It was about five minutes after wrapping up my viewing of The United States of Insanity that I checked out my Facebook page and realized that one of the very few existing photos of my brother and I together had popped upon my page.
My brother passed away this past year after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer.
Oh, and yeah. My brother was a Juggalo.
He and I had always said that one year we would go to The Gathering, an annual gathering of Juggalos, and an event that was a bucket list item for him and most likely the #1 item on his bucket list. I will likely regret until the day I die that we never made it.
The United States of Insanity, co-directed by Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez, passionately reminded me why Juggalo Nation meant so much to my brother and why the music of Insane Clown Posse resonated so much with him. This feature-length documentary deals not only with ICP and their fans, but it also deals with the landmark civil rights lawsuit they filed against the Dept. of Justice and FBI when it was discovered that Juggalos had been labeled a "gang."
While in theory this may not seem like a big deal, the truth is it is a big deal because it gives law enforcement more power to enforce laws more randomly and without regard for truth. In practice, Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, the faces behind ICP, were hearing stories of Juggalos being arrested, losing custody of their children, losing jobs, and more simply because of the music they listened to and the fact that it is, and it definitely is, out of the mainstream.
Now then, I must confess that I'm not a Juggalo. While I have an appreciation for their admittedly intense music and I've always understood why my brother found it meaningful, I went more the punk rock route in terms of musical taste and have generally lived a quieter life than my brother ever did. While we had similar life experiences, we simply took two different routes for coping with it all.
We loved each other even though to look at us you'd have sworn we were miles apart.
The United States of Insanity transcends expectations. It's a balanced and fair documentary that gives both sides their voices, though there's never really any doubt where Putnam and Sanchez's true sympathies lie. While I'd dare say that most people have heard of ICP, some may very well be surprised that they are surviving and thriving with an ever-embracing and inspired Juggalo nation behind them. Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J have been ICP since the beginning, a clown-faced hip-hop duo with lyrics of sympathy and rage, challenge and anguish and much more. Inspired by some local police reports of random Juggalos performing some violent acts supposedly inspired by ICP's violent lyrics, the FBI included Juggalos in their national gang assessment a few years ago. I suppose they're ignoring the fact that law enforcement is known to have one of the highest domestic violence rates of any profession - where's their gang status?
Don't worry. That was a rhetorical question.
The truth is labeling either one as a "gang" is completely absurd.
The film follows ICP as they unite with the ACLU to find out why they've been placed on the gang assessment and to ultimately get themselves and their fans removed from the list.
The United States of Insanity is an insightful and intelligent documentary and, yes, it's also a little insane. While I've never been to the Gathering, I have been to an ICP concert and, yes, I have been with my brother. It's an amazing experience that is both out of control and yet measured within that. It gets a little bonkers, yet at no point have I ever felt out of place at an ICP concert. In fact, it's usually quite the opposite. As a wheelchair user, I often measure my concert experiences by how much I'm able to experience the scene and how much the crowd ensures that everyone has a good time.
At an ICP concert, it's like Juggalos are automatically drawn to those whom they know have survived. They're among the best concert crowds I've ever experienced and trust me, as a wheelchair user, that's not always the case with other music acts.
ICP cooperated with this concert, in fact Joseph Bruce, aka Violent J, even gets his mother in on the scene here and it's an absolute delight. Both of these guys are family men who've been touring as ICP since 1989. These are two guys who didn't graduate high school yet have built this success story and built this fiercely loyal community.
There is, of course, a frightening aspect to this all. History, even musical history, has a long line of bands who've defied authority and paid a price for it. It's frightening how easily something like this could happen and so quickly impact the lives of people simply because of their musical taste.
It could happen to you. Heck, it could happen to me.
Putnam and Sanchez followed ICP and Juggalos for several years, partly for the completion of the project and partly to ensure actual relationships were built. It's these relationships that give The United States of Insanity its life blood. The film premiered at Fantastic Fest, had a successful Fathom Event, and has expanded into limited release. I wish my brother could be here to see the film. He'd have loved it and I have no doubt he'd have said "Putnam and Sanchez get it, man."
Indeed, they do.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic