Saturday, October 13, 2007

Goth, Marilyn Manson and Columbine - The Lies which lead to a Legacy of Hatred

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 people at Columbine High school in 1999. As well ruining the lives of those who lost loved ones they also left an ongoing legacy of fear and mistrust for other people who were nowhere near Columbine. It meant goths and fans of other alternative music were blamed for murders that were no responsibility of theirs and every time the media mention Columbine the connection is frequently repeated. This legacy owes much to poor media reporting.Why did this myth develop? Because inaccurate reports were made just after the attack as this key examination of the events based on the report of Sheriff's investigation makes clear:

Investigators also criticized the media for propagating the myth that the pair were Goths. Apparently it took nothing more than reports of black clothing and eyeliner among the unrelated Trench Coat Mafia for much of the national media to label them Goths. "That became a whole issue for a week," one investigator said. "Marilyn Manson canceled his concert."

ABC's "20/20" aired a particularly ignorant "report" the night after the tragedy, linking the killers to the scene with alarmist messages about Satanism and cults. Aside from the fact that the report completely misrepresented and maligned the movement, neither Marilyn Manson nor the Goths had anything whatsoever to do with the killers, who had nothing but contempt for the music.

The media even got the idea they were part of the Trenchcoat Mafia (some of whom were goths) wrong:

Harris and Klebold are still routinely referred to as belonging to the Trench Coat Mafia. As recently as Wednesday, in a report on Sears' decision to stop selling a trench coat-wearing action figure, CNN Headline News was referring to "the two Trench Coat Mafia teens who were responsible for the Columbine High School massacre last April." But sources unanimously and unequivocally confirm that the group had nothing whatsoever to do with the murders, and very little to do with Harris and Klebold.

Some of the confusion concerning a wider conspiracy lies with premature remarks made by Sheriff John Stone the morning after the massacre. But the department has since ruled out the possibility that the killers were connected with the group of Columbine outsiders known as the Trench Coat Mafia.

"Harris and Klebold were never part of the Trench Coat Mafia," one investigator said. "They were kind of friends of fringe members." Battan scoffed at the notion of any significant association: "They were outcasts in that!"

By the time of the murders, most of the Trench Coat Mafia had graduated or dropped out, and the term was almost an anachronism, investigators explained. That didn't stop a flurry of would-be terrorists from latching onto the name. "Suddenly, there were thousands of Trench Coat Mafia all over the country," Davis said. "I get Internet threats from, like, Iowa that they're the Trench Coat Mafia," Battan laughed. "Well, there is no Trench Coat Mafia!"

That didn't stop anyone associated with the group from being ostracized. They went virtually unseen at the innumerable memorials and grief ceremonies, and some students even threatened "retaliatory" violence should they show their faces in nearby Clement Park, which became the site of impromptu memorials last spring.

It was widely reported that students associated with the group were effectively prohibited from finishing the school year with their peers at Chatfield High School. However, district spokesman Rick Kaufman says it had nothing to do with the Trench Coat Mafia per se. Eighteen students were identified as acquaintances of Harris and Klebold, he said.

They were offered alternatives such as home-based tutoring, "because of the raw emotions, the strong feelings that existed right after the tragedy." "Twelve of the 18 said, 'Thanks but no thanks,' and returned to school," he said. "Six of the 12 accepted the offer. There was only one student who we were not going to allow back to school."

As far as trench coats themselves, Klebold was known to wear one occasionally. However, "No student can recall ever seeing Eric wear a trench coat, other than once, this past fall [1998], other than the day of the shooting," Kaufman said.

Inside the Columbine High investigation Sept. 23, 1999
Everything you know about the Littleton killings is wrong. But the truth may be scarier than the myths.
So the Police themselves said there was no connection to goth. In May 1999 Marilyn Manson wrote an excellent article pointing out the attempt to blame him for the killings was incoherent:

Man's greatest fear is chaos. It was unthinkable that these kids did not have a simple black-and-white reason for their actions. And so a scapegoat was needed. I remember hearing the initial reports from Littleton, that Harris and Klebold were wearing makeup and were dressed like Marilyn Manson, whom they obviously must worship, since they were dressed in black. Of course, speculation snowballed into making me the poster boy for everything that is bad in the world. These two idiots weren't wearing makeup, and they weren't dressed like me or like goths. Since Middle America has not heard of the music they did listen to (KMFDM and Rammstein, among others), the media picked something they thought was similar.

Responsible journalists have reported with less publicity that Harris and Klebold were not Marilyn Manson fans -- that they even disliked my music. Even if they were fans, that gives them no excuse, nor does it mean that music is to blame. Did we look for James Huberty's inspiration when he gunned down people at McDonald's? What did Timothy McVeigh like to watch? What about David Koresh, Jim Jones? Do you think entertainment inspired Kip Kinkel, or should we blame the fact that his father bought him the guns he used in the Springfield, Oregon, murders? What inspires Bill Clinton to blow people up in Kosovo? Was it something that Monica Lewinsky said to him? Isn't killing just killing, regardless if it's in Vietnam or Jonesboro, Arkansas? Why do we justify one, just because it seems to be for the right reasons? Should there ever be a right reason? If a kid is old enough to drive a car or buy a gun, isn't he old enough to be held personally responsible for what he does with his car or gun? Or if he's a teenager, should someone else be blamed because he isn't as enlightened as an eighteen-year-old?

Marilyn Manson: Columbine: Whose Fault Is It? : Rolling Stone

Certainly Harris was a big fan of German Industrial and Techno especially KMFDM and Rammstein which has some cross over with the goth scene, but there is no evidence he had any interest in any more gothic bands. Kebold's favourite music included The Smashing Pumpkins, Orbital, The Chemical Brothers, KMFDM, Nine Inch Nails, and Rammstein. Moreover they did not dress in a goth or any other alternative style, hang round with the goth group in the school and their interests in guns, baseball, and computers were perhaps more significant to them than music. You can see more about Harris's musical interests here Music.

In a way Columbine attribution to goth has similarities to the famous blood libel attributed to Jews, the claim used from the middle ages onwards that Jews killed children in bloody sacrifices and that were used to spark pogroms. Of course the Blood Libel was untrue but that was what people wanted to think. After the shooting bullying and hassling of alternative teens increased across the USA.
In scattered reports from around the country, high school students who dress defiantly, or who are computer lovers, or who qualify in any way as outcasts, say that since the killings in Littleton, Colo., last week, they feel as if they have become perceived not only as different but as threats... The messages pouring in to Mr. Katz have included reports of students being expelled or suspended from school for "antisocial" behavior or sent home to change clothes similar to what the killers wore; of clampdowns by parents on computer use; of increased scrutiny and determined offers of counseling from adults, especially when students say that though they do not condone the shootings, they can understand what motivated them, and of more hostility from other students.

Carey Goldberg " TERROR IN LITTLETON: THE SHUNNED; For Those Who Dress Differently, an Increase in Being Viewed as Abnormal" New York Times - May 1, 1999
In the past twenty years, the Goth subculture has become its own culture, generating many subcultures within itself. I am acquainted with several young people who are part of this. They share my concern at the media's portrayal of Harris and Klebold as Goths. Several have been harassed on the street since the Columbine incident. Yet the truth is that violence is anathema to most Gothic lifestyles. And Nazism is not glorified by Goths. How could it be, my friends ask, when Goths would be among the first persecuted by Nazis today? They fear for younger "quiet freaks" still in high school "who wear black, tint their hair, have multiple piercings, write dark poetry--and aren't ever going to hurt anyone." So do I.

The Columbine Tragedy Countering the Hysteria May 1999

Another good article is here:

5/3/99) Media Finds Easy Monster in 'Goth' Subculture

And then onto more recent times as these articles shows anytime a new attack occurs a link to Columbine is repeated:
Dark days for Goths Emily Sweeney The Boston GlobeOct. 15, 2004 12:00 AM

Sixteen-year-old Sonya Feinn usually wears black clothes, thick eyeliner, and dark lipstick. She listens to Sisters of Mercy and Nine Inch Nails. She is accustomed to people glaring at her Gothic-inspired outfits, so she wasn't surprised when journalists described a Marshfield, Mass. teen accused of plotting a school shooting as a Goth.

"I've rarely seen Gothic figures portrayed in a good light in the news, the media, and the movies," Feinn said. "We get such a bad rap."

In middle school, Feinn's classmates called her a "Satan worshiper" because she wore dark clothes. Ironically, Feinn left that public school to attend an all-girls Catholic high school that requires school uniforms. More recently, Feinn's high school classmates gave her friend Mike the nickname "Columbine" because he wears long trenchcoats - an innocuous article of clothing that became synonymous with school shootings five years ago.

Those notorious long coats and the term "Goth" made headlines in 1999 when two Colorado teens attacked their high school, shooting to death students and teachers. Authorities initially described the gunmen as Goths, because they often wore black clothes to school and dubbed themselves "The Trenchcoat Mafia." Media coverage of the Columbine High School massacre thrust Gothic subculture into the national spotlight, and almost overnight the G-word became inextricably linked to school violence, even though the Columbine killers shared no attributes found in the Goth subculture, with the exception of dark clothing...

Life wasn't easy for him and his darkly dressed cohorts at Lexington High. Classmates would call them homophobic slurs and throw empty plastic bottles at their heads. "To be a guy dyeing your hair black and wearing makeup, you were under constant scrutiny by your peers," said Usmani. "You couldn't walk around town with black dyed hair and eyeliner without being profiled by shopping clerks or having a couple of kids try to start with you." Usmani added, "After Columbine, (Goth) kids were put on the spot more than before."

Feinn has grown accustomed to being scrutinized because of her self-expression. She said her outfits usually draw interesting reactions from passersby. She recently walked into a bagel shop in her hometown of Reading and witnessed a young mother try to shade her child's eyes from looking at Feinn's Goth outfit. In middle school, her classmates called her devil worshiper, or referred to her as Satan. "I was treated so badly (in middle school)," Feinn said. "People in this town aren't comfortable with (Goths)."

She finally decided to leave the Reading public schools and attend her high school, where, thanks to the required uniforms, "no one can judge you on what you wear."

[This next article sadly only one of the many exampls of the Columbine goth myth in action. Virtually everything mentioned in this article about Columbine is wrong 6 years after the killings.]

Eerie Parallels Are Seen To Shootings at Columbine
New York Times - Mar 23, 2005

He is said to have worn a trench coat and listened to Marilyn Manson, the Goth icon. He expressed his admiration for Hitler on a neo-Nazi Web site. And in the midst of a murderous rampage at his high school, Jeff Weise asked a classmate if he believed in God, then shot him, one student recounted in a local newspaper.

As details begin to emerge about Mr. Weise's shooting spree on an Indian reservation in northern Minnesota, there are eerie echoes of the nation's most infamous school tragedy, six years ago at Columbine High School near Littleton, Colo.

At Columbine, the killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, belonged to the ''Trench Coat Mafia'' and loved all things Goth. They sometimes did a Nazi salute while bowling and planned their attack for Hitler's birthday. Before killing one student, witnesses said, one of them held a gun to her temple and asked if she believed in God.

The same thing still goes on and on. Through all this Harris and Kebold's evil acts live on tainting the lives of the innocent. Simply check out other reports mentioning Columbine in this blog found here. There is simply no connection between goth and any other form of music and the killings at Columbine. If you are looking for reasons the murders occurred because the teenagers were full of hatred and had easy access to fire arms.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Hate Crime and Subcultures - the debate

As mentioned before on the Epetition the idea of "Hate Crime" legislation being applied to subcultures arose quite soon after Sophie's death and aroused strong opinions for and against. See the debate at this site: Community - Change the UK Law - Goth Hate Crime - lets try anyway. The points raised against the idea of hate crime legislation for subcultures which are noted below come from there. [Note they are talking about an earlier petition not the UK specific one].

Many points are very good and entirely valid. I think it is very interesting to note the reluctance of many to immeadiately endorse the idea, which you might think from an emotional and purely tribalistic perspective might seem very attractive given the strong feelings Sophie's death aroused. Does this mean goths think too much as some people have suggested? Or that goths actually are as individualistic as they often claim to be? Is dealing with goths like trying to herd cats as I myself have observed?

Whatever you conclude this is why I think it is important to emphasise as well education and awareness - the ideas pursued by the SOPHIE campaign, rather than necessarily wage a battle over whether this a hate crime or not? Trying to reduce negative coverage of subcultures in the media is a key element in this I think.

Some of the key points and ideas mentioned in the debate against the idea of redefining Hate Crime are:

A) subcultures choose to be different unlike gay or racial minorities:

IsolatedReptile: What I said was, it's a fashion thing. Fashion is a choice. If you feel threatened, don't dress that way. It's not a hate crime because you wear black. It's just a crime. It's a hate crime if you are black. You can't help that.

Beneath the Shadows: As far as I'm concerned, the only things that should be considered hate crimes are crimes against people who were born certain ways, ie because of sexual orientation or ethnicity. Those people cannot help what they are, so any crimes against them just because they what they are are hate crimes. But just about everything else is a choice.

Don't get me wrong, I still think that it's tragic that someone will get beaten up for how they vote, or what god they worship, or how they dress. But those are all choices.

Captain Stern: What people are proposing here is we be put on the same level as jewish people who have their synagogues burned and covered in swastikas by skinheads, that we get equal protection like blacks who are hung for dating white women , like other minorities who really have had, and still have atrocities forced upon them in todays society.

Althought I'm sure the founders of the movement have nothing but good intentions, goths have by no means suffered as much as the groups above, or any other minoroties who have been targetted in such a manner.

If we try to compare our plight, which so far is limited to a single incident where a group of random yobs beat up a couple goths in the middle of the night, to these other groups, we will look very petty and small.
B) Where do you draw the line? If Hate laws are extended to some subcultures where does it stop?
CptSternn: Every person beaten is a hate crime. If the kids were wearing glasses and a pocket protector, would we include geeks as a hate crime? If they were wearing tie-dyes would we add in hippies? If they were wearing ren-faire outfits, would we protect people in medieval garb as a hate crime?

What if they wore chicken suits and had gotten beaten up? We going to make Disneyland a protected sanctuary for people in cartoon suits?

Every crime is a hate crime. People get beaten for many reasons. Beating someone because of something they cannot change deserves to be a crime enforced but adding every little fashion change to hate crime laws doesn't help us.

C) You might undermine the importance of existing legislation:

CptSternn: It lessens the effect of real hate crime legislation. If everyone goes asking to be included in 'hate crime' laws, in the end they will just raise the penalties for all beatings because everyone wants to be listed as their own group.... I think even trying to get this put into legislation is a bad idea. It makes goths look petty, and ignorant. It also makes real hate crimes look less important, considering we appear to want protection like minorities or foreign nationals, and we are normal people, average citizens, mostly from affluent areas, who merely choose to wear an outfit.

D) Hate crime is an incoherent and unjust idea anyway. All crimes should be punished equally. This is a longstanding argument against hate crime legislation and comes down to the question of why should crimes against a black/gay/disabled person be treated differently to that of a white person:
Drake Dun: I think we should just extend hate crimes to cover all types of crime. So then it would be "hate murder", "hate aggravated assault", "hate grand larceny", "hate intentional misrepresentation with intent to defraud in connection with interstate commerce" and so forth. So then, see, they would all have "hate" in front of them, so it would be redundant, and we could drop it, and set all the sentences back to where they were to begin with.

Then we could erase all record of the entire process, and quietly pretend that we never went through this ludicrous phase of thinking that beating someone up because you don't like their clothes is somehow worse than beating them up for their wallet.
E) New laws won't change anything it is a wider social problem:

Stephanie: I'm not trying to make light of these situations but you have to be realistic, there are 'twats' out there that commit these crimes regardless of who/what the person is, usually they are bought up with very little discipline/or too much, violence in the home, violence on tv, drug/alcohol problems within the home, the list goes on and on.

'Thugs' know that they will generally get a slap on the wrist whenever a crime is committed and minors know this also, children aren't as innocent as society makes out!!

I understand that your heart is in the right place with wanting to get 'hate' crimes recognised but it would be more constructive to try and get sentences increased, mental/drug/alcohol/social problems looked at as this is where these crimes usually start. We need more information distributed within schools etc.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I can’t bury My Sophie: Sophie Lancaster Update

Sophie remains unburied for legal reasons as the trial approaches. Memorial fund in Sophie’s honour launched by friends and family which aims to fight similar violence. The special fund to be known as S.O.P.H.I.E stands for "S tamp O ut P rejudice H atred (and) I ntolerance E verywhere" aiming to "provide an appropriate memorial; a lasting legacy to raise awareness of the injustice perpetrated against Sophie Lancaster and to work towards a more tolerant, less violent society."

There is now an official Sophie Myspace page :

Myspace "In Memory of Sophie" - Official memorial site for Sophie Lancaster created by her family and friends

Sophie Lancaster Memorial Book

Sophie Tribute Unites A Town

12 hour Memorial concert was held in Bacup on the weekend with 10 bands. Local football club donates proceedings of match to S.O.P.H.I.E fund. The local townsfolk have really pulled together to express horror at this vicious attack.

Police investigation rules out further arrests [scroll down]

POLICE are not expecting to make any further arrests in relation to the attack on Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend Robert Maltby.

Detective Inspector Dean Holden, who has headed up the investigation from the start, said: 'I have been encouraged by the amount of people who have come forward with information and I am grateful for the positive reporting we have received.

'We have spoken to in excess of 100 people in the course of this inquiry and many of those people were young people and of course there are criteria to interviewing and speaking to young people.

'During the night of 10 August into the early hours of 11 August there were probably 15-20 young people in the park at various times. However, not all of them were present during the attack.

'The park is a meeting place and, during the night, children come and go.

'We are not looking at making any further arrests. I am very grateful for the help we have received and since this incident we have had a lot of support from members of the community and that is good.'

The police originally were looking for a further more people who were present during the attack as well as the 5 already under arrest. The next stage in the court process is October 18th.


October Whitby Gothic Weekend is to be dedicated to Sophie’s honour. She visited there in October 2005 with Rob. A collection organised from numerous local goth nights as well as at Whitby has been coordinated by Martin Oldgoth of Insanitorium to arrange a bench in her honour at Whitby. Good article in the goth friendly Whitby Gazette:
”An information stall will be set up in the Pavilion over the weekend of 26 October where small black ribbon roses will be sold to be worn in her memory, and donations accepted to help pay for a memorial bench and plaque to be installed.”

Contact Martin Oldgoth to contribute to the Whitby bench fund

The list of other Memorial events includes:

Charnel House in Newcastle Upon Tyne (6th Oct)

Eccentrik Festival North Carolina USA (Oct 12.07 - Oct 14.07)

The Coven (Luton) October 13th

Dominion in Dublin 13th of October

Faith and the Muse/Beauty of Gemina/Razorblade Kisses gig in London (14th Oct)

B-Movie in London (12th Oct)

Dr Fells and Dr Fells Live in Basingstoke (19th/20th October) are now holding collections.

Misery Of Sound- Blackpool 19th October- SCREAMING BANSHEE AIRCREW + PSYDOLL [japan] + PINK HEARSE

Mas - Cambridge Friday 26th October

Whitby Gothic Weekend Fri 26th - Sat 27th October

3 Nov 2007 14:00 The Sir Charles Napier Memorial Concert @ Blackburn

23 Nov 2007 19:00 ’Make A Noise’ punk gig, Accrington

24 Nov 2007 19:00 Metal gig night at the Adelphi , Accrington

25 Nov 2007 19:00 Sophie Lancaster Memorial Concert @ St Mary’s Chambers Rawenstall

Jazz night at the Jolly Sailor in Waterfoot on 25 November

Epetition at Downing Street website against Subcultural Hate Crime

This epetition was set up about ten days ago.

“Widen the definition of 'Hate Crime', to include crimes committed against a person or persons, on the basis of their appearance or subcultural interests” Ade Varney
Set up on September the 28th.

Note that petitions held at this site always generate an official response from the Prime Minister’s office when complete. You have to be a British citizen to sign the petition. Please use your real name as this a grave issue and the more real signatures attached to this the more seriously the issue is likely to be considered. The petition currently has 1036 signatures making it the 199th most popular petition on the site out of 8261 live petitions. The Liberal democrat MP for Colchester Bob Russell has already said he will approach the Home Secretary to discuss the issues raised by the attack and the petition.

There has been much online discussion about whether attaching the name hate crime to these type of assaults is in fact valid. Whether or not you agree with the idea of the petition, and of hate crimes in general it should be recognised that this petition does represent a chance to get the government to actually consider the problem of physical attacks on people from alternative subcultures and it can be used to generate media and police interest in the problem. If all that means in practice is that one goth, punk, emo kid or metaler somewhere in the UK gets a more sympathetic hearing from the police next time he/she has been attacked, I think it would be worth a few moments of anyone’s time. I myself changed my mind on the question.

[see the later Hate Crime and Subcultures - the debate post.]

Flowers for Sophie

Sophie Lancaster tribute flowers in Bacup in the park where she and Rob were attacked.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

2006 Glasgow University Study - Goth stops self harm

This study from Glasgow University in the British Medical Journal is regularly quoted by the media to demonstrate that goth makes peoples self harm.

Robert Young, Helen Sweeting, and Patrick West, Prevalence of deliberate self harm and attempted suicide within contemporary Goth youth subculture: longitudinal cohort study BMJ 2006 332: 1058-1061. [Download here]

In fact the article proves nothing of the kind as noted in an article on the report from a scientific source New Scientist:

Goth subculture may protect vulnerable children

  • 00:01 14 April 2006
  • news service
  • Gaia Vince

About half of teenage goths have deliberately harmed themselves or attempted suicide, a new study suggests. But joining the modern subculture – which grew out of the 1980s gothic rock scene – may actually protect vulnerable children, researchers say.

The study followed 1258 young people who were interviewed at ages 11, 13, 15 and 19. It found that of those who considered themselves goths, 53% had self-harmed and 47% had tried to commit suicide. The average prevalence of self-harm among young people in the UK is 7% to 14%. Self-harm includes behaviours such as cutting or burning oneself. And about 6% of young people admit suicide attempts. Some studies suggest the incidence is rising in society.

Researchers at University of Glasgow found that while most self-harmers started the practice at age 12 to 13, they did not become goths until they were a couple of years older, on average.

“One common suggestion is they may be copying subcultural icons or peers [when they self-harm], but our study found that more young people reported self-harm before, rather than after, becoming a goth. This suggests that young people with a tendency to self-harm are attracted to the goth subculture,” says Robert Young, who led the study.

Quick fix

“Rather than posing a risk, it's also possible that by belonging to the goth subculture, young people are gaining valuable social and emotional support from their peers.” But he cautions: “However, the study was based on small numbers and replication is needed to confirm our results.” Only 25 participants felt strongly associated with goth culture.

Self-harming, Young says, is a behaviour that people often employ as a mechanism to deal with negative emotions. “It may be used as a quick-fix. "Some physiological studies suggest, or are compatible with the theory that endorphins [brain chemicals that produce a feeling of well-being] are released after episodes of self-harm," he told New Scientist.

Just 2% of the adolescents in the study identified with goth culture, although 8% said they had identified with it at some point in their lives. But it is a strongly non-violent and accepting subculture, which teens may find offers a supportive environment.

Michael van Beinum, a psychiatrist for children and adolescents, who advised on the study, agrees: “For some young people with mental health problems, a goth subculture may be attractive as it may allow them to find a community within which it may be easier for their distress to be understood.”

The 1980s goth culture grew out of the post-Punk movement and underwent a revival in the mid-1990s. Central to goth belief is the black aesthetic – taking icons that society regards as evil, such as skull imagery, and making them beautiful.

Journal reference: British Medical Journal (vol 332, p 909)

Even beyond this there are problems with the research itself. The results may actually mean that goths are more ready to admit they have a problem with depression and self harm because the subculture is more tolerant.

It was carried out with one age group and in one area in Scotland. Given the frequent verbal buse and bullying goths suffer does this explain some of the results? More importantly as one comment pointed out: "What about the 90% of teenagers who self harm who aren't goths (73 of 81 people in this study)?"

This excellent comment on the BMJ website one of many sums up more problems:

Michelle Phillipov,
Postgraduate Student
Dept of English, University of Adelaide 5005

It is somewhat unexpected that BMJ would publish such an article, which attempts to determine traits associated with the Goth subculture—a grouping which potentially comprises of 100,000s adherents globally—based on a sample of only 15 individuals in a single locality.

While Goth subculture is the article focus, just two references are given, and only one of them academic. There is a failure both to consult other pertinent studies—including Wright [1] and Siegel [2]—and to frame the results with respect to existing knowledge. For example, while Young et al’s results show a significant prevalence of males (about 2:1) in the ‘Goth’ category, Hodkinson—the only academic reference on Goth cited by the authors (see Young et al, ref [5])—clearly states that the Goth subculture is comprised of equal numbers of males and females. The reluctance to address this inconsistency with respect to their own cited reference is not only a significant oversight, it also makes it impossible to determine whether the authors’ findings are the result of male over- or female under-identification as Goth, or if they are simply symptomatic of untenable sample size and study design.

In addition, while Young et al find females at risk of attempted suicide, the known suicide rate for the 15-19yr group in 2000 was 4 to 1 with respect to males (see Young et al, ref [1]). Hence, the results directly contradict what is logically expected.

Furthermore, it is notable that members of the Goth subculture practice self-harm almost exclusively by means of cutting, scratching and scoring, and not through more extreme methods such as punching or self- poisoning. However, the authors unwillingness to consider the context(s) in which cutting, scratching and scoring occur, along with their readiness to subsume potentially diverse practices into a single discourse of pathology, makes it impossible to draw conclusions about the meaning and effects of these behaviours for the Goth subculture.

While the authors seek to link cutting, scratching and scoring to depression, attempted suicide and psychiatric illness, these techniques can in fact be practised for a range of different reasons. For example, within some subcultural contexts, these practices are used to induce fine scarring in decorative patterns on the body; that is, they are used as methods of bodily decoration and adornment, much like tattooing or body piercing. Without an understanding of context, it is impossible to determine whether this is the case for the Goth subculture. However, the tendency for medical and mental health discourse to systematically misrecognise body modification as self-mutilation or self-harm has been noted elsewhere [3].

Unfortunately, studies like the current one, which adopts an epidemiological approach to assessing traits within subgroups, habitually seem to support prevailing popular stereotypes. Perhaps this explains the ready acceptance and promulgation of the findings, whilst disregarding the lack of substantiation and generalisability, as well as the serious methodological flaws.

[1] Wright R. I’d sell you suicide: pop music and moral panic in the age of Marilyn Manson. Popular Music 2000; 19: 365-86.

[2] Siegel C. Goth’s dark empire. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005.

[3] Pitts V. Body modification, self-mutilation and agency in media accounts of a subculture. In Body Modification (Ed. Featherstone M). London: Sage, 2000, pp291-303.

Someone else pointed out statistical flaws:

I have enjoyed reading the paper and all responses. Here, there are few "statistical" commments. There seemed to be several flaws in the design and execution of this study.

1. are the results valid?

Authors don't give us clear description of how subjects were identified and recruited. Did they volunteer? How many refused to participate in the study? The researchers could simply have sampled the participants in such a way as to increase the chance of supporting their hypothesis. Cohort should be representative of a true population for study to be valid. Some researches use randomization procedure in cohort studies in order to choose sample, which is the most accurate picture of population.

2. Follow-up/attrition rate.

Follow-up in this study was probably long enough (8years). However, in 1994, there were 2586 participants, whereas by the year 2002/04 only 1258. Could those followed-up be a biased sample? Loss of participants may effect precision and power of the study. For example, in Table 3 under Model 1 Goth subculture there is wide confidence interval (4,42 to 45,39), which may point out to undepowered study (type II error).

3. Observer Bias?

Outcomes have been assesed using Voice-DISC. Participants were asked varies questions on: suicide, self-harm, identification with subculture. It is not mentioned how raters conducted the interviews, whether they used structured or semi-structured protocol, whether they were blind to the study's hypothesis. The more subjective rating is, the more important blinding becomes. The bias introduced by non-blinding is likely to overestimate findings. It seems that a decision of belonging to one subculture or another was rather subjective (participants' responses were assessed on a five point scale). All in all, no blinding, lack of structured interview, subjectivity can lead to observer bias.

4. Confounders

Reseachers did adjust for some confounders (sex, social class, etc) using logistic regression. However, as somebody has already pointed out, the list of potential confounding factors is long, inc physical illness, obesity, family hx.

5. Results

For prospective studies outcomes are best presented as a relative risk.One can comment then on prevalence or incidence of the disorder. In this study authors use odds ratio.

6. Study's applicability

Is this study applicable in different subcultures? Probably not. In Table 3, which shows relationship between self-harm and type of subculture, majotiry of results are statistically non-significant.

In conclusion,

In cohort studies a group of individuals is followed-up over a period of time. The individuals should be free of the outcome (here: self- harm/attempted suicide)at the beginning of follow-up. The cohort is defined by exposure status(here: Goth subculture), which should be found out before outcome is known. Cohort study measures whether exposure effects the incidence/prevalence of the outcome,i.e. whether identification with Goth subculture increases the risk of self-harm or/and suicide. Researches believe that yes. By reading and critically analysing this study, I have arrived at different conclusions.

The authors reply is interesting:

We were pleased that our paper generated a wide variety of comments. While some contributors raised specific points, others referred to more general issues relating to issues of definition, explanations and generalisability.

The definition of “Goth” is contentious, but covers a wide range of musical tastes, social groupings, and aesthetics. The most relevant distinction here is between contemporary (usually younger) “Baby, Bat or sometimes referred to as Mall (US)” Goths vs. “mature, real or Elder Goths” 1. Our paper, as is clear from the title, refers to younger Goths; the results may not apply to all Goths.

The range of comments in response to our conclusion, that both selection and influence mechanisms may be involve, reflect the lack of evidence on this issue. To highlight this, we drew attention in the press release following publication to the possibility that engagement with Goth subculture could have positive rather than negative consequences for some young people. Our contribution is a first step towards producing an evidence base to test this, rather than relying on media speculation.

Some contributors have suggested that the association between self- harm and Goth subculture may be accounted for by other factors. However this is unlikely, since we adjusted for the strongest and most relevant correlates of self-harm found in other studies of young people. Others have suggested that our results were not valid due to the small numbers involved. We would point out that our paper underwent a formal statistical review before publication. Further, while the media focused on the 25 young people who unambiguously identified as Goth, nearly 8% of our representative sample had identified with Goth subculture, in varying degrees of intensity, and were 3-4 times more likely to self-harm, than the other participants.

It has also been suggested that by adopting a quantitive approach we may have missed contextual factors (this is obviously true of any non- qualitative study), and that the high rate of self-harm found among Goths is a form of decoration, analogous to body modification. We dispute this on two grounds. Firstly, since those who self-harmed were asked why, we know that the majority, regardless of youth subculture did so to relieve anxiety, anger and other negative emotions. Secondly, while cutting could be interpreted as some form of subcultural display, such an argument is difficult to sustain in relation to attempted suicide.

Sadly as I will show in a later post the media ignored the authors intentions with the notable exception of the New Scientist.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Goths on Charity walk - Edmonton News - 'We're not killers'

Sat, October 14, 2006

Local goths join charity walk

By CARY CASTAGNA, Staff Writer

In an effort to help polish their public image, more than a dozen local goths pounded the pavement Saturday afternoon to raise money for sick kids.

The goths, some clad in black trenchcoats, joined an annual fundraising walk organized by the Children’s Wish Foundation

“We’re not gun-toters. We are and always will be peaceful people,” explained Edmonton goth Adam Wolbaum, 24.

“We’re artists, thespians, writers – we’re not killers.”

Their participation in the event, which they’ve titled “Goths For Kids,” was meant to counter recent negative publicity the subculture has received, Wolbaum explained.

The goth lifestyle has taken some heavy image damage lately. The most recent blow came on Sept. 13 when member Kimveer Gill, 25, walked into Montreal’s Dawson College and opened fire – killing one student and wounding 19 before taking his own life.

Goths and patrons of the website are upset that they’re being stereotyped as crazed killers thanks to Gill, as well as the 12-year-old goth girl and 23-year-old man who are accused of a triple homicide in Medicine Hat.

“The basis of this subculture is creativity. It’s a place for people to express themselves, a place for those people to come and be themselves unabashedly,” said Wolbaum, a U of A English major who helped raise $175 for the march that kicked off from Castledowns YMCA at 11510 153 Ave.

Marianne Hang, a Calgary goth who pledged $100 to the foundation, said the event helped show the subculture can co-exist with everyone peacefully.

“We did make a positive impression,” added Hang, 45.

Josh Blank, a 19-year-old goth from Morinville, said the group has been dogged by a negative image since the Columbine massacre in 1999.

“We’re not as bad and evil as some people believe,” he said. “We all do the same thing. We just dress differently.”

Natasha Taylor of the Children’s Wish Foundation in Edmonton said the goths were joined about 50 other community members on the walk – including city cops. She said the black-clad goths were welcomed with open arms.

“We don’t discriminate against anyone wanting to celebrate with us,” she said. “We’re glad they came out.”

Fundraising totals had yet to be tallied, but the walk was expected to raise at least $20,000, Taylor said.

Similar walks in support of the Children’s Wish Foundation took place across Canada. Goths nationwide participated.