A young child dressed in a Faygo-stained clown suit and covered in black-and-white face paint is settling onto a table of rubber nails. While her mother secures her in handcuffs and chains, the little girl flashes an angry snarl to her father. He snaps her picture.
Yikes. This is only one of the freakish, yet somehow endearing, scenes ingrained in my memory from last weekend’s massive “Gathering of the Juggalos.”
An army of Juggalos (Insane Clown Posse fans), outfitted in Faygo-drenched ICP apparel and painted faces, converged for two days on the Novi Expo Center and the surrounding areas to celebrate their hometown antiheroes.
Possibly the world’s most hated rap group, the Clowns managed to draw Juggalos from across the country, as evidenced by the license plates (California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, South Dakota) in the parking lot. And their last album, The Amazing Jeckel Brothers, debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard charts without previous radio play or television exposure.
Having avoided the Clowns thus far, I was a bit wary. They had, after all, posted a message on their Web site a few weeks ago, inviting “hot bitches” who don’t mind getting “their box(es) banged out” to go with them to New York for an interview with Howard Stern.
Not that this is anything new. Misogyny has always been part of the music industry, and hordes of identity-seeking teenagers have always feasted on groups who spew violence and sexism.
There must be a reason though, beyond the rebellion, that so many kids love this stuff. So, Saturday afternoon, I braved the Red Pop storm.
As I got closer to the doors of the Expo Center, the sound of sticky soles got louder. Empty 2-liters littered the concrete, the remains of a Faygo war at the close of the previous night’s show. My feet stuck to the ground the rest of the weekend.
Inside, I walked around the carnival setting in a daze. I entered Terror Town, a makeshift haunted house complete with a woman cradling a bloody baby, a guy with a knife, the usual stuff.
I noticed a lot of lines: to get autographs, to buy merchandise (if the fans weren’t wearing official ICP gear, they wore white undershirts with “ICP” written on them), to get ICP tattoos. Seriously.
I watched the Miss Juggalette pageant, where one question was, “Would you ever sleep your way to the top?”
I asked some female fans if they were bothered by the disrespectful attitude the scene had toward women. Michelle Harper, a 16-year-old from Kalamazoo and Tracy Burris, a 21-year-old from Ypsilanti, said that when Violent J and Shaggy Too Dope call women bitches and hos, they’re not talking about women in general. It’s just a derogatory name for someone who doesn’t have class, they told me. And if the fans held on to every little detail, they wouldn’t be able to enjoy the positive aspects. Which are?
“It’s about home pride,” Burris said. “It’s something to be proud of.”
After checking out the Juggalo Championshit Wrestling and part of Big Money Hustlas, the group’s movie, I went outside to catch some fresh, albeit cream soda-sweet, air. I noticed 19-year-old Jeff “Jitty” Langlois sweetly touching-up his girlfriend’s makeup. The couple appreciate the rap duo because “they have the guts to say what they want and don’t feel remorse for it,” explained 17-year-old Casey Burkhammer. They both agreed that Juggalos are unlike any other fans and that — except in the mosh pit — are generally a nonviolent, friendly, familylike unit.
Langlois said he has met the clowns three or four times. In 1994, he recalls, Shaggy told him, “Don’t ever let a bitch with wooden teeth suck your dick, because you get splinters in your balls.”
I talked to four people in their late teens and early 20s in between acts on the main outdoor stage. They were from West Palm Beach, Fla., and had taken time off work, saved up money (the tickets were $60 in advance or $70 at the door) and sold comic books and trading cards to make it out to Novi for the weekend.
“This is home to me,” said 19-year-old Chris Bennett.
The popularity of ICP begs a lot of questions. Why now? Is it a backlash against the PC hype of the late ’90s? And why is Detroit the birthplace for so many shock acts, such as ICP, Kid Rock,Eminem, Alice Cooper? What is going to come out of the success of the duo?
I didn’t get many answers from the Gathering of the Juggalos, but I did realize a few things: Censorship is wrong, keeping perspective is good, feeling like you belong is important and, for most people, it’s just entertainment.