The rage to understand

As the incoming editor of the culture section of Contexts Magazine, I’m on the hunt for excellently written work on all aspects of culture, home and abroad. There are a few topics I’d love to address. To name a few: the rise of Tea Party enthusiasm, the debate around the proposed Islamic center near the World Trade site, and the sub-culture of Juggaloos, fans of the band Insane Clown Posse. I’ve got the first two covered. Who’s up to do the Juggaloos piece?

To give you some sense of what they’re about, here’s some video coverage of the 2009 Gathering, from a mini-documentary called “Gathering of the Juggalos” by Derek Erdman. (warning: profanity)

Perhaps the reference point in the sociological/musicological literature is Karen Bettez Halnon’s 2006 piece, “Heavy Metal Carnival and Dis-alienation: The Politics of Grotesque Realism” (Symbolic Interaction). Here’s the abstract:

Based on four years of concert fieldwork and extensive music media analysis (including bands such as Cradle of Filth, GWAR, Insane Clown Posse, Marilyn Manson, and Slipknot), this article shows how heavy metal music and its carnival culture express a dis-alienating politics of resistance. Applying Bakhtin’s multifaceted conceptualization of the carnival-grotesque, the author explains how grotesque realism in metal music and performances constitutes a proto-utopian liminal alternative to the impersonal, conformist, superficial, unequal, and numbing realities of commercialism and, more abstractly, a resistance to a society of spectacle and nothingness.

There’s a lot to interest a sociologist here: the Gatherings are part Woodstock (complete with a bartering economy, a spirit of mutual assistance, sexual permissiveness and a sense of being “out of time”), part hard core music festival. The fans tend to be working-class, white, high school educated folks with a sense of being societal outcasts. Much of the ethos of the music community and festival depends upon the assertion of a very patriarchical outlook, marked especially by the “show us your tits” orientation toward women who participate.

A nice comparison could be made to lots of working class, male subcultures, reaching back to Paul Willis’s “Learning to Labor.” That is to say, I feel strongly that now is the time to understand how working-class people relate to wage labor given the massive economic changes of late. While the Juggaloos are somewhat spectacular and perhaps easily dismissed or held in disdain, there’s aspects of their ideology I suspect we’ll find in many pockets of American culture.

And while I’m on the topic of economic change, I strongly suggest that you take a look at Joshua Clover’s excellent recent piece in the Nation. Clover is simply brilliant, one of the best writers of our generation. This short article is a master work, taking as its premise that classical economic theory fails to explain what Marx ably predicted.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The rage to understand

  1. Jenn Lena

    How. And butterflies too. How the fuck do they work?

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