THE UNITED STATES OF INSANITY movie poster | ©2021 Fathom Events

THE UNITED STATES OF INSANITY movie poster | ©2021 Fathom Events

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Joseph Bruce, Joe Utsler, Michael Steinberg
Directors: Tom Putnam & Brenna Sanchez
Distributor: Fathom Events
Release Date: November 12, 2021

 THE UNITED STATES OF INSANITY is a documentary that’s partly about a weird clash between fandom and law enforcement. More precisely, it’s partly about what happened when the FBI investigated the band Insane Clown Posse’s ardent fans – known as Juggalos (the way Jimmy Buffett fans are known as Parrotheads) – as a gang and a possible terrorist organization.

Once the case is introduced, THE UNITED STATES OF INSANITY also becomes a broader documentary about Insane Clown Posse and the Juggalos overall, with lots of general interviews and concert footage. At the start, the film goes into flashback mode, giving us the history of Insane Clown Posse. Joseph Bruce, aka Violent J, and Joey Utsler, aka Shaggy 2 Dope, were childhood friends in Detroit. After starting their own wrestling league as teens, they became the Inner City Posse. Then face paint and inspiration struck, and they became the Insane Clown Posse.

The Insane Clown Posse’s music could best be classified as slasher rap, with songs that are about mayhem and murder. The mainstream reviews of the albums are the kind that are so ferociously negative that they register as hilarious. At least the songs don’t leave most listeners indifferent.

The band has a large, loyal, and loving fan base, who come together at concerts and weekend-long events. Many testify here, on-camera, to the sense of camaraderie and acceptance they feel in the Juggalo community. To demonstrate this isn’t just lip service, filmmakers Tom Putnam & Brenna Sanchez give us images and interviews with Juggalos who indeed would face ostracism in many situations based on appearance alone. The crowds seem mostly white and working class, but there are people of color, and ICP is vocally inclusive of everyone.

Of course, ask any fandom that’s together at an event, and they will talk about a sense of family, whether they’ve rallied around STAR TREK or Justin Bieber.

However, STAR TREK fans don’t appear to have been designated as gang members. In THE UNITED STATES OF INSANITY, the band members and the Juggalos speak at length on how they feel targeted by law enforcement. There’s a sense that this is a matter of economic class – Insane Clown Posse speaks to the disenfranchised and, as one woman puts it, “America hates the poor.”

We can wish THE UNITED STATES OF INSANITY had been a little clearer on the point that there have been actually criminal gangs calling themselves Juggalos. Of course, most Juggalos aren’t gang members (and most gang members aren’t Juggalos). There are white supremacist Stormtroopers, and STAR WARS fans who dress up as Stormtroopers from that film franchise don’t appear to have been investigated on that basis. Is this because there was historical precedent for the designation, or because these fans are mainly middle-class, or because law enforcement didn’t want to tangle with STAR WARS’ mighty corporate parents? It might have been illuminating for the film to speak at least a little to other potentially comparable situations, where gangs have adopted monikers associated with fandoms.

ACLU attorney Michael Steinberg speaks persuasively about the civil rights implications of making someone’s taste in music legally suspect. Several fans testify about losing jobs and even child custody due to the gang designation. Bruce, Utsler and others talk about the logistical and financial challenges caused by the issue.

Primarily, filmmakers Putnam & Sanchez seem interested in just letting audiences get to know Bruce, Utsler, their families and friends. We see them perform, we see them at home, we hear them talk about their backgrounds. There’s a relaxed, hanging-out feeling in THE UNITED STATES OF INSANITY that seems to fit with the fan-embracing nature of Insane Clown Posse, even though it’s at odds with most of their lyrics.

For a documentary, THE UNITED STATES OF INSANITY uses a lot of unrelated film clips to illustrate certain points, which feels like a bit of a cheat. There’s also the matter of exactly which audience the movie wants. The legal aspect is intriguing, but this film seems primarily aimed at Juggalos who want to see and hear all they can of Insane Clown Posse and each other.

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