Eye of the tiger: Anti-goth backlash after Columbine

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Goth Legs. Photo by Bryan Ledgard.

Life as a Goth teen during the social backlash and prejudice that appeared in the wake of the Columbine massacre

There was a group of people at my high school who were known as The People Under the Stairs. They were very nice, mostly suburban white kids who dressed in black and hung out underneath the main set of stairs. The People Under the Stairs were the misfits and the Goths of our school.

Many of them wore trenchcoats and black make up, and most listened to depressing alternative or industrial music. Many of them were fascinated by dark poetry, Anne Rice’s vampire novels, and movies like The Crow. Most were quite strange and creative, but there wasn’t one person who defined the group because they were all very odd people, and that’s why they hung out together. They were the misfits, the ones who didn’t belong, except to each other. I was friends with most of them.

Like in Columbine High, jocks and Goths were mortal enemies because one group was most definitely “in” and the other group wanted to be as far “out” as possible. Fortunately, things never got as out of control in Eagan, Minnesota as they did in Littleton, Colorado.

LIONS AND ZEBRAS

School is the punishment for the crime of being young. Eagan’s administration was very restrictive. We were not able to leave during the lunch hour, and there was always a security guard on patrol who was inevitably nicknamed the “Rent-a-Cop.” There is now a sign in the parking lot that claims much more power of search and seizure than any responsible judge would allow, but this has not been challenged yet.

This helps to create an atmosphere of fear and suspicion which simply is not conducive to learning. The teachers and the administration struggle for superiority over the trouble-making kids, while the rest just try to get through the day.

Kids in their most delicate hour, adolescence, are shipped daily to a huge structure made of steel and brick, where they spend their time getting indoctrinated by teachers, or fending for their social survival. Some kids’ insecurities cause them to bully other kids, and a cruel cycle emerges. Kids are forced to form cliques because of the theory of safety in numbers.

It ends up very much like something you might see on the Animal Channel. The bullies and jocks are pack hunters much like lions, while the rest are the herd of zebras who try to stay away. Like zebras, the kids will not try to help their fallen comrades and will run faster instead.

The teachers and administrators complete the metaphor as the camera crew, which observes and never interferes unless they are directly threatened. However, because of the obsessive weight-lifting of the jocks, many of the older high schoolers could bench press several of the teachers. The teachers know and fear this idea.

If the “zebras” would only unite, they would be able to defeat the jocks, but these kids are as nonviolent as zebras. Of course, the bullies don’t actually eat other kids, but the mental and social humiliation from endless verbal jabs sometimes kills kids just as effectively as a pack of lions.

DARK DREAMS

The Columbine Massacre was certainly not the first school shooting, but Columbine was a school of mostly white kids from an affluent suburb named Littleton. The name “Little-town” probably struck a chord in middle class America.

Many kids have fantasies about killing classmates or teachers because of all the horrible things that happen in school, most of which teachers never hear about. Today, schools are too big to take the time to help the quiet kid who’s having trouble fitting in. A kid can’t help his or her social life by fraternizing with the teachers, and the guidance counselors are worth about as much to kids as a box of Legos.

Columbine has only caused schools to change for the worse. Now they are even more lonely and oppressive. Video cameras monitor kids constantly, and metal detectors create extra hassles at entrances. Kids sacrifice many (but not all) Fourth Amendment rights at the door. They should play “Eye of the Tiger” at the beginning of each school day because each day is a struggle for survival.

Some schools have even banned trenchcoats because of the two rogue members of The Trenchcoat Mafia. That kind of specious reasoning is akin to painting a house yellow to enable it to withstand earthquakes. Many of my good friends have worn trenchcoats and they are some of the nicest people around.

Instead of fearing the outcasts, we should take the time to try and understand what they are rebelling against. There is much to rebel against in this society for those who haven’t conformed completely yet. We are awash in rampant consumerism, and the glorification of sports idols, but we don’t praise courageous loners who stand up for what’s right, or cool kids who befriend losers.

There is no modern day James Dean to show kids that it’s cool to be different. Instead, kids today have “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Dawson’s Creek” and “Beverly Hills 90210.” These shows are so far divorced from reality that kids watch them as a form of escape from their regular lives. Some even try to live life like the people in those soapy shows.

If our nation took a serious look at our decrepit school system, we would find ourselves amazed that there haven’t been more school shootings.

THE MATERIAL SPIRIT

Many parents wonder why their kids are so materialist, and yet few parents teach their children any deep spirituality. Today’s children are limited to a religious experience of going to church and trying to sit quietly while the priest babbles on about something they don’t understand. In western society, most kids are taught that God is far, far away from them. The material world seems much closer and much more important.

One of the kids who committed the Columbine Massacre lived in a million dollar house and could probably have had any material object he wanted. It sure didn’t make him happy; It made him hollow. He chose to fill this emptiness with hatred. This was the true cause of the Columbine Massacre.

That fateful decision was made by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. No one else had as much to do with the massacre as they did. However, our society has to share part of the blame for creating the situations which made the killers’ lives a living hell. In a society that values its money above its children, can we really expect tranquility?

These problems have been bubbling beneath the surface for a long time, but they’ve only recently started to boil over. Maybe it’s time that we finally stood up as a country and admit that we’ve made a mistake. We’ve set up our lives and our schools incorrectly. We pay too much heed to materialism, and not enough to the subtle spirituality of nature.

Kids should be taught to learn anywhere and everywhere, because learning is what life is all about, and yet that powerful nucleus of curiosity that powers each child is exactly what is darkened by our public schools. We must set our minds and our children’s minds free from the authoritarian nature of school, and let them find their own truth.

Text Copyright © 2000 by Tim O’Regan. All rights reserved.

Photo Copyright © by Bryan Ledgard. Some rights Reserved.

When this essay was originally published, Tim O’Regan had graduated from Eagan High School in Eagan, Minnesota three years previously, and was currently an English major at St. John’s University. He writes poetry, plays guitar and was also in the early stages of developing an Internet-based music distribution project.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The preceding post originally appeared in the online multicultural journal New Tribal Dawn, which published essays, fiction and poetry from 1999 to 2007. Although the journal is no longer active, we are preserving its fine literary archive here for posterity.)

For more about Goth culture, read The Happy Goth Girl, an interview with celebrated artist Rose Adare..

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