Friday, September 27, 2013

In Defense of...the Insane Clown Posse?

Does the Internet’s most hated group deserve its perpetual lambasting, or is ICP merely the victims of a brutish Internet mob mentality?

In 2010, the Insane Clown Posse (ICP) -- a horror-core rap group that’s been named the worst musical act in history by a litany of publications -- released a music video for the song “Miracles.” Shortly thereafter the video and corresponding song became viral sensations, inspiring countless critical remarks from YouTube passer-byers, most of whom ridiculed the group’s supposed anti-science stance due to a single line from the song…which, of course, became an overused Internet meme itself.

The rancor directed towards the song is somewhat ironic, since “Miracles” seems to be one of the few truly “life-affirming” tracks to get mainstream play in quite some time. While multimillionaire rappers like Lil’ Wayne record tracks equating the savage murder of Emmet Till to their own sexual escapades and artists like Tyler the Creator receive critical acclaim for releasing such heartwarming ballads as “Bitch Suck Dick,” it seems to be more than a little peculiar that an ICP song with lyrics like “appreciate the things that life has to offer” has become the de facto media punching bag for so many self-righteous hipsters and Internet know-it-alls.

Not only is it fashionable to hate the Insane Clown Posse -- and their legions of fans, affectionately referred to as Juggalos -- it’s more or less an encouraged online pastime. With their pancake-makeup covered faces and incessant lyrical references to Faygo and their fan base’s less than pristine public image (the FBI went as far as to classify the entire Juggalo subculture as a criminal element in 2011), it’s crystal clear why ICP is a favored target for the Reddit and YouTube-weaned masses. Alike the smelly, probably-mentally-handicapped kid in high school that always said stupid things during lunchtime, it’s hard to not buy into the group experience and savagely pick apart ICP -- lame prey is lame prey, after all.

The question in front of us is this: does ICP truly deserve all of the antipathy they receive, or are they just being utilized as a whipping boy for an inherently uncivilized Internet culture with a pathological need to brutally berate and scornfully mock something?

Before we go any further here, let me start off by saying that music is by no means a science of any kind, so there’s absolutely no way anyone can say that [band x] is genuinely better than [band y] to any truly logical degree. Of all the arts, music is probably the most subjective; so, what one may consider listenable, another may consider absolute aural torture. John Tesh fans will never understand the implicit value of grindcore metal, and fans of Vader will never detect the joyful subtleties of Zamfir’s discography. With that in mind, there’s really no such thing as a gauge for whether music is good or bad, outside of one’s personal tastes. To say that ICP is a horrible band, you must recall, is an individualistic opinion, and one that is culturally disseminated the same way the popular conviction that The Beatles were a good band was/is. It might be an opinion shared by a whole hell of a lot of people, but that doesn’t make any more or less epistemologically valid as a notion.

On a personal level, I’ve never really been a huge fan of the Insane Clown Posse. I did own their “Amazing Jeckel Brothers” CD back in middle school,  however, and I’ve seen four of their DVDs -- two of their Juggalo Championship Wrestling offerings, and the feature film forays “Big Money Hustlas” and “Big Money Rustlas” (seriously.) So, outside of those experiences and their periodic pro wrestling appearances back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, that’s all I can really say about them. From what I’ve heard, however, I would feel comfortable in saying that I would likely prefer their music to any number of popular music acts, from The Police to the White Stripes to Neutral Milk Hotel. Of course, none of those other acts get the same amount of criticism from the general music complex, even though there’s absolutely zero scientific or technical gauges out there to clearly demonstrate that the music of Sting or Jack White is somehow superior to the music of Shaggy 2 Dope or Violent J.

In many ways, the criticism lobbed towards ICP isn’t necessarily directed towards the group itself, but rather, towards the band’s crypto-Christian leanings (as evident by the staggering amount of hate the group received for the afore-mentioned “Miracles” video) as well as their “Juggalo” fan base -- a collection of supporters that are, for the most part, lower-class, generally uneducated white boys. These two elements, I believe, are worth discussing further.

To begin, the Insane Clown Posse is popular with a certain segment of the population for a reason -- because the group, more or less, is the lone pop cultural representation out there for a class of individuals (that being, working-class, largely rural Caucasian males that may or may not have completed their GEDs) who are either completely ignored or callously mocked and stereotyped by a snobbish media industry that considers abstruse acts such as The Animal Collective and Bjork worthwhile while incredibly popular social constructs like pro wrestling -- despite being embraced by a much, much larger percentage of the national populace -- are worthless diversions for “white trash.” On the surface, it appears that ICP has resonated with the Juggalo audience, first and foremost, because they are one of the few popular contemporary media forces that don’t think they’re human parasites and ridicule them accordingly.

Now, I’m not going to say that ICP’s music can’t be fairly stupid and, depending upon your tolerance for sophomoric necrophilia jokes, somewhat offensive. That said, if you look at the general discography of the group, you’d come to the conclusion that their ditties about chasing live poultry around and murdering children are actually a relatively small sliver of their catalog, which also consists of pseudo-uplifting tracks alike “Miracles” and songs that are almost on the verge of being coherent as political and social commentary, alike “Terrible” and “Fuck the World.” At the absolute worst, you can only accuse ICP of making somewhat predictable, misogyny-lite satire, which is ultimately much less harmful than the genuine, non parodying hardcore hatred spewed out by rappers like Ice Cube and the Geto Boys.

The music of ICP is crude, and it’s no doubt idiotic to some degree, but is it honestly any more idiotic than the refrigerator poetry spat out by such universally loved musicians as Nirvana and Beck? At least ICP’s music has a standard, detectable lyrical pattern to it, which is something you can’t really say about popular acts a’la Soundgarden, White Zombie or Stone Temple Pilots, who just seem to cut and paste random words together and sing them along to their guitar riffs. If someone did a spoken word performance of an ICP song, it would at least sound like actual human interaction; trying using any Pearl Jam lyric in a real life conversation, and see if you don’t come home to a few deleted Facebook friends.

Clearly, ICP remains a popular target because they’re so goddamn easy to criticize. A buncha’ fat white dudes, in Mickey Mouse make-up, singing about assassins and acting all gangster on an episode of “The Dating Game,"whose fans are a legion of weed-smoking Jiffy Lube temp workers, that can’t even figure out how magnetic fields work? I mean, how could you not ridicule such a pathetic underclass?

Well, first and foremost, try explaining how magnets work right now, in three sentences, without resorting to Wikipedia. Hell, it takes the University of Illinois an entire webpage to adequately explain it without getting into quantum physics, so you might want to readjust your smug disposition on that one. As far as ICP fans in general go, yes, they can be quite delusional and frequently post IQ scores somewhere between “pumice” and “swamp algae,” but the fact of the matter is, you could say the exact same thing about any group’s fans, whether you’re talking about Judas Priest, One Direction or Devo. The only thing that really makes Juggalos empirically different from any other group’s fan base is their sense of communal pride and identity politicking, which is clearly commonplace among other media franchise -- if you think Juggalos are inherently pitiful, then you’d probably have to say the exact same for every Trekkie and “Game of Thrones” fanatic out there, too.

But at the end of the day, the scorn directed towards the Insane Clown Posse is largely mere transference, a  heaping helping of redirected personal hatred targeting the easiest clay pigeon out there. Virtually all of ICP’s naysayers, ironically, are individuals that will never achieve even a fraction of the personal success the group has achieved, not only as musicians, but as businessmen. Superficially, the group may just be those weirdoes that throw discounted cola on fans at elaborate stage shows, but behind the scenes, they’re also the weirdoes that have sold more than 6.5 million records -- largely without the same mainstream AOR/MTV pre-packaged marketing blitzkrieg that most big-time acts are gift bagged -- while simultaneously creating, branding and expanding an entire pop culture machinery that generates $10 million a year in profits.

Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J are two high school dropouts, schooled in the streets and trailer parks instead of Harvard or MIT, who then went on to become not only successful musicians, but one of the most remarkable independent media sensations of the last 25 years. And if you want to know why so many people on the Internet hate them so vehemently…well, I think their indelible entrepreneurial success is probably the masses’ true unstated grievance with the group.


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