Could an outsider infiltrate the juggalo sect during Insane Clown Posse's Oakland stopover?
MUSIC When I pitched attending one of the Insane Clown Posse's shows from its two-night stand at the Oakland Metro as an "undercover juggalo," I felt the need to make it clear to my editor that I was not a fan. This would just be for a story and fun pics. I wanted documentation of the Detroit "horrorcore"-rap duo's strange appearance in the Bay Area, but more importantly, of the fucked-up subculture and fan base that ICP has bred over the years.
Given the band's notoriety for misogynistic lyrics, alleged violence at shows (plus the added element of the FBI's 14-month investigation of juggalos as a potential gang threat); my perceptions of the band and its followers being a generally trashy bunch who boast bad music had me thinking, this could be my scariest assignment ever.
Going in drag was partly to protect myself. As a native Midwesterner (born and raised in Michigan) I thought I knew damn well what I was getting into. Elements of my past were about to come crashing into my present-day self and surroundings. My preconceived notions of juggalos, largely based on living in Michigan when the group found fame in the mid-to-late '90s, were superficial and prejudiced, but not completely unfounded (grabbing the nearest trucker hat, donning ugly cargo pants, and putting on a pair of 10-year-old Nikes was totally the right thing to do). I thought hiding behind face paint would be an easy in for acceptance or at least a good cover.
I had important questions: What are Bay Area juggalos like? Why is this happening in Oakland? Would it really just be the Central Valley invading? Black juggalos?! WTF?! Does that even exist?
Beforehand a friend of mine agreed with my concerns and quipped it was going to be like entering some "ultimate societal vortex." Others warned me to brush up on my juggalo lore as I wouldn't want to be exposed as a poser. I did my homework, read a few good articles on The Gathering and watched a really sad YouTube video about a juggalette mom who calls in to a radio show to tell the story of her baby who died shortly after birth in the hospital. She uses that story to fulfill her obsession with scoring free ICP merch.
Reverse racist, white-trash poser
Nervous about walking the streets and getting on BART with my face painted, I still had to get from San Francisco to my destination. I wasn't sure how people would react.
I was glad to have my friend and photographer, Dallis, along for the ride. Although he wouldn't join me in wicked clown make-up, he did help me feel as if I wasn't completely alone. He quizzed my knowledge on the topic at hand and casually dropped the term "white trash." It's not an epithet I like to use, but I agree there are worse. Unfortunately, this is the one assigned to the juggalo.
Just about everyone looks down upon and ostracizes them like they're a symbol for what's wrong with Middle America. I got some strange stares on the train, but that was about it. Once we popped through the tunnel and found our stop, some fellow "ninjas" (who looked like frat boys) noticed me. They asked if I had any more face paint. Unaware if they were legit fans or if this was mockery, I asked if they were going to the show. It turned out they were being un-ironic (I saw them later at the Metro), so I guess I was the poser.
Waiting in a long line wrapped around the building with "The Family" was the best part of the night. Finally, I had power in numbers (though not all juggalos wear the paint). It was familiar to me, not just because of Midwest roots, but because of fanaticism over a music act. Their energy was electric. They wanted to see their heroes, Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J perform. That's when it clicked. This was all about inclusion.
We couldn't get over how nice everyone was. At one point Dallis was trying to get a picture, but was tapped on the shoulder by a juggalo who told him to get closer for a better angle. It was uncharacteristic of the pretense among the crowd at a typical Bay Area show.
Sure, my jaw dropped when I finally deciphered that one of the opening act's lyrics that I was bopping my head to was, "dead girls don't say no," but why is it that I give fellow Detroiter DJ Assault a pass when I laugh hysterically at his raunchy sampled lyrics like "suck my mutha-fucking dick," or consider "Ass 'n Titties" to be anthemic? Am I a reverse racist, or is it simply taste in music and the understanding that you don't have to believe in the lyrics or take them to heart, kill people with a hatchet, etc.?
Shock value and entertainment are nothing new here. Witnessing the unrelenting Faygo shower (Faygo "pop" is from Michigan and comes in a variety of weird flavors) is like being a kid on the Fourth of July watching fireworks. Scary clowns dressed in glittered gowns dance on stage and shake two-liter bottles, letting the candy-scented foam spray onto the audience as it shimmers in the light, and it is a true spectacle. The takeaway: juggalos are the salt of the Earth.