Have you ever ghosted a subculture so completely that later, when you shine a light on it, you realize it was your tribe all along? Here in Thornville, Ohio, for the 17th Gathering of the Juggalos, where the wicked clowns are here to — and I'm quoting a Juggalo — "make America whoop again," I've been blindsided by the realization that I am totally down with the clown. I'm probably one of the few people here saying "whoop-whoop" for the first time ever, but I already feel bizarrely connected to the tribe, as if I've been a Juggalo my entire life.
"Whoop-whoop," for the uninitiated, is how Juggalos and Juggalettes, the mostly white, Midwestern fan base of the rap duo Insane Clown Posse, greet one another. Children say it, along with possible gang members, skinheads, hillbillies, black guys and the nearly 10,000 others here in Legend Valley, mostly fucked up on nitrous oxide and shatter, who all speak the same language and listen to the same horror-influenced genre of rap music that I've ignored since I was in high school.
Until today, when I walked into the Legend Valley and saw a woman on a leash, holding a sign that read "$1 spankings" and a studded spank paddle she offered to anyone willing to use it, I thought Juggalos were just fat guys in clown makeup who listened to rap. But Juggalos, it turns out, have commodified even master-slave relationships into their unregulated, laissez-faire-as-fuck Juggalo economy. The Gathering, besides being a party and a music festival, is also the world's trashiest bazaar, a real-life Silk Road where everything from LSD and ketamine to wooden ninja swords is sold with cardboard signs hung from rusted pickup trucks and beer coolers. The S&M lifestyle, along with a mostly libertarian view of economics, are things I first began to embrace listening to NOFX in college, and later speaking to their mogul Fat Mike over the phone.
Opinion: Fat Mike is basically a Juggalo who doesn't listen to rap music.
Then someone told me Juggalos are into professional wrestling. I sort of knew this going in, but nothing at this level. Juggalos shower themselves in a bloody, barbed-wire, Japanese deathmatch style of wrestling that happens to have been my secret fight club in high school; me and three other loners with Stone Cold Steve Austin tattoos at Hoover High School once formed a wrestling promotion and nearly bled to death using razors to "blade," which is pro wrestling lingo for cutting yourself to simulate the effect of violence. Juggalos do this, and as it turns out, ICP are former professional wrestlers who wrestled for nationally televised promotion WCW in 1999 (at least that's where I discovered them). They now run Juggalo Championship Wrestling, which I never knew existed until I got here and found out the Gathering features several wrestling events that involve women in painted faces, giant men with masks and lots of violent fan interaction.
Juggalos also love to wear the color they bleed all over the wrestler ring. While some argue this is their "gang color," I just see it as a fashion choice reflective of their hatchet-inspired obsession with B-horror movies like Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Child's Play and Stephen King's It. In high school, right around the time I was cutting myself and diving through wooden tables, I had decided that I was an honorary Blood. I painted my room red, which horrified my mother, listened to 2Pac (who claimed to be Blood-affiliated), and believed, in my violent and uncultured mind, that I was somehow affiliated with the Bloods simply because I owned a copy of Bangin' on Wax and thought red flannel shirts were tight.
Speaking of blood: When I was 8, I had my dad take me to 20/20 Video in Burbank to rent a VHS copy of Friday the 13th, the original, which caused the sort of mental trauma that resulted in me sleeping with a baseball bat next to my bed until I was 27. I also have daddy issues, another trait I suspect I share with most Juggalos, along with an inclination to sleep with a Louisville Slugger next to your bed.
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While they may not know it, Juggalos are the clownish pop-culture offspring of psycho pimp Drexl Spivey from True Romance and WCW bruisers The Public Enemy (the boneheaded wrestlers, not the pioneering hip-hop group), two distinctly different things that I associate with perverse happiness. It's as if I've been eating all the ingredients in a Juggalo pizza my entire life, not realizing I could just combine them into one giant pie.
Useless fact: I wore jorts in high school.
Their annual Gathering is the pie, where campgrounds are covered in puke and "Jesus Loves Juggalos" pamphlets. Even that combination reminds me of my childhood; waking up in my tent for Catholic Mass at the annual Boy Scout Jamboree, covered in vomit because a fellow Scout couldn't hold his oatmeal, and being forced to pretend like I gave a shit about Jesus.
I was a Juggalo before I even knew what a Juggalo was. No wonder I feel strangely at home here in the Midwest, during two of the biggest clown shows of the year, where one attempts to "Make America Great Again" while the other group tries to make the nation "whoop" again. Turns out I've been quietly whooping my whole life without knowing it.