By this time, she was hooked. Benevento had found a worthy research subject, the Juggalos an unlikely advocate.
In the years that followed, she has come to understand Juggalo beliefs more deeply. "The way Juggalos act towards one another as a family is extremely Christian," she said. "Pay it forward, be really cool to everyone, share, talk to people who are by themselves. All of these are very Christian ideals, whether or not people identify them as such."
She compares Juggalo Christianity to a Joel Osteen–style megachurch: "It's more about Christianity in your life, not about what the Bible says. You can go to a Juggalo show in Worcester, [and] meet all the people in your area. The Gathering [of the Juggalos, a four-day Woodstock for rappers held in Illinois] is like an annual revival."
Among the Juggalos
Last year, Benevento attended her first ICP show. "I was concerned about what to wear," she told me. Face paint would have made her feel "like a poseur," so she abstained. "It was my first one, so I didn't try to talk to people," she said. She went alone. "I could not convince anyone to go with me. I was freaked out that they might not treat women that well, especially women alone that are not with another Juggalo," she said, basing her opinion on lyrics such as, "I'm hating sluts / Shoot them in the face, step back, and itch my nuts."
Nobody shot her in the face. In fact, she found the Juggalos were pretty nice. "I thought it was going to be a lot more insular, kind of like goths," she said. Instead, "people talked to me and wanted to hang out with me." She has since been to another show.
Last summer, as part of a Chicago series, Benevento delivered a lecture on Juggalo religion in which she tracked ICP's album-by-album revelation of their beliefs. The hundred-person bar was filled to capacity.
Those who turned up expecting her to make fun of her subject were likely disappointed: unlike most outsiders now looking at Juggalo culture, Benevento's appreciation is devoid of irony or disdain.
"People think ICP is so much different than other bands, but I don't think it is," she said. "People think it's different because they don't like it. If you go to a Dan Deacon show, there's all these kids wrapped around him, having the best fucking time in the world. Do they really get what he means? Do they like this ironically? They're just kids having a really fun time. That's just what music is. [But] the unexamined good time is not cool. We kick it to death."
Benevento attributes our culture's current ICP fixation to the so-called irony gap. "I think it's always easy to make fun of the person who's being sincere," she said. "ICP is the most sincere band working today. It's the most sincere music that exists. Suck it, Conor Oberst. This is the easiest possible thing to make fun of if you're trying to be ironic: it's a bunch of adults talking about grade-school concepts."
She is, of course, referring to the song "Miracles," source of the inescapable bon mot "Fuckin' magnets — how do they work?" Benevento is quick to defend ICP, even at their most willfully stupid. "I don't understand how magnets work," she said. "I could find out, but why would I? I'm a straight-up atheist, but it's weird to me that people have missed the point of that song."