The legal battle at the core of “The United States of Insanity” began seven years ago, and yet it couldn’t be more timely.
The documentary chronicles both the fans who worship Insane Clown Posse and the government’s attempt to dub them “gang members.” It’s impossible to watch the film, as colorful and chaotic as the band itself, without considering who else is on the FBI’s watch list these days.
“Insanity” reminds us the battle against government overreach is never over, and we need all the free speech warriors now more than ever.
Even when they come wearing grease paint and slinging F-bombs.
What is Insane Clown Posse, or ICP to its devoted fans? That’s Violent J (Joseph Bruce) and Shaggy 2 Dope (Joseph Utsler), Michigan natives whose rap teems with violence, bloodshed and coal black humor.
It’s the modern day equivalent of Elvis Presley’s swiveling hips.
They’re unapologetically crude and rude, and their fan base is affectionately dubbed the Juggalos. “Insanity” does a powerful dive into the Juggalo sub-culture, revealing fans who cling to each other like family.
That’s partially because their own families let them down.
Juggalos, tatted up and flashing imperfect flesh, find comfort in the band’s ghoulish humor. Call it therapy or wish fulfillment. Either way, the band-fan connection is impossibly strong.
We meet many self-described Juggalos, blue-collar Joes and Janes who embrace that ICP spirit. Some members, though, can’t separate the fantasy from reality.
“Insanity” duly notes how various Juggalos have broken the law along with some skulls. It’s why the U.S. Government deemed the fans a “gang,” meaning members often face discrimination for simply guzzling Faygo soda, the drink of choice for the loud and proud Juggalo.
One single dad couldn’t reunite with his estranged son because of his ICP swag. A nurse said she lost her job due to her ICP ties.
“Insanity” embraces how the media abhors both the band and its music. GQ dubbed the duo the worst rappers … ever. And you sense some of the group’s defensive posturing isn’t as heartfelt as they’d like us to think.
The duo understands the David vs. Goliath nature of Juggalo 101.
They still have a point. They’re the garish poster boys for free speech in America, part of a long line of artists punished for their art. Think NWA, Lenny Bruce and more.
“Insanity” doesn’t flinch from the group’s flaws, or the mischief made by select fan members. We’re treated to a series of harrowing news clips showing Juggalos accused of heinous crimes.
Another documentary might have downplayed that reality. “Insanity” doesn’t shy away from the fan base’s flaws, even if the overall impact is discernibly pro-ICP.
When a woman dressed as a nun gives a speech at an ICP concert some crowd members demand to see her anal aperture.
Free speech can be … interesting to defend at times.
The Juggalos interviewed here offer sobering points about the suppression they face for simply loving the band.
“America hates the poor,” one says, noting that many Juggalos struggle to make ends meet. Others work in the service industry for low wages and long hours.
The bulk of the documentary focuses on the fans as well as their hip hop heroes. The latter are both self aware and comical, especially when forced to defend their art against government critics.
“This is some crazy Communist s***,” Violent J says of the suppression, before adding, “I don’t even know what a Communist is…”
He still makes larger, more powerful, points.
“Stop and take us out of the equation. Look at what they’re saying…”
Americans found that out in recent months.
One startling moment finds the group’s lawyer, on site during a Gathering of the Juggalos, spotting a man he suspects is an undercover FBI agent stalking the concert. He confronts the man, seated in an all-terrain-style vehicle, asking if he’s with the FBI.
The gentleman quickly speeds away, refusing to answer.
It’s surreal to see the ACLU rally behind the hip hop duo. The august group once fought hard against free speech suppression. Today, the organization is often mute on First Amendment battles, like the one Dave Chappelle is currently waging.
ICP’s music is unapologetically violent, raw and teeming with ghastly images. So are extreme horror movies and various gangsta rap songs.
It’s all covered by the First Amendment, making ICP as American as apple pie.
HiT or Miss: “The United States of Insanity” is often as crude as the band it chronicles, but it uses humor to illustrate a larger point about American culture.