The Newtown, Connecticut killer is not a Goth. And so I shouldn’t even be writing this. And yet here we are. Again.
“He was a nerd, genius, Goth”: Profile of gun killer Adam Lanza” (Daily Mirror UK)
“Adam Lanza Described As ‘One Of The Goths’” (CBS Connecticut)
‘Brilliant but remote’: Police still hunting for motive that drove ‘goth’ Adam Lanza to kill 27” (National Post, Canada)
“SCHOOL MASSACRE SUSPECT ‘ONE OF THE GOTHS’” (Breitbart.com)
The first I heard of this alleged Goth connection Saturday afternoon, from someone who suggested it might prove to be good publicity for my book. How you could even think the word “publicity” in connection with this massacre of children, I simply don’t know. (And I’m someone pretty prone to macabre thought.) So I’d like to start by saying that I’m not writing this post to bring attention to myself, or to my work. Rather, because I have something to say about what happens when you link a criminal, especially a mass murderer, with an entire subculture of people he or she has absolutely nothing to do with. How it not only doesn’t help to answer the question “why?”, it actually causes more hurt, more harm. And most importantly, to flesh out what I tweeted yesterday into more than 140 characters, namely: dear media friends, please stop calling the killer a Goth in your headlines. Not because I’m Goth and it gives us all a bad name, but because it’s not the truth.
The fact that the most media outlets who have run with this are generally tabloids or right-wing is not a surprise. That’s what they do best, inflame and demonize. And so they picked up on one comment from one rather dubious source. The Associated Press quotes Newtown-area parent Catherine Urso outside a vigil on the Friday night as saying her college-age son knew the killer. “He just said he was very thin, very remote and was one of the goths.” And so the wire story goes out and some newspapers decide that of all the heartbreaking, shocking, absurd things about this crime and this killer — his mental health issues, his mother’s interest in doomsday prophecy and shooting guns for just two examples — what they’re going to run with for the headline is the “goth loner” tag. Based on a description offered by someone who does not appear have ever personally met the killer, whose son may or may not have ever spoken with the killer and may or may not have any clue at all what a Goth is or isn’t.
The fact that AP didn’t bother to check on this, or even add a phrase explaining what Goth is, isn’t just a result of tight deadlines and a chaotic environment in those first few hours after the massacre (let’s remember media outlets originally mis-identified the brother as the culprit and also claimed his mother worked at the school, which she didn’t). Rather, it says alot about how Goth is perceived by the public at large. Most people do have an idea of what the subculture is, and that idea includes the potential for violence. They got that idea because other fucked up school shooters have been described as Goth (namely, the Columbine killers). But those reports were wrong. Just like this one is wrong.
I’ll say it again: Adam Lanza was not a Goth. At. All. There are no photographs of him dressed as a Goth. Just because someone dresses all in black does not make them a Goth. That’s like saying someone is a jock because they wear track pants. Declaring yourself a Goth makes you a Goth. There is no evidence that he did this, or listened to any Goth music, or participated in any Goth communities on-line or in his school. In fact, since there are no area Goth kids quoted in any of the news reports reacting to this claim I think there’s a pretty good chance that there were no Goths in Newtown for him to a be “one of.” An article in England’s Daily Mail quotes Urso (identified as Kathryn because, you know, it’s not like spelling the names of the sources right matters) as adding, “He and his brother hung around with a weird little gang.” We now know that he and his brother were actually estranged so that seems unlikely. But who cares if it’s true or not….because he was WEIRD. A-ha.
You see, shitty sensationalist journalism doesn’t just doesn’t just make for First World Goth Problems™ like arguing with your parents that wearing black nail polish doesn’t make you a Satan worshipper, or getting turned down for a job because the HR person secretly suspects you may be a psychopath. It affects the quality of life of all manner of misfits. Video gamers. Heavy metal headbangers. Fans of gory horror movies. Geeks of all kinds. All these young(ish) people hanging out in the shadows, keeping to ourselves. We all seem suspicious to some parents, teachers, religious leaders, law enforcement authorities. In the worst of the worse case scenerios, you end up on death fucking row because you were the weirdest looking guy in town when some really bad shit happened and someone, anyone, needed to be locked up. (See: The West Memphis Three.) I’m not suggesting there is a Goth witch-hunt afoot, or would be even if the Newtown murderer was a card-carrying member of the Siouxsie Sioux or Emilie Autumn fan clubs. I’m saying that when the media flashes “Goth” and “Killer” in the same headline it does more than just make a bunch of strange kids angry on the internet. It reinforces the notion that one kind of deviance directly leads to another, worse, kind. It implies that subcultures, no matter how harmless they may seem, are inherently filled with unstable, anti-social people, (TICKING TIME BOMBS! to quote the always outraged Daily Mirror) who are up to no good and shouldn’t be trusted. Something less than you, or less than human. I understand the need to do this. To distance ourselves from what we fear is evil. To say “those people are not me.” But the truth is, most Goths and other freaks are not that different from anyone else —just different from what someone else expects of them. That’s all.
The thing with Goths is, we choose to be misfits. Death-obsessed misfits, sure. But not because we hate the world and want to destroy it. Because it makes sense for us, of us. Goth may look evil to outsiders and sometimes we play that up for humour or shock value, but it’s really not. In fact, it’s a shield — a weapon even — against the evils around us. Because evil does exist, I am convinced of that. On Earth. In nature. How else to account for how over in England back in 2007 five teenagers stomped on Goth girl Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend until they were unrecognizable, until they slipped into comas, and she died — simply because of the way they were dressed? How to reconcile that masses of innocent people continue to die of hunger in a world of plenty, that so many of us with privilege and power care more about Black Friday deals than stopping human trafficking? And how could anything explain why a young man could murder an entire classroom of innocent children – people’s babies, at Christmas time — without some motive?
You can try to find a way to explain by pointing out how he dressed, who he hung out with (or didn’t) or what he considered fun. You can even delve into the dark and complex topics of gun control and mental health care in America. But all you’re doing is distracting yourself, and worse, fuelling the culture of fear. No, all we can really do is to counter evil with love. And that doesn’t come from focusing on our differences, or stirring up hate for young people who dress funny and act strange.
No doubt over the next few days and weeks every aspect of Adam Lanza’s life will be dissected. (Not to help heal the hearts of a community, a nation, or to prevent further tragedy, but to feed the 24-hour news cycle.) And it’s possible we may discover he had a Goth phase. Maybe there’s a Cure album under his bed or an actual plastic skeleton in his closet. At that time, we can talk about it. Until then, live and let live. Oh, and fact-check.