In part 1 of “Toward a Juggalo Theory of Value,” we explained what a Juggalo is, why you should care, and some different ways we can approach thinking about value in economics and political philosophy. To review:
1.A Juggalo is a fan of the Insane Clown Posse (a rap-hard rock/metal group that wears clown makeup) and related musical groups who tends to show or adopt specific cultural markers, like wearing clown makeup, being an outcast, and spraying Faygo soda on other Juggalos.
2.You should care because their numbers are large growing, even though ICP’s overall popularity has waned (though never really gone away entirely) and record sales in general have also waned. Now, the juggalos have reached a level where they are getting noticed, pushing ICP back into the spotlight in new, unexpected ways that other organizations can learn from.
3.Nothing has intrinsic economic value – no good, no service, no commodity; not gold, not food, not houses. While it may seem that investing in one thing over another may seem foolish because it is nontraditional, unorthodox or “worth less,” (like investing in fostering your core fanbase rather than selling albums to the mainstream, even when your fanbase are a relatively small group of Juggalos, at least at first) something is only ever worth what you can get for it or do with it.
So, during the last ten years or so, the Insane Clown Posse has seemed dormant, at least to people outside certain parts of the American Midwest, but has been steadily building its fanbase. This seems like it might not be a worthwhile endeavor, but from today’s vantage point, it seems like it was a really good idea.
Today, we’ll talk about why Juggalos matter now more than ever and why organizations across business and politics are all trying to make their own Juggalos.
Juggalos and the fading interference of technology-driven consensus
From here on out, I’m going to use “Juggalo” to refer to anyone who is a strong partisan and evangelist for a brand, institution, product or service who shapes his or her lifestyle to around that thing on which he or she is focused, often alienated and with hostility directed toward competitors, often paying a social cost in hostility in turn, who shapes discourse, vocabulary and aesthetics around the thing, and who experiences it socially along with others – Juggalos qua Juggalos speak of being as such as being “family” – that’s a good way to start talking about it – brand as family.
So, somebody who watches every Cincinnati Bengals game is not a Juggalo, but somebody whose browser homepage goes to the Cinncinnati Bengals site, who yells about other football teams all the time, who says all numbers in Spanish, who seems to think everything revolves around Cleveland despite not living there, and who meets twice a week with the same group of friends to either watch a Bengals game or socialize around the Bengals and what they do to the point where other people start to think this person is crazy would be a Bengals Juggalo.
This is as good a time as any to start talking about social capital. It’s a fairly popular topic (you may have read about it on this very site), but for those to whom it may be new, I’ll introduce it.
Social capital has a lot of definitions, but I like to think of it as the idea that your friendships and other personal relationships – with colleagues, teammates, family even – have a quality that makes them productive or actionable. Because my relationships with my friends are so good, we can all get together and do cool stuff we couldn’t do separately – that’s social capital. You can have a social network that doesn’t have a lot of social capital, because it is just a bunch of people who exchanged contact information who don’t do anything, or you can have a social network with lots of social capital, which can lead to both groups of people doing stuff they wouldn’t do otherwise or doing stuff they would do otherwise, but more productively.
Juggalos are a powerful wellspring of social capital, but they have drawbacks – the main one is that they tend to scare away uninterested civilians – you do not appeal to the bulk of a population of tens or hundreds of millions of people with a bunch of crazed partisans. Witness this report, which is amusing, because it is by news anchors who seem pretty confused, but insightful, because it notes the importances of the Juggalos having organized chapters and a web infrastructure:
And watch this old clip of ICP on the The O’Reilly Factor, because it is hilarious:
This latter clip is less about the Juggalos than about the problem ICP has as a brand: they are very easy targets. They scare people in the mainstream, so those who make their money (or other value, of course, money isn’t the only thing with economic value) feeding the controlling the fears of the mainstream benefit from targeting them. O’Reilly gets credit from the people who watch his show for painting ICP as worse than they are (as much as I myself am not a fan of people doing drugs, joking with a teenager that he should smoke weed is not the same as telling that teenager to smoke crack, and O’Reilly knows it).
Of course, for ICP, this is kind of the point – and for anyone with the patience and perspective to understand what ICP is trying to do, what O’Reilly is doing is pretty funny because of how much it feeds into their social message. It’s part of their brand and it’s a major reason why they were able to (and needed to) cultivate Juggalos a decade before a lot of the people who are now scrambling to do it were interested.
Still, as much as we can downplay the influence of media and mainstream thinking by saying there’s no such thing as bad publicity, there really is such a thing as bad publicity. You just can’t admit it sometimes. Against the backdrop of the Columbine school shooting, ICP’s brand was eviscerated in the media. In case you weren’t around then or not paying attention, ICP and Marilyn Manson were scapegoated by the media for the shooting for years afterward, despite there being no reason to believe they were responsible except for the way in which we are all collectively responsible for everything that happens in the world – and that’s too high a standard for a just court of public opinion. Of course, the court of public opinion is not just.
And the media evisceration did hurt ICP’s business, because even if ICP doesn’t particularly care about the hysteria of mainstream media, their business partners do. This story from Wikipedia is telling:
“Two music videos were released from the albums: “Tilt-a-Whirl,” from Bizaar, and “Let’s Go All The Way,” a cover of a Sly Fox song from Bizzar. MTV agreed to play “Let’s Go All The Way” on their network, airing it once in the late evening. Bruce and Utsler decided to bombard Total Request Live (TRL) with requests for the video. While on their “Bizzar Bizaar Tour,” Insane Clown Posse posted on its website that December 8 was the day for their fans request the video. Bruce and Utsler named that day “The Mighty Day of Lienda,” meaning “The Mighty Day of All or Nothing.” On December 8, Rudy Hill, Robert Bruce, Tom Dub, and six other Psychopathic Records employees and friends drove down to New York City. They were met by nearly 400 Insane Clown Posse fans standing outside in front of the TRL studio window, all with signs supporting the duo. Thirty minutes before the show began, Viacom security guards and New York City police officers were dispatched to remove all the fans from the sidewalk. When some fans, including Robert Bruce, refused to move because it was a public street and no other individuals were asked to move, they were assaulted. All telephone requests for the video to be played were ignored, and Insane Clown Posse was never mentioned during the show. MTV later informed Island Records that the heads of the network must choose the band first before it can become eligible to be featured on TRL.”
Media criticism makes businesses nervous, especially large organizations, which usually don’t have constructive ways to deal with blame and responsibility (shocker, I know) – when consensus is important to holding together an organization and keeping it functional, then focused mainstream media criticism is too dangerous and potentially destructive to internalize. It’s not just the damage to the brand or the product – it’s the damage to the organization’s own fragile social infrastructure. This is why large hierarchical organizations avoid things that draw fire.
However, organizations driven by Juggalos don’t really care about mainstream media criticism as much, even if they are large. In general, individuals are more resilient than companies – they have thicker skins.
So, the more powerful and monolithic mainstream media is – the more damaging their disapproval can be and the more important trumped-up condemnations become – the worse an organization that relies on Juggalos – on off-putting partisans who are targets for criticism – is going to do.
But, as the power of mololithic, mainstream media has declined over the last ten years, the relative advantage of having juggalos over other sorts of marketing have increased quite a bit.
Nowadays, if your brand gets smacked around on the local news, do you really care? Say you’re in Maryland on the east coast of the USA; you’re selling t-shirts to people in California, Singapore, Africa, Vancouver, Mexico – this local news report isn’t going to get to most of them. Plus, who watches the local news anymore? Not nearly as many people as used to – Conan O’Brien is a great example of the decline of entertainment consensus – great guy, tons of fans, I’m one of them, but not enough of us watched NBC anymore to bother watching his show.
Furthermore, even your fans in Maryland aren’t beholden to people who care what the news says. Your vendors and their vendors probably have devolved supply chains. Everybody uses the Internet a lot. People meet on forums of their choice or Facebook walls of their choice to listen to the things they want to hear, and the offering of B&B goods and services has so proliferated online that if the local news scares some of your business partners away, you can always find others.
MTV doesn’t even play music anymore, so there’s that.
Conan O’Brien is a great example of somebody who went from having customers to having Juggalos – well, they were perhaps not quite as dedicated or familial in nature, but there was definitely a transformation. Conan has said that NBC actually asked him to stop the Internet “I’m with Coco” movement – as if it were something he actively controlled – a further sign of the discomfort and disconnect of large hierarchical organizations with Juggalo-driven organizations.
Political parties in the United States are another example of organizations that have Juggalo’ed up of late – in particular, the Obama online juggernaut from 2008 and the Tea Party folks. These are people who really strongly socially identify with what, in an economic sense, at least, still functions as a brand that you are selling to people – the democrats developed and put out the Obama brand and the Republicans developed and put out the Tea Party brand, both while giving people a lot of free reign to think they created it themselves or it was really an independent, “grass-roots” movement when it wasn’t.
And it’s worth noting that both of these organizations have had times when they have been antagonistic to hierarchical party leadership. Obama’s Juggalos would really like it if he did some of the things he never really said he’d do, but that they assume he’d do, because they created a character of him that was a lot more liberal than he is. Tea Partiers would really like to throw out a lot of the GOP leadership and start over, and tend to require that Republicans identify as independents in advertisements or against the establishment before voting for them, like with Scott Brown.
This is of course dangerous to party leadership, who are much more personally invested in keeping their jobs than in the victory of their party overall – but in the current environment, where scapegoating some random singer on TV and saying you need to apply some unimportant band-aid “for the children” for political points doesn’t really pack the punch it used to in most circles – in a place where the consensus has fragmented and changed the way technology amplifies is – Juggalos are too important to ignore.
The benefits of Juggalos
Here are some of the things Juggalos make happen, which you cannot do with a more strictly hierarchical organization, or which you cannot do yourself.
Juggalos say what you can’t say – This, to me, is the big one. Many organizations, private or government, commercial, political, or ideological, are pretty hamstrung as to what they can officially say in public. They have relationships they can’t antagonize, they have rivals within their own organizations they don’t want to give ammunition to, and they have legal consequences of making false claims when, let’s face of, most of what is said in everyday discourse by most people would be pretty expensive to defend if somebody decided to sue you for it.
So, say I make soap – I can’t say my soap is the best and other soaps suck and are shitty and don’t even get you clean. Legally, it isn’t defensible; my competitors could sue me. PR-wise, it’s unwise; my business partners in the soap industry wouldn’t really appreciate me saying such a thing; maybe some of them are religious, ascetic zealots and hate swear words (it happens all the time), and I might alienate some of my large customer base. And my rivals within my own company would jump on it, say it was inappropriate and irresponsible to say, and try to take my job.
However, if I have Juggalos – people who are really amped up and excited about my soap, get angry at my competing brands of soap, and live their live around my soap such that other people keep them at arms length, they can put that message out there, and it can’t really be pinned on me. I have plausible deniability.
The BP CEO says that he “wants his life back” after the company he runs, through decades of cost-cutting and lobbying for lower government regulation, kills a bunch of people and fouls a good portion of the ocean. He is in hot water (yuk yuk) and will probably lose his job. But it wasn’t really a “gaffe,” as people say – he made a mistake to say it, sure, but it was true and he meant it – that is really what matters to him now and what he cares about, and that isn’t going to change even if PR and marketing successfully rehabilitate the company’s image. That’s just the values you have when you run a company like that.
But a Juggalo for oil drilling can say such a thing and mean it – can put it out there on the Internet and the public consciousness and disperse it, and there wouldn’t be as many consequences for BP leadership.
This is, I think, the main reason why you see big organizations frantically building Juggalo networks these days. They are trying to get out from under onerous restrictions on saying what they want to say – of course, sometimes what they want to say reflects they are actually horrible people, but they aren’t really interested in this. They are interested in what works in the marketplace.
And with ICP – who are, by the way, not horrible people at all, they seem by all accounts to be pretty good people – nevertheless have to say things all the time that lead people to think they are horrible people. But by transmitting their message through their Juggalos rather than through the mainstream media channels, they can say what they need to say – layered in complex irony and discursive expectations that are difficult to parse, but intuitive to their audience – without getting hit for it.
Juggalos are faster and smarter than you are, especially collectively – From inside an organization, even a successful one you built yourself, the collective capabilities and productivity of your Juggalos – what they can accomplish in a very short period of time, often dwarfs what you are able to get accomplished. There are a ton of underutilized, smart people out there who can send messages around the world to thousands of people before breakfast – people that other people really listen to. Why not have them working for you for free? Heck, why not find a way to pay them?
Especially taken as a whole, the ability of ICP/Psychopathic records to do stuff is much less than the ability of the aggregate of all the local and regional Juggalo organizations to do stuff. So, by enlisting Juggalos, ICP magnifies what it can get accomplished significantly.
One organization/brand/institution that is particularly great at this is Magic: the Gathering players. The company runs tournaments with prizes that incentivize the aggregation of teams of smart, highly skilled people to spend lots of time and energy with their product – those people and others then build their own communities that figure out new ways to play, new strategies, new things to get excited about around the product. A lot of those people open or run small businesses – card trading websites or game stores – which in turn improve distribution, access to markets, and the overall infrastructure that supports the product much better than the parent company Wizards of the Coast could do itself.
Wizards of the Coast is very dependent on their Juggalos. They need hardcore Magic players, even when they do not market to them, because their skills and capabilities contribute significantly to the way the product goes to market and how it is received.
It’s no coincidence that, in the age of the hard-core fan and the decline of mainstream media, that Magic Cards, a product with lots of hard-core fans that has historically been accused by mainstream media of alternatively promoting gambling and Satan worship, is hosting its biggest tournaments ever and selling more product than ever before – even during its mainstream heyday of the mid-late 90s.
This is also particularly of note with regards to technology – Juggalos adopt and master new technology far before and far better than their parent organizations do. I sincerely doubt ICP could have built the websites that helped strengthen the early Juggalo communities in the late 90s themselves. But there were Juggalos out there that could – so they didn’t have to hire nearly as many web developers. This extends to technologies where you can’t even buy the best thinking out there – like social media in its early days, or perhaps even now, to an extent, the best people at using it aren’t for sale. But if you earn their devotion, they’ll be on your side.
Juggalos are more flexible in crises – When the pace of news travels fast, organizations can never really hope to keep up. But Juggalos can. Because they are less cautious, better organized, and, collectively at least, smarter and faster, you really want to have Juggalos on your side when something goes wrong. They will be out there talking to people and on the Twitters doing damage control for you before you’ve had breakfast (Again? What’s with the breakfast?).
Of course, the side effect of this is that you really can’t screw over your Juggalos too hard, because they can make a crisis for you as quickly as they can ameliorate a crisis made by somebody else – or by your incompetence or human tendency to make mistakes. They can turn on you and apply a lot of pressure. But the flexibility and efficacy they give you when things go badly is more than worth it.
Juggalos transcend brand – It’s always awkward to talk about Juggalos as “brand ambassadors” and the like — they aren’t about your brand, they represent something bigger than your brand that a company really has trouble wrapping its hands around. They represent the customer’s experience interacting with the product on every level of life.
Now, if the product is something like music, this makes sense, but is still something that would stymy a record company. If it is politics, it also makes sense, although it is often cynically exploited. When it starts being about soap, then you can take notice (although it is already about technology products a lot – witness Apple, another organization with lots and lots of Juggalos).
Hopefully this gives you a sense for why I think ICP is in great shape (even if Violent J should slim down a bit for the sake of his health), and the beginnings of why we are headed for a future where more and more organizations foster the development of their own Juggalos.
“My soap is the best and other soaps suck and are shitty” can’t be that far away.