Tag Archives: goth culture

Throwback Thursday: Columbine ‘Goth or not?’

While digging through old articles a couple of weeks ago, I came across one from the Associated Press, written in the days following the Columbine Shooting in April 1999. Written by Michael Fleeman, it’s titled, ‘Goth or not? High school massacre puts spotlight on dark sub-culture.’

The article echoes the conventional wisdom of the day — that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were involved with goth culture somehow:

Columbine students described the suicide assailants, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, as part of clique of about 15 students who looked to their classmates like Goths. They dressed the part with their black trench coats, rain or shine. Harris belonged to a Web group featuring Gothic lore.

However, it also (surprisingly) gets many things right, such as pointing out that goth culture is predominantly peaceful. Fleeman also interviewed folks in the scene, including a publicist for Cleopatra records and a gothic-magazine editor. This quote is particularly smart:

“I think for kids Goth is a source of power, a source of community,” said Kirk Olson, an associate with Minneapolis-based Iconoculture, which does market research on cultural trends. “Kids who feel alienated are searching for power in something else. One way of doing that is to differentiate themselves as much as possible from the mainstream.”

Follow this link to read the whole thing.

Why do you think this reporter was able to achieve such balance and good information, while so many others were sensationalizing goth culture as a cesspool of violence? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

I’d like to start regularly posting older pieces like this one. If you’d like to recommend a throwback article, please email me.

Top 10 backward messages of 2012


James Holmes: Six months later, do we know why he did it?

We’re coming to the end of Backward Messages’ second year, and what a year it was. We had some immense tragedies, including mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado; Madison, Wisconsin; and Newtown, Connecticut. Goths around the world also took a major hit, with attacks in Iraq and Britain, but a goth singer in the United States surprised everyone. The word “Satan” was tossed around, as it always is, describing everything from Lady Gaga to the Hunger Games.

Last year we looked back at the blog’s top 5 posts, but I wanted to go a little broader. Here’s what drew people most in 2012:

1. Let’s play “imagine the Aurora killer’s motivations!” After James Holmes killed a dozen people in a movie theater, the press had a field day trying to answer one deceptively small question: why?

2. Young opera singer proves goth culture can nurture: Although he didn’t last long on “America’s Got Talent,” Andrew De Leon surprised his audience by (gasp!) not sounding like a monster. Go figure.

3. New Yorker cartoon: the pagan version of blackface: Why are Wiccans still depicted like ugly old hags?

4. Are “The Hunger Games” sacrifices Satanic? I can’t believe I even had to ask that question.

5. Goth, metalhead beaten in separate UK attacks: In the UK, being different remains an unfortunate liability.

6. It’s time to listen to the moms of violent young men: After Newtown, how long will it be before we help young men struggling with violent thoughts — and support their families?

7. Bloody bath lands Lady Gaga in hot water: This wasn’t the first or last time Gaga was called “Satanic” this year, but it was one of the more creative. She was also banned from several countries, on the grounds that her stage show is Satanic.

8. “The New Satanism” in heavy metal: Speaking of Satanic, heavy metal persists in not being as Satanic as its reputation makes it out to be, but there are a handful of musicians keeping the faith.

9. Ohio shooting: What’s “goth” got to do with it? After Columbine, the press has found ways to link almost every youth-committed mass shooting with goth culture. And every time, reporters have been wrong.

10. Iraqi youth stoned to death after leaders link emo culture to Satanism, homosexuality: One of the most heartbreaking stories of the year.

Happy new year, everyone. See you in 2013!

It’s time to listen to the moms of violent young men


Suspected Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza.

Thirteen and a half years ago, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold brought guns to school, killing 13 classmates and faculty before turning their guns on themselves. When President Bill Clinton solemnly addressed the nation after the shootings at Columbine High School, he said, “Amidst all the turmoil and grief … perhaps now America would wake up to the dimensions of this challenge, if it could happen in a place like Littleton, and we could prevent anything like this from happening again.”

Did we wake up?

Since then, frankly, as a nation we’ve done fuck-all to stop another one from happening. And they’ve kept happening.

While we’ve been listening to the “researchers” like Craig Anderson, Doug Gentile and Brad Bushman, whose hundreds of studies have permanently embedded in our brains a correlation between video-game violence and real-life aggression, young men have kept shooting. While we’ve been listening to the nightly news blame the occult, heavy metal, and goths, young men have kept shooting.

Within hours of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, one of Fox News’ talking heads was already laying it on about video games — without knowing whether suspected shooter Adam Lanza played them. CNN and Sen. Joe Lieberman — also on Fox News — were not far behind.

In the past two days, the Daily Mail has run at least two articles linking Lanza with goth kids, as though that simple fact would have made him a killer. If anything, goth kids — who are about as non-aggressive as kids get — would have taken him in because he was different, he didn’t know how to get along, and they were able to make space in their social group for someone like him.

We don’t know, precisely, what Adam was like. The two people who probably knew him best — himself and his mother — are dead. His mother, who apparently quit her job at Sandy Hook Elementary a few years ago so she could take care of him, even though he was almost an adult. What was going on with Adam? In the coming days and weeks, we may know more. For now, all we know now is that, for whatever reason, his mother felt he needed full-time care at an age when most young men are getting ready to leave the nest.

The thing is, I think a lot of moms know — parents know — when their kids are teetering on the brink of violence. Or when they’ve gone way over the brink. One of the pieces circulating today is by mom/blogger Liza Long, who wrote a post Friday that’s now being called, “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” She isn’t — but she is the mom of a violent 13-year-old whom she fears:

On the intake form, under the question, “What are your expectations for treatment?” I wrote, “I need help.”

And I do. This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense.

I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am Jason Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map). Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.

After James Holmes shot a dozen people in a Colorado movie theater this summer, didn’t his mother say she knew he’d done it? How many other moms have had that conversation with police — they felt helpless to protect their sons from those violent feelings, and they knew it was only a matter of time before their sons hurt someone else?

I know it’s tough to talk about mental health here without stigmatizing huge swaths of people who battle mental illness but aren’t dangerous to themselves or others. But we need to try. Note that most of the perpetrators in mass shootings wind up killing themselves at the end of the event. I’ve heard such massacres called elaborate forms of suicide. Something, temporarily or permanently, has gone very wrong in their minds. And in most cases, there seems to have been adequate evidence that they were capable of such violence. There were signs and plans leading up to the event. There were caring people who tried to intervene, but for whatever reason, these boys and men slipped through the cracks.

Their moms: are they asking for an end to violent video games? To goth culture? To paganism? To heavy-metal music? No, they aren’t. They’re asking for something American society is loath to provide: adequate mental-health care. Treatment. Protection, for their boys and for themselves. And for society. Caring for others, especially potentially dangerous others, is contrary to our “everyone has the freedom to make his own choices”/”everyone can pull himself up by his own bootstraps” philosophies. But at what cost?

So while the debate rages on about gun control, video games, and goths, what are we doing for moms like Liza? What are we doing to actually prevent this from happening again?

So far, nothing.

Black-clad Denver stabber is probably not “goth”


Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in “The Dark Knight Rises”: not a goth.

A small article crossed my path this week about a violent break-in in Denver. Police say man forced his way into a woman’s condo, stabbed her, and left. They described him as “dressed in goth attire.”

Hmm. So he looked like this? Probably not. Here’s what they said:

The man, who was white and appeared to be in his 20s, was “dressed in all black,” she said, including a black cap and black eye liner.

So, he was basically dressed like anyone else trying to look like an outlaw? Hm.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone specifically dressing up like a goth to go and commit a crime. My guess is that the perp knew the victim, and that his choice of clothing (or eyeliner, if that’s what it was) had little to do with it.

The police’s choice to use the word “goth” in his description doesn’t help — it seems unlikely that this is someone who “dresses goth” habitually. As regular readers know, goths are generally nonviolent to a fault, often unwilling to defend themselves when directly attacked. All this does is reinforce wrong-headed ideas about goth culture — and not even in the name of tracking down a man who hurt someone.

That may be one reason that parents worry when their kids participate in goth culture. A teen recently wrote to the wonderful Ultimate Goth Guide site, asking for advice because her mom is clamping down on her style:

I’m afraid to talk to [my mom]. She thinks Goths are a bunch of depressed druggies who are crazed over horror, death, blood and guts. She refuses to listen if I start to explain otherwise. Any ideas? I need help!

The girl has already toned down her appearance, but it hasn’t helped. Amy Asphodel, who runs the site, has some excellent advice, including 1) continuing to dress goth but not using the term; 2) making compromises, but saving favorite pieces of goth clothing for when she moves out, and 3) asking her mom which clothes she objects to most, and working around that.

Parents, when your kids try to communicate with you, welcome it, even if it makes you uncomfortable. This is a way to build bridges, to understand each other better, to love more and worry less.

Is 7 years in jail enough for stomping a goth’s face?


Melody McDermott, right, and Stephen Stafford, outside the court where their attackers were sentenced this week.

Just how much jail time is enough to punish someone for pushing a stranger to the ground, kicking her, and stomping on her face?

Less than seven years, apparently.

That was the sentence for Kenneth Kelsall, the 47-year-old UK man who attacked Melody McDermott and Stephen Stafford last year on a Greater Manchester tram. His accomplice, 43-year-old Gareth Farrar, was sentenced to two years and two months.

The sentences came after a judge witnessed the attack via closed-circuit television; video has since leaked to the press. The attack comes out of nowhere, and begins and ends so quickly you’re left wondering what happened. Judge Elliot Knopf called it an “explosion of violence.” (The man who gets on the tram during the attack, and then gets off: Did he go for help? I wonder.)

McDermott survived, fortunately; other young goth women, such as Sophie Lancaster, weren’t so lucky. But McDermott’s face was so badly damaged she says she can no longer smile. Long after the attack, she suffered panic attacks on crowded trams at night.

Not having covered many UK trials, I can’t comment on how Kelsall and Farrar’s sentences compare to those in similar crimes. They both pleaded guilty, so I’m assuming the sentences were reduced. Although McDermott believes she was attacked for her goth appearance, such attacks are not considered “hate crimes” and aren’t met with enhanced punishments.

So, how much jail time is enough? Is it enough to get these men off the streets (and trams) for a few years? Will jail make them better, or worse? Will it heal McDermott’s trauma? Will it prevent other young women from being brutalized?

I don’t know the answers. I don’t know if we’ll ever know.

That said, prejudice against goths appears to be alive and well in other parts of England. Also this week, I read a post by a goth woman titled “An open letter to the Church of England,” in which she describes the discrimination she experienced recently when she went to church. She writes:

My experience has not been one of welcome but of whispering, pointing, and people generally wondering how I dared to come into their church – a recent experience involved being shaken warmly by the hand by a welcoming committee member who then turned to her neighbour, without bothering to lower her voice as I walked away, and asked “we won’t get more like that, will we?”

More than anything else, I would implore churches not to call themselves inclusive, and not to claim to be welcoming to all people and all demographics, until they have considered whether they are actually capable and willing to welcome the individuals who may then walk through the door.

I can — to some extent — not feeling wholly safe on public transit. But not feeling safe and welcome in church? Yes, church is a place where ideals and reality can be pretty different. But something seems very wrong with this picture.

How can we fix it?

Young opera singer proves goth culture can nurture


Is it so surprising that a young goth man could have such talent?

The country is abuzz about Andrew De Leon, the 19-year-old who wowed the judges during an audition in Austin, TX this week on “America’s Got Talent.” Two things about De Leon have gotten people talking: his impressive, self-trained falsetto opera voice, and his goth-rock look.

The entertainment press is making a big deal of the fact that someone with his looks and style would sing the way he does. In fact, his look is making headlines everywhere, as though there weren’t tens of thousands of kids who dress similarly, inspired by the same shock-rockers who meant so much to De Leon growing up. This singer’s shy, isolated, outcast upbringing is typical for goth kids, both in the sense that he didn’t feel like he fit in, and in the sense that he turned to music and culture that nurtured him. Clearly his self-directed interests paid off, giving him the time and space to practice his talent — and knock the socks off everyone when he finally shared it. Here’s what he said about his adolescence:

“Growing up, I was a huge fan of Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie and all these different rock stars. They really became an escape for someone like me, who felt that I was an outsider. Growing up, I was alienated because I was never interested in athletics or what everybody else in my family was interested in. Singing was always an escape. It was always a comfort zone. Being on ‘America’s Got Talent’ is a huge step for someone like me, who’s never sang in public before, never sang in front of even my family. I think my days of being shy and of being an outcast have reached their end, and I’d like to be able to really show what I can do.”

Getting on that stage was clearly a moving experience for him — and for the audience. When Howard Stern asked him what he was thinking after he sang, he said, “I’m just so used to being rejected, and I’m not really good at anything, so this is amazing.”

(I have to wonder what was running through Sharon Osbourne’s mind, watching him, recognizing that the bloodlines of her husband’s work led directly to this young man singing before her. She had to have been proud.)

Here’s the thing: listen to him talk. He knows what he likes. He knows what he’s into. He knows why he got into it, and he knows why it was good for him. He’s not a 40-year-old with 25 years of hindsight; he’s 19, and he knows. Clearly, he amassed some confidence, enough confidence to get up on that stage and reveal his talent and ability, something he’s obviously worked on.

In a culture where some believe “Goth Will Destroy Your Child” or “God Hates Goths,” where people still believe Marilyn Manson is still somehow responsible for the Columbine High School massacre, De Leon is living proof that goth culture can be profoundly nurturing, too.

EDIT: A new video has surfaced of Andrew performing “Ave Maria” a capella — probably in his bedroom — in corpsepaint, a Misfits shirt, and skeleton gloves. Maybe he’s less pure goth and more shock-rock. I suspect we’ll find out more as he performs on AGT. Check it out:

Justice in anti-goth hate crime?


Melody McDermott (left) and the man who attacked her, Kenneth Kelsall (right), outside the UK courthouse where Kelsall was convicted.

Goths worldwide celebrated World Goth Day this week. But another, more bittersweet, victory came today with the news that Kenneth Kelsall has pleaded guilty to the vicious assault on Melody McDermott last October. The 47-year-old UK man and his accomplice, Gareth Farrar, will be sentenced in July.

Much of the case revolved around security footage of the attack. According to attorneys, it began when Kelsall head-butted McDermott, knocking her to the ground of the tram they were riding. McDermott began kicking at the tram doors for help. Farrar pushed McDermott into a corner of the tram. He then turned to McDermott’s companion, Stephen Stafford, and punched him to the ground. Stafford was kicked in the face, sustaining an injury that required stitches. Somewhere in the attack, Kelsall kicked McDermott in the head numerous times, breaking her eye socket. Needless to say, the attack could have been fatal if it had continued.

Farrar’s attorney actually told the court, “He can be seen swinging two punches against the complainant. But he is a man of 43 and effectively good character.” (I’m not sure you can attack a girl half your age, just because you don’t like her looks, and still be of “good character.”)

Although the Daily Mail called the attack a “hate crime,” it was not and could not be prosecuted as such — subcultures such as goth culture are not protected under the UK’s hate-crime laws, despite efforts to gain such protections.

There’s no word yet on the sentences Kelsall and Farrar would face. The Mail said it would be “lengthy,” but quotes Judge Elliot Knopf as saying “they could both face jail sentences.”

Whatever happens, I want to cheer McDermott for bringing charges against her attackers, facing them in court, and doing her part to make sure they face the consequences. It remains to be seen what those consequences will be — and whether they will teach these men not to brutalize others.