There are few more maligned and misunderstood American musical subcultures than Juggalos. Despite recent re-evaluation and attempts at image rehab from some engaged critics, the community of fans around the mythmaking Detroit rap duo Insane Clown Posse tend to be skewered and vilified in all kinds of bad-faith ways. They’re still perceived by much of the dismissive mainstream as either insidious presence or punchline, and those extremes are what make director Sean Dunne’s American Juggalo and American Juggalo 2 stand out, with an observant approach that gives Juggalos a chance to speak for themselves.
American Juggalo takes place at the Gathering of the Juggalos, the long-running ICP festival at Cave-In-Rock, Illinois. Dunne gets a lot of mileage from the question “What does being a Juggalo mean to you?” eliciting a wide range of illuminating perspectives. Most interviewees emphasize family over debauchery, with professions of devotion to and love for their community alongside, say, a love for explosives. Some dissonance remains, though there’s little judgment.
There are touching moments, such as one woman celebrating a fellow Juggalo doing more for her than her own family, or a man describing his sense of life’s meaning as he sits on the waiting list for a kidney donation. It’s the balance that counts, as Dunne shows the motivations and nuances of these make-up wearing, Faygo-spraying, “Whoop Whoop!”-ing attendees in a way that feels far more fair than usual.
The sequel is an even more contemplative character study, this time focusing on Alexander “Less Legs” Perkins, a Juggalo who lost his legs in a train accident and finds place and meaning in the community. Centering Less Legs’ own raps, which narrate his own rise, fall and rebirth as a Juggalo, it’s an unflinching look at loss and the transformative power of the community. Together, the two shorts are an entertaining and thoughtful one-two punch, clarifying and highlighting the depth of Juggalo fandom on a collective and individual level.