended, let alone made any sense of, a Grateful Dead concert in the band’s heyday.

Even slightly more contemporary variations on sweaty, “time to love one another” togetherness, with their communal vibe and strong sense of fan identification, like Dave Matthews and Phish, completely passed me by.

So to say I was unprepared for the introduction of the Insane Clown Posse (ICP) into our family would be a complete understatement. But their lurid clown make-up, profanity-laced lyrics, and potent mixture of sex and in-your-face defiance quickly came to my attention when my daughter became a juggalo at the age of 15.

Nothing I’d learned, either as a clergywoman or as a journalist writing about religion, had prepared me for the ICP. The kind of churches in which I worked didn’t highlight youth group trips to hear horrorcore. And I can safely say that the word psychopath (while I may have applied it occasionally to a boss) had no connection in my mind to a record company.

Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope? If you’d asked me to guess, I suppose I would have said that they were characters from one of my children’s picture books about feuding animals.

I was so ignorant that when, a few years ago, a friend of mine copied me on an email about a rumor that the group might actually have Christian evangelical members, I had to ask someone who they were talking about.

But I soon learned more than I’d like about ICP.  It was just over a year ago when my ex-husband and I decided to move our daughter to a large public high school. She’d been attending a small charter school, but due to her ADD and creativity, we felt that she could use both the structure and the additional theatrical and artistic opportunities provided by a bigger school.

I had dreams of her joining an adorably earnest theatre club. Or maybe a choir that would sing motets and madrigals and show tunes. The Japanese club could have been a good fit (especially considering the number of manga books we buy at Barnes and Noble these days).

Things didn’t go that way. At first, she struggled to find her place in the pecking order of the new school. And as happy as I was when she began to find her way, I wasn’t quite ready for her new obsession with clown face paint. Nor did I enjoy overhearing cell phone conversations about hell and demons. Or knowing that my daughter loved a group that had been associated, in some areas, with gang violence.

Suddenly, she started to use the word “family” to describe her friends. Weren’t WE her family? I began to get very uncomfortable. But I hadn’t grown up in Brooklyn (our neighborhood was legendarily patrolled by the Cosa Nostra) and gone to college in the revivalist “Burned-Over District” for nothing.

Who was this “family,” I asked my daughter, who had begun to wear a hatchet (the insignia of ICP fans) around her neck, and identify herself as a “juggalete.” They “had her back,” she explained to her cynical mother. They would always be there for her, and for other members of the ICP family. It wasn’t long until she began to pester me to allow her to attend their summer gathering.

I have to admit that when my daughter tried to explain the theological underpinnings of the Dark Carnival and the Joker’s Cards (which form the basis for much of ICP’s music) my head began to spin. But I did point out to her that these ideas were based on the idea that there were supernatural beings. Then an atheist of convenience (“nah, nah, nah, don’t bother me with religion” was her informal slogan) she wasn’t happy with the notion popularized by the press last fall that band members might be Christian (from what I can tell, they aren’t, or not in any conventional sense).

As far as I could tell, her juggalo friends were often kids struggling with economic disadvantages and academic problems. Somewhere down near the bottom of the high school pecking order, they had found a (relatively) safe place to stand, both within the institution and just outside of it.

Thanks to a conversation with a youth leader at Duke University, I found out that ICP had been carefully marketed to appeal to young people for more than a decade (for more information, see the PBS documentary “The Merchants of Cool” ).
Needless to say, this didn’t give me the sense that our kid was participating in a youth revolution – unless you count one engineered by MTV and other corporate big names a grassroots rebellion. I also wasn’t happy about the news that in other places, ICP had been linked to gang violence.

But my daughter’s got an independent streak (which I devoutly hope will give her a leg up later in life).  I don’t know what she said–or did–but she was eventually assailed as “fake” by some of her “juggalo” friends. After weeks of such harassment, she “laid down the hatchet.” (And, by the way, returned to Christianity via a local youth group.)

Is this the end of her stormy relationship with ICP? I’m not sure. She still has friends among the juggalos.  And there is a part of her that still really wants to belong to a group that will accept her.

I console myself with the sense that, with her ADD diagnosis, she is inclined to try out different things – and then move on. Her tastes do seem to be widening, back into oldies and forward into other kinds of pop music. Recently, I heard her singing a Justin Bieber song (she says she despises him).

As long as she doesn’t buy his new perfume, we’re good.

(photo: ohinternet.com)