My Daughter Is A Juggalo. Or How I Learned About The Insane Clown Posse
I was your basic nerd in high school and college. If there were orgies of sex, drugs and rock nâ€™ roll, I wasnâ€™t on the invite list. Now Iâ€™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 bandâ€™s heyday.
Even slightly more contemporary variations on sweaty, â€œtime to love one anotherâ€ 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 Iâ€™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 didnâ€™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 youâ€™d asked me to guess, I suppose I would have said that they were characters from one of my childrenâ€™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 Iâ€™d like about ICP. Â It was just over a year ago when my ex-husband and I decided to move our daughter to a large public high school. Sheâ€™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 didnâ€™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 wasnâ€™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 â€œfamilyâ€ to describe her friends. Werenâ€™t WE her family? I began to get very uncomfortable. But I hadnâ€™t grown up in Brooklyn (our neighborhood was legendarily patrolled by the Cosa Nostra) and gone to college in the revivalist â€œBurned-Over Districtâ€ for nothing.
Who was this â€œfamily,â€ I asked my daughter, who had begun to wear a hatchet (the insignia of ICP fans) around her neck, and identify herself as a â€œjuggalete.â€ They â€œhad her back,â€ she explained to her cynical mother. They would always be there for her, and for other members of the ICP family. It wasnâ€™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 Jokerâ€™s Cards (which form the basis for much of ICPâ€™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 (â€œnah, nah, nah, donâ€™t bother me with religionâ€ was her informal slogan) she wasnâ€™t happy with the notion popularized by the press last fall that band members might be Christian (from what I can tell, they arenâ€™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 â€œThe Merchants of Coolâ€ ).
Needless to say, this didnâ€™t give me the sense that our kid was participating in a youth revolution â€“ unless you count one engineered by MTV and other corporate big names a grassroots rebellion. I also wasnâ€™t happy about the news that in other places, ICP had been linked to gang violence.
But my daughterâ€™s got an independent streak (which I devoutly hope will give her a leg up later in life). Â I donâ€™t know what she said–or did–but she was eventually assailed as â€œfakeâ€ by some of her â€œjuggaloâ€ friends. After weeks of such harassment, she â€œlaid down the hatchet.â€ (And, by the way, returned to Christianity via a local youth group.)
Is this the end of her stormy relationship with ICP? Iâ€™m not sure. She still has friends among the juggalos. Â 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 â€“ 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 doesnâ€™t buy his new perfume, weâ€™re good.