Post-postmodern Satire and More Juggalo Wonder

Post-postmodernism

Two weeks ago, I wrote a piece about the Insane Clown Posse and Juggalo culture where I argued that ICP’s project, so heavily distorted in the tropes and defenses of postmodernity, is essentially resistant to ironic satire and even parody. My piece was prompted largely by ICP’s newest video, Miracles,” a mawkish, sweetly dumb anthem brought to life as a mutant Spencer’s Gifts blacklight poster. A day or two after I posted, a friend sent me Daniel O’Brien’s article in Cracked, Learn Your Motherf#@kin’ Science: A Textbook for Juggalos.O’Brien’s piece seeks to correct ICP’s notion that “rainbows,” “giraffes,” and “magnets” are somehow unexplainable “miracles”; he uses Juggalo vernacular to address the myriad questions (and misapprehensions) expressed in “Miracles.” O’Brien juxtaposes Juggalo-speak against the schema of school texts to point out that “Miracles” is insanely, almost heroically stupid. He does this to be funny, of course, but I think that there’s a sense of exasperation to his parody. It buckles under the strain of mocking something already so radically open to an ironic viewpoint as to render said viewpoint null and void.

About a week after O’Brien and I ran our pieces on “Miracles,” Saturday Night Live attempted another parody of ICP (see my first post for more on their first attempt). Here’s their spoof of “Miracles”:

Again, it’s not very funny. There’s no insight or satirical value, no allegorical leap–it’s just an ironic viewpoint. But what else could it be? What’s left to a satirist when his subject is literally a clown in oversized shorts rapping about the magical mysteries of magnets? In her review of the episode at AV Club, Claire Zullkey wondered, “if SNL should get much credit for a near line-by-line parody of an Insane Clown Posse video that is already ridiculous and ironic,” and Annie Wu at TV Squad noted that “it quickly became obvious that the real Insane Clown Posse video was funnier. Sorry, ‘SNL,’ but no matter how hard you try, you cannot top unintentional ICP hilarity.”

But are ICP unintentional? As I argued in my previous post, they clearly tap into authenticity or “realness” in their project, both in their music and in their connection to their fans, the Juggalos. At the same time, this authenticity is bolstered by commonplace idioms and tropes of postmodernism–code names, fictional personas, costumes, make-up, self-invented mythos, argot, and a keen emphasis on self-referentiality. These postmodern defenses render the question of intentionality radically ambiguous. This is why the old techniques of satire and parody do not hold up very well against ICP: the realness of the thing in itself transcends the ironic viewpoint. Cracked did a much better job with this video:

It’s hardly hilarious, but its mash-up technique actually surpasses ironic-viewpoint-as-parody: there’s some real commentary here. The mash-up artist juxtaposes two “real” sources–a Glade Plug-in ad and clips from the original “Miracles” video and the result is genuine satire. What’s being mocked though isn’t the inanity of the Insane Clown Posse, but the larger inanity of mass commercial culture itself, in which people are encouraged to lose critical perspective, to be reduced to a child-like state of wonder by a fucking air freshener, a consumer product. The satire works by pointing out that the ICP video isn’t really any dumber than most other commercials–it’s just so brazenly over-the-top that we notice its inanity. Indeed “Miracles” calls attention to its inanity. It’s self-aware (perhaps). In any case, this juxtaposition of “the real” shows us that successful post-postmodern satire will not invoke an ironic viewpoint, but rather call attention to the limits of an ironic viewpoint. The “loudness” of ICP’s stupidity is so extreme that we take an ironic view, but what of the far-more subtle stupidities of Glade Plug-in commercials and their ilk? If “Miracles” is to be instructive, let us learn from its distortions, for what it distorts is really just part and parcel of 21st century American culture. It is a priori irony. It is meta-criticism. But it need not be instructive. It can simply be enjoyed for (whatever) it is.

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18 thoughts on “Post-postmodern Satire and More Juggalo Wonder

    1. Hey, Narwhal Party. I mentioned the Juggalo News in my first piece. I wrote: “It’s mildly amusing but ultimately offers no insight.”
      Its humor rests on the appropriation and recontextualization of Juggalo-speak . . . it’s an ironic viewpoint, one that paradoxically engenders Juggalo’s (rightful) claim to outsider status–a claim that defines “Juggaloness.”

  1. from today’s new york times:

    http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/26/fools-gold-an-oral-history-of-the-insane-clown-posse-parodies/

    a couple of nuggets:

    “I think we might have misused the word miracle.”

    “I was like, man, I want to feed a giraffe. Getting that close to some crazy-looking animal that only lives in Africa and Detroit? It’s not every day you just get to marinate with a giraffe, man.”

    but, i think that this one backs up my thesis from the first piece (i.e. — Juggalos “get” the way that others see them/that the ironic/smug vision of others codifies/confers their “Juggaloness”):

    “I get it. Two clowns floating around in space, [laughs] swearing, rapping about wonderful things. I get that that’s funny to an outsider. Everybody else that’s laughing at it, I put it like this: if it wasn’t so cold on the inside, it wouldn’t be so warm on the inside with all the Juggalos. If there wasn’t so much hate on the outside, people not understanding and people dissing us, it wouldn’t be as special as it is with fans of the band. I think it’s hard to be a Juggalo.”
    and then the writer of the snl piece:
    “They’ve all been surprisingly smart and really understood the joke, and been really game and happy to be parodied. It’s such a deep world. That’s all made me respect the world more.”

    1. That quote from the SNL writer only made me respect SNL even less than I already do.

      And some of those people you quoted seem to come from the Alanis Morissette school of understanding irony.

      ICP isn’t proof against satire just because you say that it is. They may realize that they are ridiculous, but the fact of the matter is that they are even more ridiculous than they think they are – for reasons that they obviously can’t comprehend. You are really over-analyzing some really and truly uncomplicated people and giving them more credit than they have earned.

      They may be impervious to embarrassment as the result of satire, but that’s just because they are too clueless to realize they really should be embarrassed. You can claim they are too “post-modern” all you like, there is plenty to make fun of and I’m still laughing. At them, not with them.

      1. I guess I wasn’t lucid enough in my post. I’m not arguing that you shouldn’t mock or laugh at Juggalos/ICP–my argument is that your mocking will likely be ultimately ineffectual, will simply amount to an aesthetic viewpoint that posits your own aesthetic ideals as superior to a Juggalo’s. Fish, meet barrel. Now shoot.
        I don’t actually know any Juggalos personally so I don’t know how intelligent they are, but I don’t believe that “uncomplicated” people exist anywhere; furthermore, the idea that a group of people work so hard (they paint their fucking faces, c’mon) to fit into a group with an outsider aesthetic speaks to a certain degree of “complication.”
        My interest in ICP/Juggalos has more to do with a transcendence of postmodern culture, of a move to something post-postmodern. I think hatred/anger–and willful mocking of Juggalos seems radically out of place, when you consider all the other awful assholes in the world who do genuinely evil things. If anything, it seems like people like to hate on Juggalos as a way of boosting their own sense of aesthetic superiority.

  2. Biblioklept, I agree that perhaps part of the ICP ‘Juggalo’ culture’s ethos is the degree to which they embrace ‘seeming’ ridiculous to the world, all the while understanding that being ridiculed (“if it wasn’t so cold on the inside, it wouldn’t be so warm on the inside”) is part of embracing Juggalo identification. Juggalo culture therefore actually feeds on a self-ironic awareness that crucially involves the larger culture’s smugness towards Juggalos, a blindspot in the mainstream necessary in solidifying Juggalo identification.

    The thing is, the framing device SNL uses actually adds another level of satire that I would argue is being missed: “Stankmouth Soda Presents: The Underground Rock Minute;” the MTV-like tv show geared towards Juggalo devotees underscores that the parody isn’t just on ICP and their moment of awe and appreciation coated over by ironic, self-referential post-modern pastiche, but on a (specifically working-collar, predominantly white) consumerist culture that would elevate one of their own to fame and adulation as a nexus point for amplifying their own imaginary identification (the way they would like to appear to the world).
    I would argue that SNL parodies the way in which ICP itself has finally reached a level of leisure and socioeconomic financial security to have a moment of (still self-ironic) awareness about the world around them; they’re not rapping about the harsh realities about living in a fractured, alienated world, but about realizing that they’re middled-aged men -with responsibilities like children to take to the park- who just discovered they have an 8th-grade level science education!
    Certainly both the real video ICP and the SNL ICP recognize the ‘miracle’ inherent to this turn of events- they *are* middle-aged white men singing in clown masks and telling scientists to go *uck themselves- but the real satire is the way in which their post-modern masks are inadequate in hiding the reality of ICP as part of a “white trash” (aka working class ‘non-ethnic’ collective with an oppositional stance towards mainstream media) consumerist collective bent on selling themselves (sponsored by ‘Stankmouth Soda’) and the way in which the “new direction” of their music, with a “positive message, that, yo, makes you think!”(SNL parody), and in Shaggy 2 Dope’s words, “that song right there, it’s about just appreciating the small things in life,” totally *misses* or ignores this fundamental fact about them. What SNL parodies is the hubris behind their image, an image that purports to be about art, it’s ambiguities, and the base for forming some Juggalo identification- but what it amounts to is SNL’s own tendency to feel comfortable making “white trash” jokes. Phew. Sorry, I guess your post inspired me.

    1. Hey, no “sorry” at all–great comments. I hadn’t really thought about SNL’s framing device, and I think you make a salient point there…although it seems we reach more or less the same conclusion–that SNL is smugly comfortable in mocking “white trash culture.” I like the NYT article I linked to above because the SNL writer admits that his preconception of them was off base. I didn’t cut and paste the final remark, from Violent J which I think is supremely ironic: he says something like “We planned all of this”; he implies, perhaps winkingly, that ICP are wholly in control here, that they’re spin doctors. At the same time, he seems to remove Juggalos out of that capitalist equation–that the Juggalos are also in on the plan (not the ones subjected *to* the plan); again, the outsiders are really the insiders.

      1. I understand your position but you seem to misunderstand mine. I don’t take issue with their aesthetic. It’s standard rock n roll theatrics. That’s not the origin of the contempt for them. They seem to make the same mistake.

        The “two clown’s floating around in space” line is really telling of how deluded they are about how they are seen. They’re assuming that anyone who notices how vapid and stupid they are only sees the surface. They don’t really “get” them.

        I grew up with the first kids that called themselves ICP fans. I know what goes into the music, the lyrics, the personas, etc. I know what the “lifestyle” is meant to be about. I may be an outsider in the sense that I think they are fucking awful but my distaste for them is not ill-informed.

        It’s precisely because they have the conceit to suggest that there is more to them than a teenybopper novelty act that they are so ripe for parody.

        It would be one thing if they truly didn’t take themselves seriously, as you contend. They clearly do. As they always have. I think in the past they’ve been better at concealing it behind the make-up and the “don’t give a fuck” pretense. But they tipped their hand with the release of “Miracles”.

        Which of course is just the culmination of ICP trying to grow and stay relevant to a rapidly aging audience that was perhaps moving away from the simple roots of trashy pop-nihilism and was now looking for answers to life’s more substantial questions. So rather than let their audience grow up and start seeking meaning elsewhere, ICP steps up to fill that void and tries its hand at self-help and spiritual guidance, (without fist thinking to remove the make-up or eschew the retarded slang). This is where they really started to truly enter the theater of unintentional self-parody (Yes, I said “UN”).

        So here they now are, actually trying to appear WISE and INSIGHTFUL. Saying incredibly stupid things like scientists are trying to trick them and that rainbows are mysterious. THAT IS FUNNY. Not because they dress up like clowns or try to talk like young black guys when they are really old and fat and white. It’s because they really think that they are being deep and meaningful. That people are just hating because they don’t understand.

        The parodies that you dismissed capture that perfectly. They really are funny. I laughed. Hard and heartily. The fact that you don’t find it so doesn’t automatically mean that they are missing something vital about the nature of comedy. I think a more likely scenario is the one that you seem most loathe to examine.

        Maybe you just really didn’t get the joke. And that’s fine. It wasn’t for you to get. Not all comedy is for everyone. It would suck if it was.

  3. @Manu Piz That’s exactly the point Biblioklept made, but you are obviously so far below what he meant that you can’t see your own ignorance. SNL parodying ICP as White Trash is hallarious and self-ironic because ICP isn’t white trash and they even post ironic morality in their music by rapping about killing people who truly are white trash with horrible ethics that think its acceptable to beat their wives and fuck their sisters. The ironic “reverse talking”, as Violent J puts it, in their music is exactly what us Juggalos are attracted to. I’m ignoring the economical viewpoints for the sake of expressing the point of this comment.

    Juggalos, simply put, are people who are tired with the moronic attitudes of the mainstream media, politics, and mob mentality. That’s why we relate to “wanting to” kill rednecks that beat their wives, murder pedophiles and politicians, and slash judges into pieces. Listen to ICP’s song “Terrible” from the Jeckel Brothers album and you’ll know exactly what I mean. Social commentary is a huge part of their music, but it’s surrounded with the wicked shit to push away people who are too afraid to look behind the death rap in order to see what they’re really saying.

    This ironic rap style is what causes so much confusion surrounding ICP. People want to blame ICP for some bitch ass Fuggalos not being smart enough to look at the true messages and taking their murder attitude seriously and applying that part of the music to their lives. True Juggalos relate to the morality of ICP’s lyrics and understand the ironicism of the murder attitude. The main ethical question that ICP’s lyrics pose is “How is it worse to kill and murder bigots, pedophiles, rapists, and abusers than to let them continue their highly immoral actions?”

    In other words, they’re going to hell anyways so let’s give them a one way ticket there before they can cause more harm. If our stupid ass justice system would take this attitude, our crime rates would drop drastically, but Juggalos don’t make this murder attitude an actionable part of our every day lives. We just keep the ironic attitude in our heads and dream of having a system that reflected this attitude.

    That reminds me, the crime rates near Juggalo gatherings are EXTREMELY low and usually the only crimes that do occur are victim-less crimes like having pot. Why? Who’s going to commit a heinous crime around a bunch of Juggalos who relate to music that expresses the ethical viewpoint I just mentioned? Juggalos truly are family simply by their shared attitude!

    If everyone on Earth had the same family mentality for their fellow man matching that of the Juggalos, many of our problems would be solved or least, much less abundant.

    -Libertarian Juggalo

    1. Hey, Gabirel — @yr 2:55 am comment (threading on WP is still not ideal) . . . You write:
      “It’s precisely because they have the conceit to suggest that there is more to them than a teenybopper novelty act that they are so ripe for parody.” — Good point, I agree–only my point in these posts was really just to argue that the SNL parodies were unsuccessful because they could never approach the ridiculousness of the real “Miracles” video/Juggalo infomercial.
      In your comment you suggest that “It would be one thing if they truly didn’t take themselves seriously, as you contend.” — My contention isn’t that they don’t take themselves seriously; I’m interested in *how* serious they take something that is so unbelievably stupidly *unserious*. In the post, I wrote that ICP’s “authenticity is bolstered by commonplace idioms and tropes of postmodernism–code names, fictional personae, costumes, make-up, self-invented mythos, argot, and a keen emphasis on self-referentiality. These postmodern defenses render the question of intentionality radically ambiguous.”
      By this I meant that, at least from my critical perspective, ICP’s intentionality is rendered moot. Whether they’re “in” on the joke or not doesn’t matter, because they present what they do as “not a joke” (unlike an act like GWAR, who always opened up the possibility that they were at once mocking the thing that they were doing (and doing so well)).

      You write — “The parodies that you dismissed capture that perfectly. They really are funny. I laughed. Hard and heartily. The fact that you don’t find it so doesn’t automatically mean that they are missing something vital about the nature of comedy. I think a more likely scenario is the one that you seem most loathe to examine.”

      I never argued that the parodies were missing something vital about the nature of comedy (and I’m not sure what the scenario I don’t want to examine is). My point, again, is that the ICP videos can be parodied but not really satirized, and that the parodies are really limp imitations that pale in comparison to the shining idiocy of the real thing. The Juggalo infomercial is 20 minutes of comedy gold that simply can’t be mocked, or at least can’t be mocked with any level of real insight.

      1. Just finished the article. Great stuff. Clearly an important entry in Juggalo Studies, on par with Morton’s seminal article “In the Land of the Juggalos” (Vice — http://www.viceland.com/int/v14n10/htdocs/land_of_juggalos.php).
        Stray observations:

        Love the comparison to Hamsterdam.

        Violent J: “Juggalos are just as human as the President!” declares Violent J. “With hearts and feelings and they’re important. They’re not lower-class humans or anything like that. They’re important fucking humans!”

        On family values: “Sherry likes that ICP is against wife-beating. Andrew likes that Insane Clown Posse are against child molesters.”

        On religion: ” “I’m a Juggalo, and I’m a Christian,” he says. “When I get up in the morning, I thank God for letting me live another day as both.” When the Gathering is over, he’s even going to stop smoking weed.”

        On calisthenics: “Juggalos throw things. They just do. ”

        Violent J, on magnets and backlash: “They know we don’t really not know how magnets work! They know we know that shit. We know what miracles are! And we know those aren’t all miracles. So why are people so mad about it? It’s Insane Clown Posse, we’re clowns, we’re singing about something positive, and they said”—from Detroit to New York, you can hear the caps in his voice—”FUCK THIS. THIS IS THE WORST SONG EVER MADE IN LIFE! You should go on YouTube and look at these posts! How mad these guys are! They’re so angry!”

        Violent J, on the power and majesty of The Gathering: “Both of us are on medication for this shit.”

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