Insane Clowns for Jesus

A librarian probes the theology of Juggaloism
By EUGENIA WILLIAMSON  |  October 25, 2010

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JUGGALIBRARIAN: Jenny Benevento brings here library-science-fu to bear on the field of Insane Clown Posse studies.

My friend Jenny Benevento's Juggalo infatuation started gradually.

Her first week as a Reed College freshman, someone invited her to a concert featuring "hilarious clowns that rap." She passed.

"I did not cross paths with the Insane Clown Posse between 1997 and 2006," she told me last week in a phone call from her home in Chicago.

Her ignorance was understandable. Until last year, ICP had yet to penetrate the national consciousness. "Juggalo" was not a recognizable term for adult ICP fans in clown makeup. The New York Times and the Guardian had yet to send reporters to probe the minds of ICP impresarios Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope.

Benevento's first real ICP encounter came the summer of 2006, while working as an academic librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Benevento learned that ICP — in addition to rapping about killing people while wearing face paint — had Christian leanings. She was intrigued. In college, she developed a fascination with evangelical Christianity. To that end, she has attended services at every kind of Christian church, trekked to Branson, Missouri, to meet Jim Bakker, volunteered at a Promise Keepers convention, and visited the Precious Moments Museum — twice.

"I'm sort of obsessed with anything evangelically insane," Benevento said. So she ordered two ICP CDs. They arrived on August 2, 2006. That day, while lunching with another librarian, she mentioned her acquisition. "It somehow came up that they're still popular," Benevento said. "I thought, how is this possible?"

Then the waiter, who appeared to be in his 30s, revealed that he knew several Juggalos. This was astonishing. "I thought only teenagers listened to bands like ICP," she said. "I thought they were like N'Sync and Justin Bieber, then I realized the amount of money they're making and the number of CDs they're selling and the merch they're selling. . . . It's not this teen phenomenon, it's something else."

True believers and apostates
When she got home from work that day, Benevento tried to find out exactly what that something else was. "It started off as not a musical interest," she said. "Are they really Christian? That's when I started listening." Applying the research skills she learned while acquiring her MLS, Benevento embarked on a strange journey into the hearts and minds of the Insane Clown Posse and their fans.

That evening, she listened to the albums, read Juggalo message boards, and discovered ICP are, in fact, Christians who rap about necrophilia. "Every early record has a very specific purpose in the cosmology of where you're going to go after you die," Benevento said. When ICP revealed their devotion to Christ, the Juggalo community split into factions: true believers and apostates, both of whom are still able to put aside their differences to do drugs together in the woods.

Benevento wrote a lighthearted preliminary analysis, which she then posted on her personal blog. The Juggalos answered, and "Who is a Juggalo?" took on a life of its own. The post circulated on ICP message boards, where Juggalos questioned her conclusions and motivations. In the coming months, they posted thoughtful responses to Benevento's blog. The Juggalos wanted to be heard, to set the record straight. Benevento answered back respectfully, and her blog became a locus of Juggalo debate.

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