Tag Archives: goth

The First Stats on Subculture Hate Crimes Are In


Photo by Flickr user fluffy_steve.

Some of you may recall the stories of Sophie Lancaster and Melody McDermott, two Manchester-area women who were beaten — one of them to death — for looking “goth.” Well, in 2013, Manchester police began coding these attacks as hate crimes, and at the end of the year they revealed their statistics on hate crimes in the region.

While the number of hate crimes against goths, emos, metalheads and others in the area is small compared to the vast number that target people based on race, sexual orientation or other factors, it’s a big step for police to recognize them at all. To call out attacks that are specifically driven by the way a person looks — and their sense of otherness — is to prevent the attacker from being able to hide behind other excuses, and it also reminds others that harming someone because they’re different isn’t acceptable. That’s especially true given that many places, including in Greater Manchester, the punishment for hate crimes is greater than for other types of assaults. This, in turn, can encourage victims to report them.

More police departments need to follow Manchester’s model and recognize hate crimes against subcultures. As the region’s crime commissioner, Tony Lloyd, told the BBC:

“The impact of hate crime extends far beyond the initial incident.

“By their very nature, hate crimes are very personal attacks that leave victims, who are often already vulnerable individuals, feeling defenceless physically and emotionally.

“Because of this, victims may be reluctant to report the crime or — worse still — may come to accept hate crime as an inevitable part of their lives.”

New book, “The Columbine Effect,” Dec. 1

I have big news! My new book, “The Columbine Effect: How five teen pastimes got caught in the crossfire and why teens are taking them back,” will be released Dec. 1. Those pastimes — violent video games, heavy metal, paganism and the occult, goth culture and RPGs — are also the foundation of this blog, and the book is a partner to what I’ve been writing here. I’ve been working on this project for a long time and I’m excited to finally be able to share it. Please watch the trailer above, and check out a more detailed summary, as well as the first chapter, on my website. Enjoy.

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!

In Ridgeway death, “goth” is scapegoated again


Sensationalist media have had a field day with Austin Reed Sigg, Jessica Ridgeway’s alleged 17-year-old killer.

Is Austin Reed Sigg a goth who was infatuated with death? Did he hang out in the “goth corner” with the “metal heads” at school? Was he a Nazi wizard (whatever that is)? Did he play World of Warcraft and Call of Duty?

Over the past week, plenty of news has come out about the demise of 10-year-old Colorado girl Jessica Ridgeway and the 17-year-old boy who led police to human remains, which were underneath his house. He has allegedly confessed to killing her, and a prosecuting attorney has said there is DNA evidence against him.

It’s almost funny how many different tropes the media have tried to pin on Sigg: goth culture, heavy metal, violent video games.

Did Sigg do it?

If so, what would his choice of clothing, school hang-out spot, video games, music, or even speculation about a cross found at a crime scene have to do with it?

Whether or not Sigg committed this horrible crime is for the court to decide, and let’s hope that he has a fair trial, with competent people working both sides of the case and a jury that is capable of setting aside its biases. And let’s also hope that, if Sigg did kill Ridgeway, that he gets more than locked in a hole for life, because a 17-year-old (or anyone) who commits such a crime needs help, not isolation and abuse.

I say that because while I was away, I was lucky enough to see a press screening of West of Memphis, Amy Berg’s new documentary about the West Memphis Three. It is such a stark, vivid reminder of what happened to Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Miskelley, who were jailed for 18 years on charges of killing three 8-year-old boys in Arkansas. Their case has some of the same hallmarks as Sigg’s: a gruesome crime against a child, a community hungry for justice, a teenage boy whose interests are less-than-socially-acceptable; a confession. Yes, there are differences, particularly the fact that Sigg turned himself in, had body parts under his house, and the DNA evidence (if the prosecuting attorney can be trusted); there was no such thing as DNA evidence when the WM3 were convicted, and there’s now ample DNA evidence that they were not involved.

Still, my point is that mistakes can be made this early in the game — mistakes that can send the wrong person to jail for a long time, while the killer may walk free.

My point is that a community starved for a scapegoat will sometimes land on whoever’s most convenient, particularly if he looks different or just never fit in. If something seemed “off” about him. There’s a big difference between someone who makes you uneasy and someone who’s guilty of murdering a child. One is a personal feeling. The other is for a judge and jury to decide.

My point is that calling this kid a goth doesn’t make him any more guilty than he may already be. Calling him a “Nazi wizard” doesn’t, either. All it does is imply that somehow the simple act of being a goth, or even a neo-Nazi, means you might as well be a murderer. And that’s an awful thing to say about a group of people, no matter how you feel about their beliefs.

Goths, understandably, are concerned. In that forum, “CallaWolf” said, “This, to me, almost felt like scapegoating. I wear all black on almost a daily basis (and as I’m writing this, I’m actually wearing a Slayer shirt), and while I do not know any fellow goths outside of this site, I still kinda consider myself a part of it in one way or another, but the very idea of doing these things is apalling to me.”

“Nephele” said, “This happens periodically: The news media confusing sociopaths with goths.”

And CanCanKant said:

Even if the perpetrator does consider themselves a goth, I don’t necessarily think that it was his “gothic” tendencies that caused him to commit heinous crimes. The overwhelming majority of people I’ve met that are goth are very cerebral, calm, introspective types. Hardly the kind to do anything harmful to another human being, especially on this scale.

It’s the tendency of the general public to equate dark, or especially black, clothing, band paraphenalia, tattoos and piercings with the word “goth” that causes this confusion. So many music and art related subcultures use these things, but not all of them would be considered goth. You notice how it’s used to shock. It’s quite sad.

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?