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Sunday, 15 April 2012

Goths: reasons to be hateful, part 3

Following on from my recent post about the depressing modern tendency to snear at and generally condescend toward goths, new thoughts form in my undead cerebrum ....

Actually, it's just one rather bleak thought. A lament, almost. How pathetic is it that dressing in black or having "birds-nest" hair can get you not just sneared at, but killed? Here and now in the 21st century. Killed. The recent spate of "emo"killings in Iraq has been widely reported, and Amnesty and others have expressed alarm at reports of maybe dozens of people murdered because they were gothy kids sporting emo looks. It seems these are hate crimes being whipped up by religious bigots and other self-appointed "moral guardians" in Iraq. Vile, but in Iraq somehow not totally unexpected.

By contrast, the beating to death of a 20-year-old goth woman Sophie Lancaster in a park in Bacup, Lancashire in 2007 was widely reported as a shocking, out-of-the-blue incident. I'm not so sure it was that surprising.  The attack on Lancaster and her boyfriend was fairly clearly an anti-goth hate crime. She was killed for being a goth. But I don't think we should be surprised at the seemingly limitless capacity for bullies to gather together in herds to torment/persecute/attack "outsiders". Non-locals, away fans, wrong-postcode gangs, people with learning difficulties, you name it - if they're identifiably "different", vulnerable and just there, then bang ....

It's surely not surprising that the reaction to second- or third-generation gothdom can be violent and even murderous. Teds, mods and punks have all been picked on down the years. I once had the delightful experience of being punched in the face by a stranger in the street in Sheffield who ... didn't like my haircut ("What do you look like? You cunt!" were my critic's friendly words, as he passed his ... ahem, non-verbal judgement). This was 1983 or '84; the "offending" hairstyle was a "psychobilly flat-top-with-spiked-quiff", as connoisseurs of these things will know, a veritable haircut classic. But anyway, I digress. So yes, the targets vary but intolerance never goes out of style. Punish the punks in Indonesia, bash the metal kids in Iraq. And if you're snearing at goths in London or Leeds, you're also feeding the hate (another small morsel) that leads to a death in a park in Lancashire.

Last week I listened to the BBC radio play about Sophie Lancaster's killing ("Black Roses"), a moving account of her life and death. One resonance for me was in her name. Having spent a few years in the town of Lancaster in the 90s I've come to think of the entire county as a stronghold of gothdom, safe ground almost. Except, of course, nowhere is really safe ground...

Black Roses' signature music is a snatch of The Cure's All Cats Are Grey, which becomes a beautiful, melancholic refrain in the play.

One of the things I quite like about Robert Smith is that he's maintained his smeared-lipsticked, clown-goth look well past "fashionability" . Instead he's taken it into some grande dame-type zone of Maria Callas-like divadom. He's now got more in common with (say) Grayson Perry than a regular pop/rock figure. Good for him, and one small reason to be cheerful. Meanwhile, in a Britain which seems to be getting more conformist and more pressure-cooker angry, I wouldn't be surprised to hear about other Sophie Lancaster-type hate crimes in coming years. Goths: reasons to be hateful, part 3 (recurring).

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