Subculture responds to ‘Goth Loner’ accusation over Adam Lanza tragedy

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The Mail on Sunday’s front page from 16th December 2012

There are three factors which define my response this story. I am a human being, a Goth, and a Journalist.
As a human being, I abhor and reject the horrific violence committed in Newton, Connecticut. As a Goth, I abhor and reject any association with my subculture, and fear the demonizing effect of headlines like this. As a journalist, I abhor and reject the kind of ‘journalism’ that has led the Daily Mail to such knee-jerk reactionary headline writing. The Goth tag has been attached to this story because of the following quote:

Catherine Urso, who was attending a vigil Friday evening in Newtown said her college-age son knew the killer and remembered him for his alternative style.

‘He just said he was very thin, very remote and was one of the goths,’ she said.

A second-hand recollection from someone not even involved. The implication is that the world is struggling to try and understand what could motivate such a crime, and the Daily Mail – with characteristic unfeeling insensitivity – has chosen a marginalized and misunderstood group to ‘take the blame’. Ironically, the Mail has previously written about attacks on Goths in a supportive light, especially the tragic case of Sophie Lancaster who was killed in an unprovoked assault in 2007. Since then her mother and others have worked tirelessly to promote diversity and tolerance; the S.O.P.H.I.E. charity released a statement in response on Sunday:

The demonisation of subcultures, in this case goth/gamer/alternative does nothing to help anyone understand why Adam Lanza woke up on Thursday and killed 20 people including his own Mother. Our frustration at this lazy journalism, where they are quoting distraught ex pupils and neighbours because they have no facts is made worse by the fact that the readers of the articles may well believe what they see and not challenge it, leading to yet more prejudice and fear.

ImageCrucially, the Daily Mail failed to interview any representatives from the Goth subculture about their reactions. All responses, including what you are reading now, have been self-motivated – because for some reason, the majority of the mainstream media of the United Kingdom and the United States will not give us a voice. Notable exceptions exist amongst unbiased, regional media but the large part the Goth culture is sorely unrepresented in the press. When we are portrayed, observes Dr Catherine Spooner of Lancaster University (author of several social studies of the Goth culture), it is through a veil of journalistic interpretation.

‘Goth’ is sometimes used in high school slang as an insult or as shorthand for kids perceived as outsiders or weirdos, regardless of whether or not they self-identify as Goths or have any affiliations with the Goth scene. By labelling Lanza as a Goth on the basis of hearsay, apparently objective journalism ‘fixes’ this loose, slang use of the term, converting it into a firm evocation of a specific subculture and identity.
Many readers will not discern that this process of fixing has taken place, and therefore this loose term takes on the status of ‘official’ knowledge: Lanza was a Goth and Goths are weirdos and outsiders.
It goes without saying that the evidence for the former is flimsy and the latter becomes self-fulfilling for those doing the labelling. This may seem a minor detail beside the larger fact of the tragedy. But scapegoating Goths is not going to help matters and may, in fact, cause further harm.

This view is concurred by Dr Paul Hodkinson of Surrey University – another social scientist – who expands on the newspaper relationship with theImage Goth Culture.

Newspapers like to develop familiar stories with familiar characters and will sometimes filter the information available in order to do so. So the reason they have picked up on use of the word ‘goth’ here is that, for them, it acts as the perfect narrative device to render the killer as deviant, different, other – external to normal society and not one of ‘us’ – and imagined ‘normal society’.

Paradoxically, however, the reference to things like goth may also serve to enable the development of a different angle of engagement, based on engaging the fears of parents  and others over the possible links between dark subcultures their own children may have contact with and this sort of violence.

In our discussion, I asked Dr Hodkinson if he could expand on this ‘different angle’, in terms of the fears being developed by parents of Goths now faced with the possibility of association between this crime, and their own children. He responded:

…there is  little evidence of any link to the goth scene and, even if there were, there’s certainly no evidence that the goth scene would encourage anyone to behave in such a way. In this article the term goth really has been put into the headline here purely as a means of drawing in more readers for the reasons I previously gave. They don’t even purport to be presenting a serious article about the dangers of the goth scene – they’ve just mentioned the term because it embellishes the profile and makes good copy.

Overall, it seems clear that the labelling of him as a goth is based on minimal evidence. More importantly, the issue of whether he identified as a goth, a gamer, a nerd or anything similar is almost certainly irrelevant to determining the cause of the horrible events that took place.

I questioned Dr Hodkinson’s conviction that, in the face of the beliefs broadcast by the Daily Mail, The Sun and the FOX Network, any motivation for Lanza’s murder-spree could not include his subcultural associations.

I think what I’d briefly say is that there is no evidence that they have a negative influence of the kind discussed. Millions of people are goths, gamers, ‘geeks’ etc across the world. Aside from anecdotal speculation in relation to the occasional isolated incident such as this, I’m not aware of any evidence that, amongst these millions of people, there is any substantial problem with violence. In the case of goths, evidence points towards an emphasis in the values of the group towards non-violence and, as I’m sure you know, goths are much more likely to be the subject of violent attack than the perpetrators of violence.

ImageAs mentioned above this has been the case, with the stories of assaults on Goths as reported by both the Daily Mail and The Sun. This time however, the reporting of these two papers has been met with disbelief, sadness and hostility by the culture. Well-known DJ and promoter Martin ‘Oldgoth’ Coles responded:

One passing comment about him being a loner ‘like the goths’, has been seized upon and used, in my opinion, maliciously by two of the UK biggest ‘news’ papers (The Sun and Mail) purely in order to create a shock headline.

Martin observes some of the underlying issues that have surrounded other tragic shootings which have lacked any ‘Goth’ angle.

If you read about his background, and in particular his day to day behaviour it just points to the fact that what the US [needs] is not only tighter gun control – to prevent things like assault rifles being obtained so easily (who really needs one to ‘defend’ themselves or their property?) – but better mental health care. I firmly believe that had this guy been given proper treatment then this would never have happened, and it helps to highlight that so people get the help they need.

He firmly believes that the media’s performance is crucial to understanding crimes like these.

The media has fueled this kind of thing, 100%, and I feel is totally to blame for sensationalising the idea that doing this will have you going out in a ‘blaze of glory’, with all the worldwide fame that comes with it.

Concluding firmly, Martin states:

This guy did not attack anyone because of the music he listened to, he resorted to murder as never got the help he needed and had easy access to lethal weapons in a world where violence of this kind makes you famous, gets you noticed in a world that I’m sure he thought didn’t care.

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I also e-mailed Rosie Garland, better known as Rosie Lugosi – singer with legendary Eighties dark rock band The March Violets, as well as an award-winning poet, author, and sought-after compère. Her prompt response to my questions about her feelings on the reporting simply said:

So – the Leveson Enquiry into improving press standards is clearly having a massive effect on the tabloids.

The Goth community online has united to condemn the portrayal of the culture by headlines like this. The quotes used above were taken from responses gained within hours of publication by the Daily Mail and other outlets, none of whom had researched the scene or interviewed any relevant commentators. An e-mail to the Daily Mail asking for comment to be used in this article remains unanswered after a day, in comparison. Should a response be received, this article will be updated accordingly.

The Goth culture so rarely hits the headlines for the best reasons. In this case, blame has been laid at a subculture’s door when no proof has been obtained – an act that goes beyond ‘lazy’ journalism and into the realms of downright dangerous.

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95 Responses to Subculture responds to ‘Goth Loner’ accusation over Adam Lanza tragedy

  1. litique says:

    I shared the blatant propaganda expressed in this headline during my English class. I just wanted my students to be aware of how stereotyping is wrong. To assume that Lanza was a Goth because he was unlike other students or a loner is just plain discrimination. Thank you for sharing your perspective and how this jargon can be deemed offensive.

  2. hmmiller79 says:

    Society and the media always try to find a demon in everything. Indirectly the attack Atheists and non-believers in massacre’s as well (which I pressed about). By claiming a “lack of God or rejection of Jesus”, as being the underlying reason for such tragedies. It’s offensive and disgusting on many levels, so much that even Christians are offended but for the wrong reason. Rather than being offended by blatant attacks on Atheists and Humanists, they argue that “God” is not vengeful but “kind and loving.” Last I checked, “praying” has a horrible record on preventing tragedy. So maybe they need to refocus their attack on lack of morals, education, and general respect and love for mankind.

  3. Drtee5 says:

    As I was browsing the headlines about Adam Lanza, I ran across your blog . While I appreciate your attempt to level the playing field and reject stereotypes, we must be sure to be fair in our assessments. Lanza was considered a Goth by one of his family members due to his appearance.

    We must be fair in our assessment of the Goth culture. According to some sources, in the 18th century the term “Gothic” morphed into a genre of literature that had elements of horror. Esther Lombardi (Classic Literature Guide) describes the genre as “characterized by super-naturalism, melodrama, and sensationalism.” In the late 20th century it morphed again into a style and subculture characterized by heavy eyeliner and all-black clothing.

    The Goth subculture also has ties to Medieval history, which most people associate with darkness. Music from the Goth culture varies, but one that comes to mind is the
    “deathrock.”

    It is not appropriate for others to judge others or condemn. But people should be aware of the reality that the Goth subculture is associated with certain behaviors, styles, attitudes, and mannerisms that influence behavior, often in negative ways as research has suggested. Music, culture, and art manipulates and influences behavior.

    I am not saying that the Goth culture had ANYthing to do with Lanza’s behavior, but I am saying that his family member obviously saw the association between his appearance and the subculture. My point here is that this association, as a result of the Goth’s interests, is not absurd.

    Adam Lanza behaved the way he did due to mental illness and other related factors, not any association, as we know of yet, with the Goth culture.
    If future reports make the association between Lanza’s behavior and the Goth culture, we need to be open to that possibility.

    We, as a society, have to look at every potential reason for a person’s behavior. Kids are often influenced by peers, subcultures, and styles that are regarded as “rebellious,” secluded groups such as gangs or the Goth culture. As research has looked into the influence of gangs on youth, we too have to look at how the Goth culture may influence behavior.

    It is a reality that must be looked at in order to understand what influences kids today and possibly certain behaviors.

    • hmmiller79 says:

      Although I understand where you are coming from, I have to interject. Just because someone labels another a certain way, or just because the person listens to a particular music, does not mean that person would use that label. I listen to death metal, and I am not a Goth, not a metal head, not any of that. No one knows what he considered himself. Other’s labeling each other is part of the problem of blame.

    • “but I am saying that his family member obviously saw the association between his appearance and the subculture. My point here is that this association, as a result of the Goth’s interests, is not absurd.”

      Just because they “see an association” does not make their perception accurate. Westboro Baptist “sees” an association between America accepting gays and the shooting, and we all know how ridiculous that is.

    • Guls says:

      If there was any marked deviation between the attitudes and behaviours of ‘subcultures’ and the ‘mainstream’ your comment would carry more weight: as it is, most so-called ‘subcultures’, are actually very conservative, both by comparison to society at large and according to their own internal rules and mores. Lanza’s act of violence, likewise, can hardly be viewed as ‘rebellious’ by any reasonble standards: it was a textbook case of male-aggression from a citizen of a society – and I’m not singling out American society, here, just to be clear – that condones and affirms that kind of behaviour on a daily basis, then throws up its hands in horror when its citizens actually go ahead and play to type (well, too visibly, anyway).

  4. Robin Beverly says:

    Well said. Evil does not come in any one style. The goth subculture is not evil. The truth is evil chooses many fleshly wrappers and we should not be on a witch hunt to attack decent people by painting them with a broad brush. Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. What does define a Goth? Is it that easy to put into words? I’m almost 70 today (less than three years to go), but when I was in high school, it would have been easy to tag me as a Goth. I dressed in black. Wore dark glasses most of the time. I was tall and thin. I was more of a loner than a joiner. As a 50/50 introvert/extrovert (a shrink I was close friends with blurted this out one day–said he’d been trying to figure me out for years. In addition, tests I’ve taken online confirm this diagnosis), it is easy for me to go months without mixing in a group. In fact, I prefer being alone. Most people disappoint me because they seem so shallow as they chase to fit in to the herd mentality.

    I suspect that Goths are individuals more than anything else and it is difficult for the herd to suck them in. Lone wolves that prefer similar company to the politically correct mob that is eating the world from the inside out. And the herd cannot stand anyone that does not dress like them, eat like them, think like them, talk like them, stink like them, etc. The distrust is rampant among the herd as they huddle together in crowds and stand in line feeling secure among others that look and pretend to think alike.

  6. mrsalicia says:

    This is certainly not the first tragedy in the US that has caused people to look at goths as dangerous. The Columbine shootings were perpetrated by teenagers perceived as goths. Some, like Bill O’Reilly, even went so far as to blame people like Marilyn Manson for the shootings.

    I agree whole-heartedly with your stance. I have no idea what the main identifiers are to belong to the goth subculture. (Not to say that everyone in the subculture has to fit certain criteria or anything. I really have limited knowledge of what it means to be goth. I don’t intend to imply that you have to check things off a list and I don’t mean to devalue people who identify themselves in this way.) My understanding of it is what I was identified as in High School: black clothes and hair, rock music, poetry, depression.

    I think it’s high time that the media stop stigmatizing people for the way they are. I have known many people who have identified as goth who have had no desire to go out and kill people. And I have never known anyone to worship Satan, etiher. (I did give Satanism a fair chance, do some resarch, and understand that it can be a very down-to-earth outlook on life.) The earlier we quit treating people as outsiders and outcasts, the sooner our society can evolve and reach out to people who are in desperate need of help. Thank you for your post.

  7. Thank fucking god someone has some sense! This knee-jerk reaction happens every time we have a tragedy like this… I was one of five or six Goths when I was in HS (oh, fifteen or so years ago, not to date myself) and NONE of my friends were violent…well, except maybe me, and that was reserved for bullies. Video games, horror movies, and Marilyn Manson get blamed (or insinuated as a cause or correlation) for all sorts of anti-social activities. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but just because some of these TRUE freaks find a place in our alternative and more accepting subculture does not make our subculture to blame. I wonder how perception would change if every “normal” person who committed a horrific crime, and that also was associated with a church, was “labeled” as “religious” in relation to their crime. They are two things that have little to do with one another, just like murder and being “Goth.”

  8. Katie Renee says:

    I must admit that I really enjoyed reading this piece. I live in the US, so naturally our media is still going insane and they will continue to do so in the future (I personally tune them out when they stop making any rational sense). I heard murmurings of the goth culture being associated with this but I didn’t pay much attention (again, American media). I find it disturbing that blame for this was so quickly associated to a subculture many people are unfamiliar with, probably because it was an “easy target” so to speak. Although I admit I’m unfamiliar with the goth culture (I’m a library nerd), even I know those accusations are outlandish.

    Thank you for writing this piece and making people aware of how exactly this is being handled. I’d like to apologize as well, because American media is horrendous (a certain network more than others). I always feel bad when some of our crap spills over into other countries, but hey… we aren’t as bad as North Korea! Well, unless you count the National Enquirer as trustworthy literature (instead of glorified toilet paper).

    Again, great post!

  9. sqeekchair says:

    Based on a quote from a woman attending a vigil is obviously a second hand quote. Where is the person in question who “reportedly” made this comment. I see very little social group association or evidence out of the “goth” than it would if they association or group had been drama club, gamer, math club, yuppie, country farmer, or whatever the labels are now termed.

    Of course, there is always, always a gullible group of FOX news worshipers who believe everything that is said on there- and I’m sure Bill O’ Reilly’s loves to talk about “goth” with his triple chin and sagging baggy eyes. The same man blathered with Dr. Keith made asinine comments about Psy’s “Gangman Style” is disconnected from anything pop-culture or common sense.
    http://therealnews.com/t2/component/hwdvideoshare/?task=viewvideo&video_id=75139

    It is very easy to get all up in arms about a comment about “goth” and a violent occurrence. No matter what group association mentioned, there would be speculation in that group- might not be as much if wasn’t “goth” but any time the word “loner” comes up, it is automatically a dangerous person who just lies in wait to inflict evil deeds upon society.

    Of course it’s a shock term! That’s why it was used- and yes, it was uncalled for but how exactly does it label every person in this “goth” community as dangerous? I consider myself somewhat “Goth” but I really do not care to live an extreme lifestyle or be approved by some self appointed “Goth Council.”

    People- let’s focus on the children and mental health care in this country- not our subgroup!!

    • Guls says:

      I think the thrust of BG’s post is that it’s exactly this kind of labelling that enables the wider population to avoid facing up to the issues you highlight – child-raising and mental health – amongst others. History is littered with the same type of misdirection, which leads to marginal groups being stigmatized whilst the root causes go undiagnosed and unresolved. How long was HIV/AIDS labelled a ‘gay plague’, for example when it’s clearly nothing of the sort. An article in today’s MoS trumpeted the launch of a new ‘anti-feminist’ political party, another right-wing gobshite organization ready to try and pin the blame for society’s ill on those who actually do nothing more than point up extant, historical problems in our institutions. Likewise, invoking the ‘Goth’ stereotype in media reports allows ‘conservative’ readers to breathe a sigh of relief, think ‘nothing to do with me then’ and move on. Worse, their predjudices will be reinforced, which will feed back into more ‘hate crimes’ like the Sophie Lancaster’ case: a lose/lose situation.

  10. sqeekchair says:

    Tighter gun control laws will be as effective as the useless “War On Drugs” propaganda. Billions of dollars spend on this stupid campaign since Reagan- miserable failure. Mental health, job security, and people will suddenly want to live a cleaner life.

  11. Re3ecca says:

    I’m glad you have written about this issue, and the fact that it’s been freshly pressed shows how important it is. It’s easy to say things in an off-hand way and this article reminds people that there are consequences to it. There’s no need for hugely negative consequences just because some people didn’t think about the label they used, and the media perpetuates it so much (though it is what you’d expect of the Daily Mail I suppose…). I guess people don’t understand the word so only use it when something really negative has happened :/

  12. I also dislike all the demonization I see in our culture. It routinely happens every day in the news and media. People are taught to hate Republicans, Democrats, atheists, Christians, rich, poor, people of various color, shape, size and disability, etc. But within every grouping or label, people are all different and have their own personalities.

    As a Christian, I do believe it’s important to love our neighbor as ourselves and treat others the way we wish to be treated; to even love our ‘enemies’ and consider others better than ourselves.

  13. KPearce says:

    Thank you for this important and thoughtful piece. Made me recall the interview between Marilyn Manson and Michael Moore in Bowling for Columbine – this type of labeling can be extremely dangerous and it has nothing to do with the crime itself.

  14. janechese says:

    good article, well said.

  15. johncoyote says:

    I like your thoughts and wisdom in the poem. A person who like being a Goth in dress and in thoughts are not dangerous. I knew many and they were talented people. Just desire to walk another direction. The young man who killed the 27 people had many problems. First was the mother and then he struggle with real life. Hard to identify every problem. I don’t know. I believe need school with people who react and help kids. Today kids are pass on and forgotten. Most big cities have good gun laws. My city of Detroit is very strict. Caught with a illegal gun. One year in prison. Can stop all people with bad intend. Thank you for the blog. I agree with your thoughts.

  16. TAE says:

    Labeling is always a problem, imho, and the US seems to have a special obsession with labeling (two words: bumper stickers). The paper that most successfully labels this “monster” will eventually sell the most copy, because people are desperate to label this child, so they can file it away, so it doesn’t hit home in any way, so they don’t feel responsible.
    I wouldn’t call that journalism, though. They’re depriving us of a healthy and necessary public discussion by predigesting the problem for us to a point where getting to the actual problems is almost impossible, and again all we have to do is file it away.

  17. Great post. The habit of media to label people in an attempt to make some sort of sense out of violent senseless acts never fails to unnerve me. Years ago, I lived in Syracuse, and an unstable man snapped and went on a killing spree. In that case, the media discovered that the man’s apartment had lots of books and no television. Yes, they went there. The media implied that folks who read a lot and didn’t watch TV were mentally unstable weirdoes. After all, that is far easier than examining the broken mental health care system in the US, and how mentally unstable people are on the street because there isn’t enough help for them.

  18. violet says:

    Fantastic piece. I enjoyed reading and whole heartedly agreeing with everything. All too often subcultures are frowned upon for these tragedies. Truth is, no matter how we identify, we are all human and that is what matters during cases like this.

  19. Last week they were blaming the autism community, including myself and my daughter, because someone suggested he may have had Aspergers. It seems we need to put the blame where it belongs: the kid who fired the gun. He’s dead, we will never know why he did it, but stirring up fear of others isn’t going to help anyone. I live for the days when media and journalists actually report news instead of rumor.

  20. Thanks for writing this thoughtful piece. I think generalizations about Goths and other marginalized groups need to be exposed as fear and ignorance. People want to believe that the people who commit atrocities are monsters so that they can not only absolve themselves of collective blame but also to feel comfortable that they are good human beings. In reality, it’s far more complicated than that. I’ve listened to black metal among other genres since I was a teen and I’m a pacifist Buddhist. Does a culture that glorifies fame and greed not itself produce mental illness and violence? We don’t have to look to fringe groups or subcultures to find clues.

  21. Great article! The media is constantly blaming cultures, people, practices, beliefs without any rational evidence or support… I used to believe the nonsense they are feeding to the public. Luckily, I don’t anymore! Everyone, I would love for you to check out my new blog, just posted something about encounters with rude peoplel!!! :)

  22. cpoolman2010 says:

    The whole case and constant new findings to me is suspicious. I would assume when they talked to the brother this would have been told. I agree profiling and causing fear and panic is the wrong thing to do. Even the movie theater shooting was suspicious. I mean the guy was so drugged up he couldn’t hold his head up how can he use these weapons as it was done under the influence of these drugs? Seems we all can be falsely profiled off anything these days our freedoms or illusions of freedoms are leaving us day in and out.

  23. neurotype says:

    I’ve never understood it myself. Isn’t it strange that thousands of people do all these things without committing violence? Yet if you look at other, tougher statistics like neglect or abuse, that’s when you see a pattern.

    It’s just harder to blame some abstract piece of upbringing than a choice of clothing.

  24. Helen Cherry says:

    The media always has to blame someone… Actually we are ALL to blame because each of us has helped create a society that in general does not accept anyone who is different, accepts violence and guns as “inevitable”. We have taught our children to fear and hate isn’t it time we started to teach them to accept and love ?

  25. noahbody123 says:

    Sadly…. the days of responsible journalism seem to be far behind us. It used to be you could trust journalists, or most of them, to be unbiased and truthful… now it seems they all have their own agendas. Just as bad as the politicians whom they are frequently in bed with.

  26. Kimbernator says:

    Thank you for your post. I am fascinated by the way we individually attempt to avoid labels but as a society seem to obsess about them. What label does he/she fit into? What does that say about who they are? How does that explain their behavior? The bottom line is that we have a problem with communication within the system in this country and we need to readdress how to deal with mental illness. Life style has little or nothing to do with it. I am a teacher and frankly, some of my most thoughtful and intelligent students have been Goth. I hope people read your post and are reminded not to stereotype!

  27. Groovy Mamma says:

    Welcome to the world of black people

  28. Mchan says:

    Before the goths the gutter press blamed people playing Dungeon and Dragons for violence and “escape from reality”. In Europe we have goths too but we have less killings simply because getting your hands on a gun is not so easy… for everybody goths or no goths.
    “Goth” is such an easy description for a lot of things from literature you discover at university to dressing up in black or people who dress up and meet friends, hardly a suicide party. Now goths are everywhere in ads or women’s magazines so it’s kind of fun to see people blaming goths when corsets are sold in shops and brands surf on the goth fashion.
    Like the previous comment I also thought about Marilyn Manson in Moore’s movie- I had never really listened to him before but I was impressed by the way he expressed himself so different from the way he was portrayed.
    As you mentioned goths can also be targets in Europe especially from a few Muslim youths.

  29. tomhodgsonuk says:

    What a well-written piece of journalism about a not-so-well written one.

    I’m sure the majority of lower-quality newspapers are rapidly going downhill these days. I read an article slating cyclists for being a ‘threat’ to cars the other day. British journalism is allowing some pretty low standards to seep in it seems. When you use bad writing and research on serious issues such as this, that’s when it’s just plain wrong.

    Great article.

  30. hizzawja2 says:

    I don’t think what he did has anything to do with him being ‘goth’ and more to do with him being mentally ill…

  31. Pingback: The Waukesha Stabbing and the ‘Creepy’ Connection | The Blogging Goth

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