Fear And Loathing At The Gathering Of The Juggalos

Yes, it happened again.

This past weekend, the American Heartland played host to the many faces of our splintered culture, inviting them to unite behind the notorious harlequin mask of the Juggalos. For more than a decade now, The Gathering of the Juggalos has tended and entertained thousands of devoted travelers, determined to experience its distinct vortex of music, violence and low culture. Curious and perversely amused by such prospects, I embarked on a pilgrimage to The 2010 Gathering with little more than a notebook and an ample supply of deodorant. My time amongst the Juggalos was often agonizing— four days in a psychopathic-psychotropic carnival tends to dishearten those, like me, who lack a certain zeal. But, face-paint and Faygo stains aside, my dip into the self-proclaimed “most misunderstood people of all time” left me strangely engrossed— though I can’t call myself a Juggalo, it’s difficult not to identify with some aspects of their lifestyle in this era of mass alienation and converging sub-cultures.

Like many, I only became aware of the Juggalos after Saturday Night Live aired a satirical ad for the Kickspit Underground Rock Festival—clearly an homage to the series of promotional videos for The Gathering which maintain a cult following on YouTube. Rising amongst the devoted followers of Insane Clown Posse or simply ICP—a generally artless entertainment duo known for their signature face paint and lyrics as profound as “I dropped outta’ school and quit my job/ All I want to be is a fat, fuckin’ slob”— the movement has all but declined over the past two decades.

Described pejoratively as “Orc-like creatures, donning demented clown makeup and dirty-Sanchezes [sic] of Cheetos residue,” the Juggalos deserve a much richer analysis than Urban Dictionary is willing to provide. More than anything else, these people are genuine. Devotees to horrorcore music, they live earnestly as Juggalos, often sporting tattoos of the ICP logo in places that are inconvenient for job interviews. If they’re wearing any clothes, they maintain a fascinating sartorial affinity for ill-fitted graphic t-shirts which, by comparison, make Ed Hardy seem veritably tasteful.

Often referring to one another as “ninjas”—a more inclusive and markedly less offensive supplement for the n-word— the Juggalos employ a distinct dialect of American English which is interspersed with ubiquitous profanity and frequent use of the phrase “Whoop! Whoop!” Unsurprisingly, this behavior attracts the attention of cyber-trolls, who take their cue from SNL and defame the ninjas through internet memes and hate sites like lookatthisfuckingjuggalo.tumblr.com.

But, even with swaths of society against them, the Juggalos abide—forming enclaves across the country and banding together on internet forums like ninjatactics.net and truejuggalofamily.com. Ghettoizing themselves within Juggalo communities, they preach social inclusion and interracial harmony and, flaunting these banners, they welcome anyone interested in promoting harmony amongst what, ICP member, Violent J refers to as “the scrubs and the losers” or his devoted fans. The Juggalos’ strict focus on family, unity and clown doctrine invites parallels between their culture and organized religion. Violent J goes as far as saying that for Juggalos, a trip to The Gathering equates to the experiences of “Muslims [visiting] the Holy Land of Mecca.” And, each year, more pilgrims come.

For the past five years, The Gathering has permeated and overwhelmed the border town of Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, a former haven for river pirates and a portal between North and South. The town is 99.47% white and, unlike almost every other hamlet in the Land of Lincoln, it doesn’t boast a main thoroughfare commemorating the president who freed the slaves and vanquished Jefferson Davis. A massive outcropping in the limestone bluffs which bolster the Ohio River provides the town’s name and, in the summer, green puss oozes from the eroded rock formation, contributing to its vernacular sobriquet: The Big Asshole.

This is the sort of charm which, just last weekend, drew thousands of Juggalos to Hog Rock Camp Ground—the epicenter of the festivities a few miles north of town. They come in droves, passing the squadron of precautionary ambulances and law enforcement vehicles which abut the entry road and serve more as omens than as actual guardians. When the Juggalos come to town the local police staff more than doubles. And, more than anyone else, the sheriff remains apathetic—allowing mayhem of all kinds to unfold within the chained off set of murky ponds and sloping lawns which comprises the site.

Of course, The Gathering is hardly a lawless syphon of misery and mud. It is a for profit event, after all. Six performance venues, consisting of temporary lattice bandstands and a number of haystack bleachers, speckle the site in addition to a wrestling ring, devoted mainly to the Half-Pint Brawlers[1], and an autograph tent which peddles ICP merchandise by the truckload. A centralized outcropping sports a Ferris wheel, countless midway games and a stockade of Porta-Johns and Porta-Janes. There’s even a helipad— albeit a slapdash one— from which a chopper gives particularly daring Juggalos an overhead view of the sprawling complex unfurled on their behalf. The sound of the chopping blades is ubiquitous during the daytime, establishing a sense of faux-surveillance and— when coupled with the inevitable mosh pit erupting on the ground— evoking images of the fall of Saigon.

With campsites rechristened with names like “Scrub Central” and the “Chaos District,” the sanctioned festival map seems to invite lawlessness. Of course, the Juggalos are seldom satisfied with ordered chaos and, inevitably, new neighborhoods have sprouted up. There is “Hepatitis Lake,” a foaming brown watering hole, boasting a few shirtless Juggalettes, dozens of empty Faygo bottles and an eroded wooden platform that must have most recently accommodated lifeguards during the Ford Administration. Makeshift latrines dot the edge of the lake. And, a fiberglass hog rests atop a shale platform, giving the campsite its name and offering visitors a remarkable opportunity for novelty photographs. Look at me, I’m butt-fuckin’ a pig!

At The Gathering, there are ten thousand people and one bathhouse. The temperature never dips below ninety-five.

And, championing the entrepreneurial spirit, there is the infamous “Drug Bridge,” a muddy isthmus rife with dealers so flagrant in their trade that many wear cardboard signs openly advertising their offerings and rates. Miniature baggies of everything imaginable sit idly in coolers with their caps cracked open. Passersby who aren’t stocking up on DMT—perhaps half the stampede— record videos on their phones and the dealers don’t seem to mind. Discretion is hardly an issue for most people, who hawk their goods plangently. Two dimes and you can see my tits!

More From Thought Catalog

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    They just keep coming back don’t they. Can’t take a hint.

  • http://twitter.com/apocalypse_yes Emily Rich

    So did you go this year?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=612928768 Samie Rose

    Not good enough to be using the phrase “Fear and Loathing.”

    • Kevin Cryderman

      Stop trolling and show us your skills, princess.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=612928768 Samie Rose

        You know, I say my fair share of nice things, too. No one seems to notice those.

      • Asdf

        I was always told, “if you can’t say something nice, then say nothing at all.” My response has always been, “That’s the stupidest cliche I’ve ever heard.”

    • Asdf

      Disagreed. This piece is fantastic. Sure, connotations are associated with the title, but don’t tell me you can’t see the tie-in. Simply because a piece borrows a famous blurb for context doesn’t mean it is that piece. Judge it by its merits.

      • Woyzeck

        I would have loved this piece if it wasn’t for the title, for the simple reason that it makes it painfully obvious while reading it that the writer wants to be Hunter S. Thompson. It’s a shame because it’s a good article, but Hells Angels this ain’t, and if Miles had erased the guidelines the comparison could have been avoided.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=612928768 Samie Rose

        That’s my problem – I don’t want to read something that uses “Fear and Loathing” unless it’s going to offer me something EXCELLENT. I’m not saying this is bad, but it’s not Hunter and they made that connection with the title which overshadowed, at least for me, the entire piece.

      • RicePaperPlant

        Hey there y’all,

        I’m the author of this here piece and I want to thank
        everyone for their honest input. Clearly I should have known that the title
        would upset people, particularly Samie Rose who is apparently on a first name
        basis with the late Dr. Thompson.

        I, alas, am not. In fact, beyond a certain ring that the
        title possesses, I have no interest in emulating his style. Clearly, I made a
        grave mistake when I assumed that this objective would be self-evident from my
        writing style which, in no way, reflects the prosaic effects of Gonzo
        journalism. My decision has tainted the article, demanded unnecessary parallels
        and even elicited some rather arbitrary personal attacks.

        But, have no fear: lesson learned. I’ve decided to scrap
        potential articles like Moby Dick—which describes my sexual encounters with electro-indie
        musician Richard Melville Hall—as well as any further work on A Supposedly Fun
        Thing I’ll Probably Do Again. Furthermore, in the future, I’ll follow the lead
        of many and judge what I’m reading purely by its title.

        Thank you for your time,

        -Miles

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=612928768 Samie Rose

        Awwwwwwwwwwww!

      • Woyzeck

        Or maybe if you weren’t so lazy as to borrow ideas from other writers, you wouldn’t encounter this problem.

        The fact that this basically is a semi-Gonzo article and shares several common themes and styles with the aforementioned Hells Angels doesn’t help, of course. Still, if you find Gonzo “prosaic” (I find this assesment baffling, by the way) then perhaps you haven’t read it… I mean this as a compliment.

      • Woyzeck

        Or maybe if you weren’t so lazy as to borrow ideas from other writers, you wouldn’t encounter this problem.

        The fact that this basically is a semi-Gonzo article and shares several common themes and styles with the aforementioned Hells Angels doesn’t help, of course. Still, if you find Gonzo “prosaic” (I find this assesment baffling, by the way) then perhaps you haven’t read it… I mean this as a compliment.

      • Josh Gondelman

        I really appreciate your treating with Juggalos with curiosity and dignity. Literally the night before this ran, a friend of mine and I were out at a bar discussing the need for someone to do a legitimate study of Juggalo culture that wasn’t all jokey. I could not have been that person, because I would have used the phrase “clown-tard” and been murdered in the woods. I like your style.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

        have you read fear and loathing by amelie nothcomb? 

        you probably haven’t. 

  • Madrox

    damn never read about these dudes on the internet before. miles st clair on the cutting edge

  • Thebx

    i’m glad unpaid blog kids who read tao lin and sit on the computer all day have found a subculture to feel superior to, but they’re really not interesting enough to keep writing about

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=612928768 Samie Rose

      I giggle snorted when I read this. Actually giggle snorted!

  • Lilsockerturk

    Hilarious!

  • Asdf

    Illinois u mad? u mad.

    Great article on a culture undeserving the writer’s attention. You, sir, are far too skilled for this.

    • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

      Disagree. Juggalos are interesting, in a cultural anthropology sort of way.

  • TYRONE

    I’M A JUGGALO SCRUB, ESTABLISHED SINCE DAY ONE.

  • Rachelpaul7

    Dear Miles,

    Do us a favor. Don’t come back to the Gathering next year. There are no words to describe how demeaning, ignorant, and trite (“trife” if you’d prefer me to don the role of what you stereotype as “juggalo”) this is. Although your writing is solid and you make it very clear that you are well-educated and witty, I’d like to pose a question: what are you really trying to accomplish here by lambasting and putting down an entire group of people that you know nothing about? I just wonder what kind of ego tripping has to be in the mix. This has been going on for 12 years now. The press has been cognizant for 2 of those 12 years and have only seen what I refer to as the “hillbilly biker effect.” Yes, I said it and I stand by it: most of the drugs and general nastiness is brought in by the locals and newcomers. (We weren’t always based in the backwoods south HOG rock, you know.) In any case, I digress…far be it from me to infringe your right to free speech. All I’m trying to say is: THINK. This site is all about “thought” is it not? Think about what you are doing, and truly have compassion and love in your heart at every step and before every word. That’s a good path to walk both in the world of writing and in life. Because when you are out here spreading these lies and misinterpretations (of which there are several in this article), you are hurting the reputation and pride of real people–thousands of us–and downplaying the beauty and love that is expressed and spread by their presence in these crucial times. Know that those you mock are the same people the “hipsters” leave their suburbs to join in the city. The uneducated but genius-with-a-heart-of-gold fry cooks. The single mothers who clean toilets. Two kids from the ghetto who managed to build an empire and, even better, a nation (do your research, journalist). And again, I am not here to judge or berate you. Just asking you with all due respect to please have respect.

    Much Love,
    J-Rach

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