Prejudice is alive and well, nourished by the media.
Ignorance is the root of all fear. We fear the things we do not understand, ergo education can diminish and/or eliminate fear.
I was watching Dateline NBC recently. The featured story was about two high school kids implicated in the murder of a younger teen. Allegedly, the younger girl liked the company of the boy involved, but had a rocky relationship with the girl he had a crush on. He admitted he liked her as well, but neither wished to incense the other girl. To be close to him, the younger girl tried to befriend the older one, but she wasn't buying it and sometimes was unable to tolerate the younger girl's presence to the point she felt she had to explode in rage or make violent threats against her to get her to back off. The younger girl just didn't seem to take the hint or was so infatuated with the boy that she was oblivious to the kind of ire she was provoking. The strange relationship culminated in the backseat of the older girl's car in the parking lot of a fast-food joint. The two females engaged in a physical struggle until the younger one seemed to pass out. Some minutes later it was realized she was dead. The older teens panicked and rather than come clean and get things over with, exacerbated the situation by concocting a lie about their last sighting of the girl to tell the authorities, then attempted to dispose of the body, eventually requiring the assistance of yet another teenager with a murky social understanding who agreed to help cut up the body and hide the parts.
I hope you're outraged. You should be. The entire event is repugnant and the players frightening for the roles they partook in.
Here's what irked me, though.... During the interview, Handsome News Guy questioned Confused Teenage Boy about the little murderess and asked him what kind of person she was...what kind of clothes did she wear?
What kind of clothes did she wear? "Oh, she wore a bloody butcher's apron and a mask made from the peeled-off face of one of her earlier victims!" No, that's not what he said. "She liked dressing in mechanic's coveralls and hockey masks or sometimes wore nothing at all but romped around carrying huge feather fans doing burlesque routines right in the middle of the school hallways." Strike two. What did the kid on tv tell the interviewer? He said I dunno, she sometimes wore like tank tops and baggy pants...stuff like that. To which Handsome News Guy responded with the prompt, You mean goth? She dressed goth? And Confused Teenage Boy shrugged slightly and said, I guess—if that's what you want to call it.
In a courtroom, this tactic would be labeled Leading The Witness, and is a deplorable means of trying to convince a judge and/or jury that something is something other than what it actually may be. Short version: It's lying.
My wife occasionally picks up copies of Gothic Beauty Magazine. I've seen pictures of the military-type goths, babydoll goths, Renaissance-style goths, Victorian goths, Art Deco goths, vampire goths, metal goths, Euro goths.... Were you aware that the category has many smaller subdivions based almost entirely upon preferred style of clothing, and sometimes hairstyles and accessories? Some of the categories blur a little, but if you decide to start breaking them down rather than generalizing the bunch, you'll begin noticing the differences and similarities that separate one goth type from another.
Tank tops and baggy pants? The majority of us think of black when we think goth. Many goths prefer black, but some like olive drab and camouflage, some like red, some wear almost exclusively white, and then there are goth/grunge types like me who usually walk around in jeans and T-shirts of nearly any colors that catch my fancy, but are often in the earthier, drab range.
Tank tops and baggy pants...maybe she was a big fan of rap music? Maybe she enjoyed outdoor activities or something of a tough, lesbian look. In the news program, it was alleged that she was bi-sexual. Perhaps she was going for something neuteral or even mildly asexual?
How did Handsome News Guy get goth out of that?
From Columbine. Until only recently, I was unaware that the whackjobs who shot up that school allegedly dressed all in black or at least wore black coats that day.
And everyone knows that merely owning black clothes plants you squarely in the middle of goth land.
Cowboys wear black, priests and nuns have long favored it, there's always a black knight story, SWAT teams seem to like it, some cops dress in black uniforms, Bettie Page is often depicted in black, Ozzie Osborne, My Chemical Romance, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Elvira, pirates, coachmen, The Pittsburgh Steelers, stereotypical cat burglars, ninjas, undertakers, the bad guy from the Scream movies, the Quaker Oats dude, anyone cool from The Matrix, scuba divers, grooms...all of these people, of course, are pure goth and therefore probable Satanists and criminal miscreants to be avoided and shunned at all costs.
Yesterday I was listening to my favorite radio station, and the call-in topic was the fact that most animal shelters in the United States put a temporary ban on the adoption of black cats and white rabbits around Halloween in an effort to protect these animals from ritualistic torment and/or sacrifice. A local girl called in to support the ban, mentioning that she used to work in a pet shop and that goths would often come in to buy animals to slaughter them.
Goths? Goth is not a religion and therefore cannot be linked to any ritualistic or spiritual beliefs or behavior. Aside from the dress style, goths in general are often introverted, intellectual, with a fascination with death. They come from a wide variety of religious backgrounds and belief systems, and there are even Christian goth groups who dress like the Addams Family but firmly believe in the teachings of Christ.
I'll concede that people dressed mainly in black who perhaps wore heavy dark makeup entered the pet shop this girl worked at and may have made comments regarding the possible slaughter of the black cats or whatever animals they were gathered around in seriousness or in jest. If you are familiar with my works here in the 'Den, then you know I have a very black sense of humor. It is not uncommon for me to crack jokes about dead people or animals. At my grandmother's funeral, I asked my mother if I could wear my SWAT team uniform since it was black and I was a pallbearer. I have never in my life intentionally killed an animal except for the occasional bug. I am a hippie-type environmentalist with a really offbeat view of death, so I can easily imagine fellow animal lovers with dark humor making jokes about killing critters for Halloween, and assuming this radio caller never actually witnessed any animal sacrifices made by customers who favored black garb, I am forced to admit that perhaps they were merely joking and she perhaps misunderstood them.
For the sake of probability, however, I will offer the idea that these "goths" as she termed them were not goths but some stupid Americanized branch of homemade Satanists who liked to get drunk or high and torment animals while working their way up to Death Row for future charges of manslaughter. Most of the goths I know have pets and have had them for several years, through a handful of Halloweens. Just because a person wears black does not make them goth. If a person of any cultural or societal background enjoys torturing animals, however, you have a possible future serial killer in the making. The majority of recognized serial killers are not goths even by the loosest interpretations. Our desire to find a way to recognize dangerous people by sight makes us seek similarities and create labels we can arm ourselves and our loved ones with, but I'm afraid the criminal-by-sight method of police detection has just never caught on.
I told you I'm a goth/grunge. In my closet you will find real silk shirts in dark jeweltone colors (real silk—not that polyester silk crap), safari-type khakis and even a bush jacket, denim jeans in black, blue, and tan, T-shirts in white, yellow, orange, red, green, blue, grey, black and brown, a Batman tank top, Superman briefs, a leather pilot's jacket, khaki and olive shorts, three sweaters Bill Cosby would approve of, cargo pants, a plaid flannel shirt/jacket, a couple of earth tone henleys, two sweatshirts with border collies on them, a pirate costume for festivals and parties, a trench coat, a wool coat, some swim trunks, and assorted accessories. Now, how many combinations of the above could you dress me in to make me a recognizeable goth?
In the news story I first mentioned regarding the strange relationship of the three teens which ended in murder, I brought up the fourth teen who was dragged into things to act as a butcher to make disposal of the body easier. Only one photo of him was shown in the segment, and with a mere glance at it I would state that there was an excellent chance he fell into one of the many goth categories, though he could easily be some sort of pseudo-Satanist, grunge, or metal goth. What's metal goth? Well, the goth culture as we know it today was based upon styles of music and the look the band members wished to portray. Metal goth, therefore, sprang from the people who enjoy Eighties-style heavy metal music and the over the top often black outfits the musicians wear. All I remember about the picture of this kid was that he'd had the bridge of his nose pierced up between his eyes and he was dark-haired and wearing dark clothes. About three quarters of the goths I know have piercings—even if it's just the earlobes. I have none. Most of the people I know who have piercings other than earlobes are not goth. Likewise, about three quarters of the goths I know are tattooed, but at least 90% of the tattooed people I know are not goth. Had Handsome News Guy called this kid goth based solely on the one photo I saw of him, I probably would not have questioned it, though we know now that the uneducated media throws the term around with abandon. But the girl described as wearing tank tops and baggy pants? Obviously, some people in the news wish to villify an aspect of our culture and currently find goths an easy target since those who are not goth are, for the most part, ignorant as to what exactly a goth is.
And I've already established that we tend to fear what we are unfamiliar with.
If you've read my AuthorsDen article Death, Violence, Sports & Weather, then you are aware of my eight and half years with a FOX/ABC affiliate—specifically my involvement in the news department—and you know that facts are manipulate and edited to shed the best, most sensational light on any news story for the purpose of ratings and making the self-proclaimed on-air "talent" look clever. Time for a little reality check here. Your average news anchor or reporter knows about as much about his particular story subject as a junior high student does when asked to compile a report on the Napoleonic Wars by next Tuesday. Skimming facts and piecing together some acceptable BS does not make anyone an expert on anything but skimming facts and piecing together BS. NEVER make the mistake of believing that any kind of journalist knows what they're talking about. Most of what they know is cleverly edited hearsay, seldom researched. I have researched goth culture because I didn't realize for years that I was actually a part of it. As the label came, I grew curious. How dare anyone label me when I don't even know what it is exactly that they're talking about! Then I learned about its beginnings in music and recognized the bands and tunes as things I often sought out and enjoyed. I discovered the subgenres and learned where I fit in, started recognizing the signs in the appearances and behaviors of others.
We do not fill the jails. We are often lurking in libraries, bookstores, coffee shops, and dance clubs however. Most of us enjoy our privacy and are not predisposed towards violence toward others or animals, though we do like strolls through the local cemetery and love classic horror movies and new horror indies. Like any random slice of the population most of us are okay or cool, a small percentage are kind of scary, and a smaller percentage still are whackjobs we'd like rehabilitated or removed from society. We come from many backgrounds and religious beliefs and most of us are neither poor nor the victims of extreme childhood abuse. There's an air of theatricality about us. Life is a stage, so we don our costumes and play our parts until the end, which brings us rest and peace. Our clothing and makeup screams both, Look at me!" and "Back the hell off!" We like to be noticed, but not molested. Strange is cool for the same reason—you're intrigued by us, but not enough to find out if perhaps we really are dangerous or not. We like appearing mysterious and creepy. It's a form of defense. Who will the mugger approach—the soccer mom with the manicure and Armani handbag or the goth chick bound in leather straps and metal buckles with Frankentein shoes and a piercing in her eyebrow? You can't tell if we're nice people just by looking at us, but most of us know that the average psychopath blends in with the nice-looking ones like you.
I've often wondered if we were a blind specie, then how would we form our prejudices against each other? By accent? By smell?
Prejudice came about the first time two of our ancestors had a big disagreement and began finding ways to differentiate themselves from each other. I'm better than him because...my hair is darker, I'm bigger, he has freckles and I don't.... Then we stupidly tried to make our friends and family members choose sides to justify our idiocy. Don't go near her! She has light hair and freckles like him! They're all like that! It's about pecking orders and choosing the strongest pack to run in. It's selfish and without any scientific merit and completely foolish no matter how you try and dissect it.
I don't judge groups of people by their looks or affiliations. I judge individuals based upon their actions. I try to avoid those who make me uncomfortable, but don't recognize that they are any greater or lesser than myself. We are all different in different ways. I'll admit I use stereotypes frequently when I'm trying to be funny, but not if what I say or do actually hurts anybody.
So, you may have noted my use of the term Satanists throughout this article. The only Satanists I have ever met were self-proclaimed, juvenile rebels who liked to pretend some other force was responsible for their own often irresponsible actions. I acknowledge that there exist actual organized churches who worship Satan and know they tend to abhor the idiots who just run amock and try to claim they're part of some anti-religion. I have used the term loosely here, without knowledge of actual fact, generalizing a type of immature behavior such as that affected by those I've known who claimed to be Satanists but were in fact not. Some goths are Satanists, but most Satanists are not goth. They look and behave like the average person. It is not their wish to draw too much negative attention to themselves.
Do your own research. Be wary of strangers or strange-acting friends and family members. Discover for yourself what startling percentage of violent crimes are committed by people known by the victims. Don't label until you know...or you can always just walk up and try asking someone what social slot they fit into. Always remember that the vast majority of us just want to have a good life with the least amount of turmoil, no matter what we dress like or believe in.
And always do a little personal digging into the stories that catch your attention in the news. Most reporters and news anchors are not liars, but they are never opposed to a little sugar-coating...even if the sugar is black.
Wikipedia's Listing for Goth Subculture:
Some in-depth Goth culture descriptions:
Goth poetry, art, stories and more: