Saturday, May 10, 2008

Hannah Bond - Press/Coroner blame another suicide on Emo

Once again a Coroner and other media sources have blamed a form of music for teenage depression and suicide without any firm evidence. Leading to headlines like these:

Popular schoolgirl dies in 'emo sucide cult', United Kingdom - 7 May 2008

Roger Sykes, the coroner who recorded a verdict of suicide, found aspects of the youth movement, which began in America, “very disturbing”.

He said: “A girl of 13 years old has taken her own life for no reason that by anyone could be found to be justifiable.

“It is a terrible and tragic explanation to what happened. It is not glamorous, just simply a tragic loss of such a young life.”

Maidstone Coroners’ Court heard that Hannah, of East Peckham, Kent, had lived a double life, outwardly a bright fun-loving family-orientated schoolgirl, but inwardly a devotee of “emo” which stands for emotional.

She had secretly chatted to “emo” followers online all over the world, talking about death and the glamorisation of hanging and speaking about “the black parade” - a place where “emos” believe they go after they die.

She had even scratched her wrists in a form of self-harm often seen as a form of initiation into the popular fashion and lifestyle fad followed by young people who dress in black like their older “Goth” crowd.

On her page on Bebo, the online networking site, she told friends with names like Sam Suicide, that she was obsessed with the American band My Chemical Romance, who hit number one with their last album The Black Parade.

In a tribute book dedicated to Hannah at her school, one of her friends wrote, “I hope you enjoy the black parade”, and it emerged another “emo” girl at Hannah’s school, Mascalls Secondary School in Paddock Wood, Kent, had tried to kill herself a year ago.

Her mother Heather, a housewife, told the court how she originally thought “emo” was a harmless youth movement.

She said: “She called emo a fashion and I thought it was normal. I didn’t know about the cuts. She used to wear Emo bracelets so her wrists were concealed.

“Hannah was just a normal girl. She had loads of friends. She could be a bit moody but I thought it was just because she was a teenager. In the months before she had become obsessed with the internet.

“But there were no signs this was going to happen. She had everything to live for.”

Her father Raymond, a martial arts instructor who broke down as he gave evidence, said he had noticed the marks on her wrist.

He said: “We discussed it when I noticed the marks. When I was younger I was a punk and we used to do tattoos and things, but I wasn’t angry with her because she promised me she would never do it again.

“Although she was in touch with emos all over the world, particularly in America, she was still in touch with the same girl she always was.

“The night before she died she came into my room and gave me a kiss on the cheek and said 'I love you dad.’”

Vanessa Everett, her headteacher, told the inquest that none of her teachers felt she had any issues.

“She was a popular and bright girl who had achieved merits day in and day out right up until the day of her death,” she said.

She said they had been aware of “superficial self-harm” among younger students who had joined the emo clan, but said it was difficult to determine those intent on harming themselves and those using it as “a fashion statement.”

What is 'emo'?

Emo, which stands for "emotional, is a youth movement based around dark music, dark clothing and a dark view of the world.

It was pioneered in America and emo followers adhere to a host of cult-like conventions to demonstrate dedication to this new wave of pop music and lifestyle.

The emo brand of music sounds much like indie or rock, but it takes its unique name from the emotional lyrics and melancholy themes.

One of the forerunners of this genre is the band My Chemical Romance from New Jersey, America.

While most fans simply enjoy the music and dress, others take their fascination to a sinister level.

They indulge in self-harming and become obsessed with death and suicide.

The Daily Mail happy as this "backs" the lies it told back in 2006 shouts:

Girl, 13, hangs herself after becoming obesssed with 'suicide cult ...
Daily Mail, UK - 7 May 2008

Suicide CULT !!! This is nonsense of the worst order.

The Sun reveals that:
Her headteacher Vanessa Everett told the inquest other emo pupils had self-harmed. She said it was "probable" Hannah was motivated by the failed suicide of another girl pupil who was also an emo fan... On the night Hannah died she argued with her mum after she was barred from staying at a friend’s.
Suicide of Hannah, the secret 'emo'
The Sun, UK - 7 May 2008

So perhaps it was something connected with that argument rather than emo. Mind you the Sun also says she was a Secret Emo which doesn't seem to be true.

In the recent wave of teen suicides in Bridgend only one person involved had any interest in alternative music. Why did the other people there kill themselves exactly? Another one died the same day Hannah's verdict was announced. Perhaps listening to chart music causes suicide, or having normal hair styles? In all those cases the suicide was sudden and out of character.

In fact is far more likely that Hannah and her friend responded to the media's sensationalised reporting of the teenage suicides in Bridgend and killed herself because of that. Unlike blaming emo which as has been pointed out here has never had any study showing there was any increase in suicide or self harm connected to it there are a large numbers of academic studies which link increases in teenage suicides to how the press report them. Why do the press not report these FACTS rather than talking about unsubstantiated and unproven allegations?

And remember these ideas linking Emos to self harm and suicide are frequently used to justify attacks on Emos as in Mexico.

Meanwhile in an example of decent reporting The Times actually looks at the wider context. Why can't the rest of the media be similarly responsible?

All this darkness and introspection can seem alarming to parents who drop in and see what looks like a glorification of unhappiness, but most online emo hangouts reveal little that’s different from run-of-the-mill teen angst. In a feature published previously in The Times, Andy Greenwald found that emo bands and their fans were unexpectedly clean living. “I could not have picked a duller genre in terms of spending time on tour buses and not being able to get a beer,” he said. “These guys don’t drink or smoke or do drugs. They like comics and video games and art. And the kids ‘hang out’ in MySpace. If you live in the suburbs and don’t have a car, here is this place where life goes on 24/7 and you are plugged into a community immediately, and you have the freedom online to have a second, heroic version of yourself.”

When a young person commits suicide, there is of course an understandable urge to find someone or something to blame, but today’s emo forums don’t differ all that much from non-emo forums. One discussion group at does include the alarming topic heading of “Cutting… is it worth it?”, referring to the habit of self-harm which some have associated with emo culture, but the resounding reply from the online community is: “Don’t do it. Seek help” – but expressed a little more robustly.

Much more common are questions about being a better emo. Discussions centre around the clothes to wear, the mannerisms to adopt and the music to love or hate – even, rather touchingly, whether it’s OK for straight emo boys to kiss each other (the answer seems to be yes). Plenty more words are spent rubbishing bands deemed to have jeopardised their credibility, but emo groups generally seem to be far more accommodating and peaceable than the rival teen tribes that line up against them, crashing online forums to attack their dress sense and taste in music.

Even in their more emotionally charged moments, the emo forums seem to have more to do with adolescent self-dramatisation than anything more sinister. In any case, most psychologists suggest that expressing feelings of angst or depression is healthier than bottling them up.

Emo culture is, if anything, a celebration of the unbottling of angst. It may not be all that appealing to an outsider, but it is probably not too different from many adolescents’ playground conversations. Ultimately, reactions to the emo web culture will probably depend on the preconceptions of the observer: those who find young people frightening and incomprehensible will find it frightening and incomprehensible, while others will see nothing more or less remarkable than a group of like-minded teenagers trying out an identity as they struggle their way into adulthood.

Emo on the web: exploring a subculture
Times Online, UK - 8 May 2008

Likewise NME reports that EMO fans (who remember number in the hundreds of thousands) deny the nonsense.
  1. Emo fans defend their music against suicide claims | News | NME.COM
    Emo fans have contacted NME.COM to defend their music against claims it inspired 13 year-old Hannah Bond to commit suicide.

Punk news tells it like it is:
Emo blamed in suicide of 13-year old

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