Welcome to the Dark Carnival: An Introduction to Juggalo Ethics

This talk was presented in London, December 2015 |

In 1553 Nicholas Udall created what is generally regarded as the first comedy written in the English language. In the play, a foolish braggart, thinking he is irresistible to women, attempts to woo and then take by force, a wealthy widow.

In the 550 or so years since this play was published, the phrase Roister-Doister, taken from the protagonist’s surname, has been used to describe a swaggering, merry-making, blustering set of behaviour culminating in its use in the WikiHowpage at number 5 in the entry on ‘How to represent the Juggalo family‘. A long journey for a phrase, and some might say a descent.

Juggalo, the term used to describe fans of the hip hop horrorcore duo the Insane Clown Posse, is a term that originated in 1994, and although in mainstream culture it is a term open to derision, the phrase, and all the trappings that come with the formation of a sub-culture, have quickly formed into a coherent life-style, belief system, and ethical framework for those that adopt the identity.

Recently, Insane Clown Posse rose to prominence following the release of the song ‘Miracles‘, where they ask ‘magnets. how do they work’ and then go on to insist that scientists are liars. Following this the media reported that the group had been using explicit sexual and violent imagery in their songs to trick their fans into following a Christian message. Jon Ronson in the Guardian calling them evangelical Christians.

Although this was later refuted by the band, a Christian message in Insane Clown Posse songs is couched in the belief system referred to as the ‘Dark Carnival, revealed in their collection of albums known collectively as the ‘Joker’s Cards’.

I titled this talk ‘Welcome to the Dark Carnival’, because I wanted to invite you to get beneath the ‘Whoop Whoop’ hollering, Faygo drinking, white-trash stereotype of Juggalos and explore some of the philosophy behind the movement.

Online there are numerous Juggalo codes of ethics – and all focus on the same thing. While A.C Grayling needed a whole book to explain a moral code (love well, seek the good in all things, harm no others…), Juggalos manage to communicate many of the same ideas to a much wider and much more engaged audience using nothing but some clip art and Geocities-style lay out for their Juggalo Code. Its message? Love your Juggalo family, seek the good in all things, harm no others, be a ninja, carry a hatchet. Not much different from A.C Grayling’s atheist commandments.

Of course, Juggalo culture has been linked to gang culture, and with all groups there is an inevitable split in ideology. The conflicting message between the code and the song lyrics has led to violence, murder, and other crimes being adopted by the ‘violent Juggalos’ and rejected by the ‘non-violent Juggalos’, yet all believe they are party of the same family, and all believe in the Dark Carnival.

Which brings me nicely to the Dark Carnival – a concept explored in the ‘Joker’s Cards’ – two sets of six albums that reveal the Juggalo form a limbo and judgement.

Each album reveals spirits, characters who try to save the human soul by showing the wickedness inside one’s self – greed, rich stuck-up snobs and the class-system, dishonesty, sexual deviancy – and also reveals Shangri-La (Juggalo heaven) and Echo Side (Juggalo Hell).

In the Dark Carnival there are tests – the Riddle Box, the House of Illusions – that reveal the soul’s true nature, and judges – the Ring Master, the Jeckel Brothers, the Wraith – that make final pronouncements.

Of course, how this translates to the everyday life on a Juggalo is much the same as any quasi-religion… repetition of catch-phrases and traditions. Only, replace the anointing oils with Faygo, the hymns with hip hop, the prayers with getting high, and the baptism with titties for a dollar…

Welcome, everyone, to the Dark Carnival….

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