Goth Culture

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Fille-goth

Fille-goth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Black garb. Victorian dresses. Hanging out at graveyards. A love of the macabre. Enjoyment of music in minor key. All these characteristics are, at least on the surface level, signs that someone is a “Goth.” Goth culture represents one of the fascinating aspects of the contemporary world0–the number of subcultures distinguished by dress, lifestyles, and special interests. This is in part a search for identity, but it also reflects the natural human desire to have friends with common interests (as Aristotle recognized over two thousand years ago).

Goth culture dates back at least thirty years. Musical groups such as Bauhaus performed songs that had to do with the gothic tradition in literature–they focused, for example, on Edgar Allen Poe‘s work or on Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein novel.  Young people interested in gothic horror and fascinated by graveyards and death flocked together. They began to wear black and many Goths wore makeup to exaggerate a pale appearance.

Goths do not share any particular world view–some are anti-Christian, some are Buddhists, some are traditional Christian or Jewish. I once chatted with a Muslim Goth. Gothic culture is a way for people who are “different” in their particular interests to find a sense of belonging. Being “different” myself, I can understand that desire. Some of my students think I am a Goth who does not dress like one–I love horror stories, horror music, horror movies, hanging out at graveyards, and being out in the dark “hunting” for ghosts. My office at school is filled with animal skulls–goats (one painted red), a cat, and a monkey. I have a “Grim Reaper” clock and several small manufactured human skulls. The picture of the Mona Lisa hanging on my bulletin board shifts into a skeleton as someone passes by it. I also have a framed copy of a Victorian death photo in which a dead boy, propped up, has his arm around his sister. Now all of this may be a sure sign of my immaturity (I wholeheartedly agree). Most local Goths, though, are very anti-Christian so joining their group is not really an option for me, an orthodox Anglican Catholic.

Emo is said to have replaced Goth, but I do not believe that is the case. There are fewer Goth clubs, but the breadth of Gothic culture as compared to Emo should keep Goth alive for many years. Goth culture, ironically, is often more life-affirming than the angst (usually the teen angst) of Emo. For that reason, Goth culture is not dead or dying–it is alive and well and needs no funeral. Plus, women with jet black hair and wearing black are….aesthetically pleasing.

There is a great deal of ignorance about Goth culture. Some Fundamentalist Christians identify it with Satanism. That is sheer ignorance and does not reflect the past–it is the kind of stupidity that led the West Memphis Three to spend years of their lives in prison despite their innocence of the murder of three cub scouts. Some people fear difference and find it to be evil. That is sad, but it is human nature. Hopefully the Fundamentalists will grow out of their ignorance and realize that Goths are people like them who enjoy each other’s company and are trying to get by in life the best they can. Hopefully this short essay provides a more balanced position on gothic culture.

West Memphis Three Freed–Finally

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Some measure of justice has finally reached Jessie Misskelley, Jr., Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, the three men who were convicted of the 1993 murders (the “Robin Hood Hills Murders”) of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. During a time in which Southern Baptists, members of the Churches of Christ, Pentecostals, and other Evangelical bodies tilted toward Fundamentalism were in a hysteria about “Satanic cults” and “Satanic ritual abuse,” these men were convicted on a paucity of evidence. Recent DNA evidence showed no link between the West Memphis Three and evidence found at the scene. If the men had not made the Alford Plea, which means that they plead guilty from a legal standpoint but did not admit guilt, they would have almost certainly received a new trial. But given what they had already been through with ignorant Fundamentalist juries and prosecutors taking advantage of the almost pathological fascination some Fundamentalists have with Satanic activity (even though there is no evidence of any widespread Satanic activity and virtually none of ritual abuse), they took the safe route in order to be released and continue trying to clear their names. Mr. Echols practiced Wicca, and although as an orthodox Anglican Catholic I sharply disagree with the tenants of Wicca, it is a pantheistic nature religion that has nothing to do with Satanism. But some Fundamentalists seem to be unable to make these distinctions, as evidenced by their ignorant statements about the “evils’ of the Harry Potter series of books and movies. Such attitudes would be a sideshow if they did not lead to false convictions in actual legal cases such as the Robin Hood Hills murder case. The sad thing is that whoever actually committed the murders will most likely never be identified. This case should be a lesson about the dangers of extremists in any religion, including extremists in Christianity–traditional Christians get enough flack without being associated with ignorant fearmongers. I wish Mr. Echols, Mr. Baldwin, and Mr. Misskelley well and hope they succeed in finally clearing their names.