A Study of Gothic Subculture

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Today Newspaper (a small weekly paper for Davis County, UT)
May 21,1997
By Jeff Richards, Contributing Writer

Gothic Teen Engaged in Satanic Rituals to 'Fit In'

[This is one of the absolutely worst, blatantly misleading and untrue articles I have read about Goths. I put part of the blame on the writer for generalizing and most of it on the girl he interviewed for giving inaccurate information.]

When "Julia" started dressing in black at age 14, she had no idea she'd end up sacrificing a cat to the goddess Bast in a cemetery at night. "It was about a year ago," Julia, now 16, recalls of the episode at West Valley's Valley View Memorial Park. "There were about six or seven people in the group, and we found a male cat, collarless... a stray. They placed the cat so its legs were pinned down," she remembered. "One of the boys had a knife in his boot. They pushed the cat's head down onto the blade and cut its throat." Some of the participants filled vials with the cat's blood and drank it, she said. "We were making a religious sacrifice." [Bast was an Egyptian goddess of cats. In ancient Egypt, killing a cat, even accidentally, was punishable by death. The idea of religiously sacrificing a cat to Bast is a self-contradiction. These kids were not following a religion, they were committing an act of cruelty. Note also that this was not a Satanic ritual. Satan is a part of Christian theology. Bast is a goddess in polytheistic Egyptian society, a pagan (pre-Christian) deity.]

After more than two fairly tumultuous year as a serious "Goth," "Julia" (not her real name) agreed to provide an insider's view of the Gothic movement. A chronic runaway who has run away from home more than two dozen times, Julia nevertheless said she wants others (both parents and kids) to know what Goths are getting themselves into. Sporting black skirt, black leather boots and a black "Interview with the Vampire" T-shirt, along with various silver rings, necklaces, earrings and a nose stud, Julia portrays an image that is weird to some, frightening to others. Her pale face is accentuated by white foundation and heavy black eye makeup. Her hair has been dyed black, then bleached. Scars and cigarette burns line her arms, where she tried cutting herself with razor blades numerous times. Still, she speaks articulately and with a confident, literate, up-front attitude that is remarkable for someone who dropped out of school at age 14. [A 16-year-old dropout runaway is not exactly going to give an insightful view of the whole of gothic subculture, only of her experiences. This article makes some gross generalizations based only on her telling her experiences.] "I really don't consider myself a Goth anymore," she said. "But I still dress in black, so if they want to label me Gothic, I guess I still am. We're not bad people. We're not evil. But some Satanic stuff does go on... it needs to be stopped. The Satanic stuff is going to end up killing a lot of people," she continued. "They'll end up destroying themselves." [As commented above, the sacrifice her group made was not truly Satanic, it is doubtful they had any knowledge of Satanism. See Experimental and Theatrical Satanists.] Julia said, despite claims to the contrary, most Goths don't follow certain set rituals. "They just kind of do whatever and make it up as they go along," she said. Julia said most of the horrifying activities discussed by Goths (such as sacrifices and Satanic rituals) do not actually occur, but are the result of active imaginations of role players involved in role-playing games such as "Vampire: The Masquerade." "Their character did something in the game, so they'll walk around and tell people they actually did it," Julia explained, noting that the cat sacrifice incident was the one and only killing incident she has actually experienced in her two years as a Goth.

Still, there are some who are profoundly influenced by the role playing game. One young man Julia knew outside of Utah recently shot himself to death after his "character" died in the role-playing game, she said. [Surely this person had much more serious problems than their character dying that led to the suicide.] Actual suicides may be rare, but Goths are quite well known for "self-mutilation" -- cutting themselves and piercing themselves. [Body piercings are not an act of self-mutilation any more than ear piercings are. It is ornamentation.] Julia said most do it because they are depressed. "You are sad, but you don't know why you feel bad. If you cut yourself on the arm, then you know what hurts," she said, pointing out the various scars on her own arms. "It brings the pain into focus. I know kids who tried to trip and stab themselves with a knife. It's not that they want to get hurt or die... The more pain you can stand, the more you like it," she said. "Plus, it also brings sympathy (from others)." [Read a full analysis of why kids cut themselves here.]

Julia explained how she herself got involved with the Gothic movement: "It started when I ran away from home because of something totally stupid," she said. She then met up with some friends who introduced her to Gothic ideology. [There is no gothic ideology. She was introduced to those friends' ideology. There are things you might find as a common interest among Goths, but there is no set belief system.] "It was something magical, beautiful, something I'd never done before. I was scared." She says she was "hypnotized" into visualizing various scary scenarios and telling those around her what she saw. The interpretation of this "dream" supposedly tells what kind of a person the subject is. A common recruiting tactic used by Goths, according to Julia, is to encourage kids to "dress the part" for a couple of days, and then start saying things to them to "play up on their depression." [This statement is just ridiculous. This is not a recruiting tactic because there is no recruiting. If this is what her friends did, it is particular only to her friends. Most Goths have no desire to "turn someone into a gothic" or encourage kids to "dress the part."] "They don't do it to make you feel bad," Julia noted. "But they'll tell you things like, 'I know you're having problems at home... why don't you come hang out with us?'" [This sounds like a friendly, concerned invitation, not an attempt to "play up on depression." What teenager doesn't have some sort of "problems at home"?]

The Gothic groups may be particularly attractive to kids who just don't seem to fit in anywhere else. "They (Goths) will accept anybody," she noted. Still, that doesn't mean the group is comprised of "losers," Julia said. Many Goths are intelligent, creative, even straight-A students who simply get involved out of curiosity or via friends. "Everyone has their own fears," Julia explained. "You just try to find people with those same problems." Peer pressure is the driving force behind the growth of the Gothic movement, Julia noted. "Here in Salt Lake, the kids (getting recruited) are getting younger -- 12, 10, 9..." she added. [There is no recruiting. Kids often begin wanting to rebel at that age and find gothic an attractive method. They may begin to dress gothic in the hopes of gaining acceptance from the group. That is not peer pressure, it is trend-following. In such a conservative society as Utah, the backlash of those rebelling against the conservative majority is strong. The harder the right pulls, the harder the left pulls.]

Some of those dressing the part may be what Julia calls "baby bats", or wannabe Goths -- otherwise normal kids who like to party at Gothic hangouts such as Confetti's on weekends. Still, many parents are worried that any level of Gothic behavior is unhealthy. "How do these kids know when to stop?" Julia's father asked. Some warning signs that kids may be getting involved: unusual nighttime activity, not eating anything, daytime drowsiness, dressing in black, and a sudden fascination with death and other morbid themes (expressed in poetry and artwork).

Most Goths also express a fondness for certain musical groups, particularly Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. [Although you will find Goths who like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, these bands are not creating gothic music. Marilyn Manson is shock rock or heavy metal. Nine Inch Nails is electro-industrial pop music. These classifications are debatable, but nothing about either band's music fits into what has previously been established as gothic music. These bands are often considered among the underground community as mainstream music that has sold out. For other Goths' testimony regarding Marilyn Manson see "Misinformed About Goths" and "Goths Say Culture Isn't to Blame in Death".] "The music is a big part of it," Julia said. "I never really wanted to run away from home. I was scared. But I'd go in my room and listen to the music for a few hours, and get so pumped up, I'd just get up and get out of there (and run away). The music controlled what I did, 99 percent of the time." One Nine Inch Nails song, called "heresy," features the following lines: "Your god is dead, and no one cares - If there is a hell, I will see you there." [Another one who has claimed god is dead is that crazy "gothic" philosopher Nietzsche. Nine Inch Nails is not putting out any new ideas. Anyone who blames music for 99% of her actions is obviously not taking responsibility for her own life and decisions.] Another common aspect of the Gothic movement, which may go undetected by some parents, is widespread drug use, Julia said. "We smoke marijuana in the daytime, so that we're tired, they we'll take acid all night to make us hallucinate," she said. [Again note that Julia and her friends may have done this, not all Goths do.] Julia's father said he was shocked at the rampant level of drug use. "Despite all this (that has been going on), we seriously did no know anything about he drug use until much later on," he said. One of the things that serious Goths strive for, according to Julia, is the obtaining of "rank" and "renown." Rank is obtained by bringing more people into the group, and also by making animal sacrifices. Renown refers to one's status within a particular group, and can be enhanced by the way one dresses, or by the artifacts in one's possession. Julia currently has 4 rank and 6 renown, with corresponding earrings in her right and left ears, respectively. [These statements are ridiculous. There is no such thing as gothic "rank" and "renown". This sounds more like something to do with their characters in a role playing game. If it meant to pertain to being Gothic, it is a quirk particular only to her group of friends.]

Julia said the entire Gothic group she belongs to was devastated by serious tragedy in March, when one of their friends died at a weekend party. Jens Martin Dietz, 14, died at a Goth party at a West Valley home that ran from March 6-10. He was found by police on March 11, a day after his death. Partygoers had placed the boy, who was diabetic, in a car out in the garage of the home. This was apparently a common action taken when someone fell ill at a party. [Actually this is not a common action. The common action when someone gets sick at a party is for a friend to watch out for that person to make sure they are okay. See Nate's profile to read of how he saved a friend's life when she got sick at a party.] But when others checked on Dietz that following day, he was dead. Two boys, aged 14 and 15, (one who lived at the home and one who was considered the leader of the group) have been charged in connection with the death. [Actually, he was not considered the leader of the group. He was charged because he was Jens's best friend -- probably the only one at the party Jens knew according to his mother. This boy's mom is also diabetic -- implying that he should have known Jens was in need of medical attention.] They face misdemeanor counts of negligent homicide and failure to report a dead body. "They didn't just ignore him and let him die," said Julia, who was out of state when the incident occurred. "Dietz was the awesomest person." Still, Julia said the partygoers were reluctant to call police after they found Dietz dead. Instead, they placed a necklace in his hand, smoked a cigarette together, and had a "howling" ceremony to help his soul to the other side. "All Goths have discussed what they want done for them after they die," Julia explained, "Mine is, I want to be crucified, then cremated, then my ashes put in vials, to be buried with all my friends. Well Dietz wanted to have a cigarette, and the howling ceremony, to open the portals." [All Goths have not discussed "what they want done for them after they die." This is just more ridiculous generalizing from her own particular situation. It is also something I think is extremely bizarre for her to say. It is probably something done among her friends to look cool; this is not a universal Gothic thing.]

News of Dietz's death put Julia in a deep depression for several days, after which she decided to make her way back to Utah, where her younger brother is still deeply involved with the Goths. "I'm back here to help my brother," she said, noting that both have outstanding juvenile warrants for missing court dates for misdemeanor offenses. "I realize that if he gets involved in a lot of the stuff I did, he could get hurt or killed." Julia's brother, 14, no longer attends school, lives in someone else's basement, and hasn't seen his parents in more than a month. [This sort of thing does happen a lot among kids as a part of their desire to rebel. I think it's unfortunate.] His friends know him only by his Gothic alias. Julia notes that the Gothic movement "is not going to go away." "You can't get rid of them, or they'll come back even stronger," she said. "But I believe that everyone deserves another chance whether it's their second or their 100th," Julia said. "I do want to get my life organized. I'm trying to get a job, get a life, but I'm never going to leave my Gothic friends. I'm not going to do the Satanic stuff, but I'll keep dressing in black and keep (associating with) my friends." Julia still smokes and listens to Nine Inch Nails, but she no longer worships Bast. She hates Marilyn Manson. "His stuff is trash," she says. She considers herself primarily agnostic, although her personal values and beliefs still "run along Mormon lines." "A lot of Goths get schizophrenic," she said with a laugh, "because they're not sure what they believe. I'd give anything to be able to go back to school," added Julia, who dropped out in the ninth grade and would be in the 11th grade now.

Meantime, a couple of concerned parents are interested in starting a support group locally. "I'm concerned about the availability of this stuff," says Nancy Rector of West Valley. [Read Nancy Rector's editorial, Goths a Growing Problem .] For example, various compact discs with lyrics Rector deems "obscene" are readily available for checkout at the local library [Her attempt to stop this is covered in the next article: Library Opts Not to Pull 'Pornographic' CDs.]. Also, Satanic and Gothic sites can be easily accessed via the Internet. "We need to keep these kids involved in other activities," Rector said. "And the parents who have kids doing these things, not knowing how to deal with it is the hardest part," she added.