Welcome to Evolution Explains, Motherboard’s weekly investigation into the human-animal (humanimal?) condition through the powerful scientific lenses of ecology and evolution. Don’t say you didn’t learn something. Now get to readin’ already.
With Jack White producing tracks for Insane Clown Posse and the 2011 Gathering successfully in the books (Juggalo court be damned) it seems high time to again discuss just how awesome the Juggalo Nation really is. Such a chaotic, fuck-the-world, clown-based party culture has probably never existed before in human history, and may be impossible to replicate ever again. But are Juggalos unique in the animal kingdom? Not exactly.
While there are plenty of party animals out there, the closest thing to a Juggalo animal analog would have to be the group of tropical avians known as birds-of-paradise. Collectively bundled in the family Paradisaeidae, there are 40 species of birds-of-paradise, every one crazier than the next. If you ever saw the brilliant Planet Earth series, you’ve been introduced to their very Juggalo-like characteristics: the birds look like clowns and dance around like they’re hopped up on Faygo and paint thinner.
Look at these bad boys dance!
Without trying to get too existential here, how is it that these magnificent, loony creatures came into being? Well, the usual biology cop-out answer applies: it’s just evolution, baby! But it’s a bit more complicated than Charles Darwin sticking his head out of the heavens to proclaim “And now, on this island, a bunch of regular birds will turn into silly ones!”
When you watch the videos back to back, it’s tough to tell them apart.
Evolution isn’t an active process. The whole ‘natural selection’ thing is a bit of a misnomer because there isn’t anyone or anything picking which plants and animals are best, and those plants and animals aren’t deciding to grow different colored flowers or hair. It’s more a product of mathematics. There are random variations in everything’s genetic code, and those variations translate into a varying number of potential future kids. This is your evolutionary fitness: If you have more kids, you have more copies of yourself flooding into the gene pool year after year.
Think of it this way: One day a cheetah is born that’s faster than all his peers. That means he’ll have an easier time catching food and escaping hungry lions. Because of that he’ll likely live longer, which means he’ll have more time to make more kids, which means more copies of himself having a larger influence on the future cheetah gene pool. He’s the superior cheetah, and by all probability future cheetahs will evolve to be more like him.
But does that explain our bright dancing birds and Juggalos? Well, not exactly. If physical prowess was the only thing driving evolution, all birds would fly 90 miles an hour and an we’d all look like young supermodels. There are tons of other aspects affecting the process including, most importantly for today’s discussion, a sexual one.
Let’s go back to our super cheetah for a second. Say, for some reason, the ladies simply don’t like him. Maybe he spends too much time at the gym, or his ego is too big or whatever. Instead, the girls love a chubbier cheetah with better listening skills and more game. Turns out chubby cheetah is the one getting laid all the time. His fitness is actually higher than the buff, lonely cat.
That’s the key to the appearance of birds-of-paradise. At some point a bird was born with a few teal feathers out of nowhere. The girls, for reasons unknown, liked that. With teal-feathered birds having a higher fitness, more of them appear over time. As they become more popular, women who prefer them also have more success finding mates.
It’s the same concept with Juggalos. One day some dude listening to ICP decided to try on a little of the band’s face paint. Within the ICP fan crowd, he suddenly became more popular. Seeing his success finding mates, others followed suit. As Juggalo face paint became more prized, people started taking it to new extremes, girls included (unlike most female birds, who are usually drab colors to hide while sitting on their nests all day, female humans have no nests and can get as weird as they want). Soon dances and songs became incorporated, and a new community was born.
What’s intriguing about both the birds and the Juggalos is how quickly they’ve become so specialized. The birds-of-paradise have plumages and rituals far more intricate than much of their feathered brethren. In terms of human scenes, the Juggalos are way beyond the various genres of the t-shirt-and-jeans crowd. Why is that? It’s a curious aspect of island biogeography theory: smaller, isolated populations evolve more quickly than large, freely-mixing ones.
On their tropical island homes, new traits sped through the small populations of birds-of-paradise faster than they would have if the birds had to deal with all the varied issues of a continent-spanning range. It’s the same for Juggalos, whose natural habitat is the tiny, isolated village of Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, where the gathering is held every year. By migrating to a virtual island with nothing around it, the Juggalo community cuts out the riff-raff, allowing new attributes to freely spread through the population with a pill-fueled abandon.
So there’s your end-all ecological explanation for why species of party birds and death clowns exist. The question now is, with both groups so extravagantly evolved and so supremely specialized, where do they go from here?
Stayed tuned for next week when evolution explains why dogs eat shit. And if an explanation’s what you’re looking for send queries to firstname.lastname@example.org