Despite remarkable popularity and obsessive fans not seen since the head Deadhead died, Insane Clown Posse manages to attract little attention from music critics or cultural commentators. (For the uninitiated, look upon their wikipedia, ye mighty, and despair.) But despite the amazingly off-putting profanity and sexual imagery of Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope’s horrorcore lyrics, clearly these two rappers have a powerful ability to connect with what I think it’s fair to characterize as an alienated and disaffected fan base. I think the ICP phenomenon is probably a lot more complex than and interesting than it appears, even though cultural elites seem to disdainfully regard it as something unfortunately endemic among the lower classes like the musical version of methamphetamine. (Then again, there’s probably a lot of overlap on the ICP fans and meth users venn diagram.)
So when the Guardian reported (profane language warning) last weekend that the Insane Clown Posse was outing themselves as “evangelical Christians” I wasn’t entirely surprised. Last year, after seeing a viral video for ICP’s bizarre concert festival, “The Gathering of the Juggalos,” (also NSFW) out of morbid anthropolgical curiosity I spent some time learning about the group. I was struck by how many religious themes the band’s “Dark Carnival” mythos seemed to embrace. Indeed, The Guardian notes that the capstone to a cycle of six concept albums was a song called “Thy Unveiling” that actually caused some controversy among ICP fans when it was released in 2002. The song goes a little something like this:
[Expletive] it, we got to tell.
All secrets will now be told
No more hidden messages
…Truth is we follow GOD!!!
We’ve always been behind him
The carnival is GOD
And may all juggalos find him
We’re not sorry if we tricked you.
How on earth do you square this with so many other offensive and unChristian things that ICP sing about? In June, ICP explained it to a New Jersey newspaper this way:
Violent J has no problem explaining why Insane Clown Posse couched a spiritual message within such violent, profane and sexual language.
“That’s the stuff that people are talking about on the streets. So in other words, to get attention, you have to speak their language,’ he said. “You have to interest them, gain their trust, talk to them and show you’re one of them. You’re a person from the street and speak of your experiences. Then, at the end you can tell them God has helped me out like this, and it might transfer over, instead of just come straight out and just speak straight out of religion.”
That’s interesting, but not a whole lot to dig into and it really doesn’t begin to address the scope of contradiction here. But whereas the quote above is just an aside in a larger article about ICP, the Guardian devoted an entire article to specifically discussing the group’s religion. Beyond the fact they declare themselves Christians, we learn absolutely nothing about the specifics of their faith and beliefs. They’re described as “evangelical” — but why? We’re not sure. Where do they go to church? Why did they decide on this, uh, particular vehicle for spreading the good news? And interestingly, back in the late 90s, when ICP was signed to Hollywood Records — a Disney subsidiary — the label recalled an ICP’s album the day it was released and dropped the band because it appears Disney was concerned about being protested by the Southern Baptist Convention. It sure would be interesting to ask the band about that in light of recent revelations.
There are many specific questions that the revelation of their faith prompts, yet we get nothing aside from some broad platitudes about God’s creation while discussing the band’s infamous “Miracles” video. (Again, profanity.) Since the Guardian outed ICP as Christians a weeks ago almost all of the follow-up pieces have been snarky pile-on pieces from the music press.
I’d always thought that cultural commentators were ignoring ICP at their peril, but now it appears that there’s an interesting religion story that’s being missed here as well.