There was another random attack on United Kingdom goths last week. Melody McDermott, 22, was knocked across a tram by a head butt delivered from Kenneth Kelsall, 47. Kelsall then proceeded to punch and kick the downed McDermott while his accomplice, Gareth Farrar, attacked McDermott's companion Stephen Stafford before the two attackers ran off.
McDermott suffered a fractured eye socket while Stafford needed stitches for an ear injury. The attackers both pleaded guilty to assault and will be sentenced on July 2. The attack is an eerie mirror of the one that befell Sophie Lancaster in 2007, save that Lancaster didn't survive the beating delivered by a gang of thugs that celebrated having "done summat [something] good" in beating down the gothic teen.
The day after Memorial Day seems as good as any to summon the Gothic Council to debate what could be considered a rise of hate crimes against goths, and if so why. Joining us this week are fashion designer Batty, co-founder of the Age of Decay festival Alethea Carr, blogger at Night's Plutonium Shore Sarah Fanning, living historian Morrighanne Burns, author of Starblood Carmilla Voiez, artist Ugly Shyla, and Webmistress at Morticia's Morgue Becky Plexco.
Batty: Just at a glance, I don't think anyone will ever answer why people do these things. Some people are inherently evil and fucked-up in the head, and it will never change, sadly. Goth or not, hate crimes against anyone are usually done by those type of evil bastards that no one can ever figure out and who will never listen to reason because they have none themselves. Bad eggs.
Alethea Carr: People who are capable of that level of violence often need only a target, and goths are walking, big, black targets, very visually set apart from the crowd. All any predator needs is someone separated from the herd. Also, I think goths can be perceived as lower-risk targets because other people may be less likely to defend someone who looks "evil" or "scary" than to defend a more obviously innocent victim.
It's also possible that the attackers and the general public may feel goths are asking for it by deviating so heavily from the aesthetic norm. Barbaric thinking, yes, but society is only recently removed from those same sentiments against women being raped or gay men being beaten.
Batty: I have to agree with Alethea. Being goth is just a trigger for these people and they are looking for one. It could have just as easily been a punk, a hippie, a drag queen, anything that stands out. These people are just ticking bombs waiting for something to set them off. Living in Texas sure seems to cure a lot of this behavior, because we can easily carry guns and no one seems to really mess with anyone half as much out of fear of getting shot.
Sarah Fanning: I think we need to step back and look at how the media and general uneducated masses perceive the goth subculture. Take for example all the negative remarks made in the media about goths after the Columbine shooting. Or how after tragic and violent acts happen where the perpetrator is youngish, someone will without fail blame goths.
The unfortunate reality is that much of the ignorant masses see us as preoccupied with death and the devil and therefore we must be evil and violent and a threat to their narrow-minded existence. So, they see us and they fear what they don't understand and because we are different and scary, they hate us. Then they act out in horrific ways.
Morrighanne Burns: When I was a baby back in 1986, we got beaten up for being freaks constantly. This was by teens our age and older. Scum will always feel threatened by people dressed differently, be it goth, emo, metal, etc. This article is from a crap right-wing tabloid so they will use sensationalism and compare it to high-profile cases to shock the middle-class hausfraus. You catch the eye of a scumbag and they'll go for you no matter how you look.
Carmilla Voiez: I think it's wrapped up in the drive to make everybody hate anyone who's different [from] them. The media, schools and society are based around conformity. Like Althea said, anyone who deviates from the norm is feared and/or demonized. It's a problem in particular for goths. I suspect because of the androgyny and the negative portrayals of the subculture, but anyone who has the audacity not to follow the norm can be targeted.
Ugly Shyla: I grew up and still live in Jennings, Louisiana, which is about three hours from NOLA and three from Houston. I started looking pretty much the way I look now when I was around 15, and I'm 32 now. People wonder why I tend to be a bit on the aggressive side, and the answer is I kind of had to.
I grew up in the ghetto. If I didn't stand up for myself and act more aggressive than the people giving me issues, I could have been beaten up or maybe even raped. And rape is a issue that the female punks, goths, etc. have to also worry about. I always carried a knife and still do just in case.
I would deal with everything from people barking at me like a dog because they thought I was ugly like a dog to having men come up to me when I was 16 freaking years old and asking if I had any piercings "anywhere else." I'd tell them no and that I was also 16, and some would back off. More scary, some wouldn't.
I think people do it to be showoffs. "Look at me! I kicked that freak's ass." Or they assume you have to be the biggest slut that walked the earth because you are weird-looking and female, and I think some of the animosity also stems from the aggressor being somebody that is so repressed by them wanting to fit in with "normal" people that they want to just bash your head in for having the guys to be how you want to be.
Alethea Carr: My mother and I were discussing ladylike ways of walking vs. other ways, and I told her walking like a runway model wasn't an option for me. I have to be a little more aggressive in the way I carry myself, for safety's sake. I don't know whether it wards off danger or not, but it doesn't hurt to look like someone who would punch back.
Ugly Shyla: Anton LaVey always said when out walking, walk like you are a lion. I always walk like I'm the one wanting to knock the hell out of somebody so it makes people think twice.
Sarah Fanning: I feel fortunate that I have never lived in an area where I felt threatened by being me. Sure, growing up in somewhat rural Pennsylvania, I got picked on when I didn't fit the standard '80s norms, but it was not relentless bullying or anything like that. Then I moved to D.C. and found it to be a very tolerant town -- probably because it really is a melting pot of nearly every world culture. Though, when I was working late in bars, I did carry myself in an aggressive manner and carry pepper spray walking home to protect myself from drunken frat boys.
Morrighanne Burns: With the laws the way they are here in Scotland, anyone stepping in could be charged. Being aggressive in your manner would only entice this type of person. While I don't agree with civilians having guns, I do think that government cuts in the prison system mean that sentences are far too lenient and are not a deterrent. Prison life is very comfortable for all ages.
My husband works with teens who have committed hideous crimes and they get treated better inside than they do outside. The EU constantly challenges our legal system and like a good puppy we obey, unlike other European countries that still have tough prisons and tough sentences.
Carmilla Voiez: This case and the Sophie Lancaster case could also be seen as a result of patriarchy and misogyny. This level of violence directed at women who do not conform to the attackers' decorative ideal.
Some men and women have a view that women have a responsibility to look good. That's why so many women in the public eye are verbally attacked if they put on weight or wear the wrong outfit. This could be part of the reason that attacks like this happen, an unnatural and insane escalation of a common hatred.
Alethea Carr: Carmilla, that's an excellent explanation for why female goths seem to be bearing the brunt of many of these attacks. I had been wondering what drew so much wrath against people who were, physically at least, less threatening than the males with them. Beat the men up just enough to neutralize the threat, then take out your real fury on the women. Makes sense, unfortunately.
Ugly Shyla: I also agree with Carmilla. I have been out and about with guys that look just as weird as me, and they will openly admit I get more stares, whispers and crap than a male [who] looks just like me. Which is why I have to be twice as aggressive as a male who looked like me would be if confronted because they think if you are female. you shouldn't be weird. Secondly, you won't be able to fight back.
Becky Plexco: Ignorance and superstition breed fear, fear breeds anger and violence. People like this don't care what's different, they're just looking for someone to bully. When I was in high school (late '70s), my best friend was bullied because he was straight out of Lebanon (his family was chased from their home by soldiers and lost almost everything) and spoke hardly any English, and then he comes here and the rednecks would kick and hit him just walking down the hall minding his own business because he was different.
But the violence against goths and obvious pagans is a little different. A lot of it really is superstitious. They're afraid of us. And the myth about goth girls being easy is out there, too. I learned early to develop the "don't even think about approaching me" stare. And I carried a gun for years, also.