Of Goths, Satanism, and Teenage Quicksand

I was inspired to write this post after talking to my fifteen-year-old daughter about a problem she was having at school with some of the bullies who pick on her because she is different than they are. Heidi is in ninth grade, which technically is a freshman in high school, but the ninth graders in the local school district are still in the junior high school building. That is the result of poor long range planning by the former administration of the district.

We recently got a new superintendent and some new members to the school board, who, we can only hope, show more foresight than the people they replaced. Unfortunately, We live in the Bible Belt and an area that is heavily Republican. The combination of fundamentalist religion and fundamentalist politics tends to not place a real high emphasis on quality public education.

My daughter is a Goth. Now, like everything in life, there is the stereotype of what Goth is and then there is the reality of what Goth is. Like any teenage subculture, Goths of whatever flavor are defined and influenced by the music of their subculture. That was true in the 1950s and 1960s when I was growing up and it is just as true now.

I started out listening to rock’n’roll as played by Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis – “the Devil’s music” of back then. Now Little Richard does Geico commercials. Chuck and Jerry are still out there rocking and a reeling till the break of dawn, although they have long passed into senior citizenship.

In the 60s I got turned on to the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Starship, and good Delta blues. A new breed of Devil””s music. In the 70s and 80s my list of favorite bands grew to include Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Velvet Underground, the original Fleetwood Mac, Santana, and the Eagles.

I still listen to those bands, or their descendants, as well as a lot of more recent groups, including some of the stuff Heidi likes, particularly some of the Goth bands (specifics below). She also likes some of the European electronic techno bands, but I don”t care for them myself 🙂 But I let her listen to them as long as I don””t have to! :))

The band that best represents the stereotype that most people associate with Goth is Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails. What’s really funny about that is that real Goths do not consider them to be Goth!

That is how most of the people around here perceive anyone claiming to be a Goth. But there are grades or variations of Goth. The creepy undead variation is not the original typical Goth. Goth comes from Gothic as it is used as the name for a genre of literature. The Bronte sisters were Gothic novelists. So was Nathaniel Hawthorne, among others. Their books are required reading, if not in high school, in any good collegiate American or English literature class. The movies based on their books usually garner Academy Award nominations, if not an Oscar or two. This type of Goth is called “Romantic” Goth and this is what Heidi is. If you are familiar with Tim Burton’s movie Bettlejuice, Winona Ryder’s character, Lydia Deetz, is a Romantic Goth, as are many of the other characters in Burton’s movies: Edward in Edward Scissorhands, Jack Skellington and Sally in Nightmare Before Christmas, Victor and Emily in Corpse Bride, and even Batman in Burton’s Batman movies.

The stereotype that most people associate with “Goth” is called “Death Rocker” Not all Goths are Death Rockers. But too many people (non-Goths) see Goths as some sort of Satanists or worse. Part of the reason for this is that the most popular color in Goth fashion is black and we all know the embedded meanings associated with black. Funny, though, Johnny Cash wore black and no one accuses him of devil worship. I also like to wear black a lot, and I can tell you for certain that I am not a Satanist. I have had personal experience with Satanists in my life, so I think I would know if I was one! Neither am I Goth. Too old for that! :)) I’m just an old hippie!

As in trying to define what constituted the hippie subculture of my generation, so also trying to define what constitutes Goth is not an easy task. Wikipedia has an excellent article that tries to explain what goth is and how it developed. Here is a quote from that article that explains the boundaries of the subculture:

By the 1990s, the term “goth” and the boundaries of the associated subculture had become more contentious. New youth subcultures emerged, or became more popular, some of them being conflated with the goth subculture by the general public and the popular media. This conflation was primarily owing to similarities of appearance, and the fashions of the subcultures, rather than the musical genres of the bands associated with them. As time went on, the term was extended further in popular usage, sometimes to define groups that had neither musical nor fashion similarities to the original gothic subculture.

This has led to the introduction of goth slang terms that some goths and others use to sort and label associated trends and members of loosely related subcultures. These include neogoths in Western Europe and North America, mallgoths in the US, cucarachas in Spain>dark in Latin America and Italy, gogans in Australia (although the term is virtually unheard outside of internet entries such as this),hackians in New Zealand and spooky kids, moshers or mini moshers in the UK. More positive terms, such as mini-goths or baby bats, are also used by some older goths to refer to youths whom they see as exhibiting potential for growth into older goths later on. The prevalence of internet-based information regarding goth has resulted in a distorted and overstated perception of varying slang terms as used in reality and offline, particularly with regard to those terms allegedly used outside of the UK and US.

The response of these younger groups to the older subculture varies. Some, being secure in a separate subcultural identity, express offense at being called “goths” in the first place, while others choose to join the existing subculture on its own terms. Still others have simply ignored its existence, and decided to appropriate the term “goth” themselves, and redefine the idea in their own image. Even within the original subculture, changing trends have added to the complexity of attempting to define precise boundaries.

As this quote makes plain, goths, like hippies, are extremely amorphous, with much variety and disagreement within the subculture as to what is goth and what is not. Except for some of the extreme forms of goth, like the Dead Rockers, I see a lot of similarities between goths and the hippies. Both represent a natural rebellion of the younger generation against what they perceive as the authoritarianism of the older (power controlling) generation.

Every generation becomes rebellious as it strives to achive maturity. They express their frustration at being powerless and subject to authority that chafes. It is my considered opinion that the more authoritarian the older generation (parents, teachers, spiritual guides, etc.) become, the more extreme the rebellion is. This is why I am opposed to people under the age of at least 25 becoming parents. If they have children while they, the parents, are still in their teens, by the time the babies reach puberty, the parents are, at best, in their early thirties. Because of the fact that the primary concern, in theory at least, is the welfare of their children, they have little time to devote to their own maturation. That means, even when the parents are in their late twneties or early thirties, we have a generation of teenagers being raised by parents who have not matured much past teenager themselves. The potential for dysfunctionality in such a family is very high, as the statistical data shows.

One final subject I want to discuss is the association in the media and public perception of goths with Satanism. Here”s what the Ontario Consultants on Religios Tolerance has to say in a comprehensive disucssion of the goth culture

The public incorrectly commonly associates Goths with Marilyn Manson. 10 “Manson publicly presents himself as a follower of the Church of Satan… He was ordained a priest in the Church of Satan by the [late] founder, Anton LaVey. Many fans refer to him as the Rev. Marilyn Manson.” 9 (Actually, Manson is not a follower of that Church; he was simply appointed as a Reverend within the Church by its founder, Anton LaVey.) From this Satanic connection, the perception has grown that Goths are frequently linked to Satanism. There are a few Satanists who are also Goths, but they are rare.<

And the Wikipedia article cited above says, Spiritual, supernatural, and religious imagery has frequently played an important part in gothic fashion, song lyrics, and visual art. In particular, aesthetic elements from Catholicism [emphasis mine] play a major role in goth culture.

Maybe the conservatives/fundamentalists think that Catholics are Satanists?

It appear tha, as is so often the case with stereotypes, that the goth stereotype is based on misinformation dissmeinated by certain elements of the media who are either too lazy to do a little research or are promoting the distorted moral values of the religious/polirical fundamentalists. I have had a long (45 years) history of dealing with small-minded people, but my daughter and my sons do not. I remember what it felt like to be bullied and ostracized for being different. I will NOT let the powers that be turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to what is happening not just to my kids, but to all of those who choose to march to a different drummer.

P.S. If you aren’t familiar with the Who’s song Baba O’Reilly, you won’t get my little inside joke about teenage quicksand. You can read the lyrics to the song here

For more information on what Goth is, I suggest you look at these sites:<
Goth Net – a site for Goths by Goths
A Study of Gothic Subculture – an outsider’s view. Note that he got the name wrong: it’s Goth not Gothic
Sunlight and Shadow – A Goth web site

For more information on the dysfunctionality of modern families, I recommend you read Children: The Supreme Gift of Marriage by Janet Smith, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dallas.

Classic Goth Bamds:
Souixsie and the Banshees
Christian Death

Newe Goth Bands


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