My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

The Gothic subculture is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, and looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice et al.) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Sophie Lancaster: Six Years On

Six years ago, on August 24 2007, Sophie Lancaster was murdered for looking different. 

I have posted before about who Sophie Lancaster was, and what happened to her. It was a horrible and evil thing, and that is not what I want to focus on here. I want to focus on what has changed and what the S.O.P.H.I.E foundation set up in her memory has done to make at least the UK a better place for visibly Alternative people like myself. I think that setting up the S.O.P.H.I.E project was probably one of the best things that could be done in her memory. Hopefully through their work, the likelihood of such an attack happening again will decrease. In February 2014, the staged version of Black Roses by Simon Armitage will be playing at the Royal Exchange in Manchester. I am not local, too far North in the Highlands of Scotland, but I suggest that those Goths and alternative people in Manchester show their support. Quite a few creative endeavours have been inspired by Sophie, which reminds me of the songs written in memory and honour of murdered Texan punk Brian Deneke.  

Please watch this short film; it's very sad, and I always cry when I watch it, but I think it is important to see. This is the official Dark Angel video. It is beautifully illustrated and animated. I will say to more sensitive readers/viewers, that it does deal with some dark and violent material, and might be quite upsetting. For those who are of a sturdier disposition, though, I think it is definitely important viewing. 



This year, in Manchester, attacks based on subcultural affiliation have been recognised under the same hate-crime legislation as attacks based on things like religion. I think this is an important step because while some hatred types are about things a person cannot choose (like skin colour, disability, sexual orientation where they are from, etc.) some are about lifestyle choices (wearing non-traditionally gendered clothes, symbols of choice of religion, etc.) which are important to that person being true to their inner selves and being outwardly Goth or whatnot is as important to many as those other choices. It might be just clothes, but is also an outward representation and show of affiliation to the subculture we belong and our inner selves, and heck, I feel like I am dressed up as someone else when I am NOT wearing my Goth clothes. I really hope that this is adopted nation wide. I have written about this topic at greater length ::here:: in a full-length blog-post. 

Their work with schools, and the creation of ::this:: pack including the Sophie Game, and a DVD of the video above,  that gives a tangible resource for teens to learn about tolerance for those who are different is probably my favourite contribution, because it focuses on the intolerance that is the cause underneath the aggression and harassment on the streets. Most of the harassment I have had, and undoubtedly the worst instances, were perpetrated by teens, and not just by my peers while I was a teen myself. I have been harassed by gangs of teenage boys who are otherwise complete strangers to me right up to a couple of months ago. It is an important demographic to target, and from the responses I have read on the S.O.P.H.I.E page, many teenagers have found both Mrs. Lancaster's talks to be very moving, and the work they have done in school based on the packs to be educational. I completely encourage the education of young people about prejudice against alternative types, especially as it is often in their teen years when people will experiment with joining various subcultures, that it was a gang of teens that murdered Sophie Lancaster. 

Goths will always be outsiders, because we like things that most people don't, and come from a perspective that is often radically different (we tend to go "cool!" at what others go "eek!" over.), but that does not mean we should be outcasts and the victims of hatred. We might not want to join the mainstream, but that does not mean we should get abused, beaten and, in the case of Sophie Lancaster, killed. Tolerance and an acceptance of different is not a lot to ask, but sadly it is so hard to get. 

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Stamp Out Prejudice, Hatred & Intolerance Everywhere
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In terms of any more can be done, I think diversity education aimed at the attitudes to difference in primary school children would be a good idea. I also think it shouldn't be up to a small charity to do these things. 

I think several primary-school aged children have written into Gothic Charm School as interested in the subculture, and I know that while I wasn't a Goth as a small child, I was gender-stereotype non-conforming and dressed pretty much as a boy, and that didn't always garner a pleasant reaction. I am not saying that young children should be taught about Goth and Punk and Lolita, etc. except in the broadest of terms - along the lines of that there are people that like wearing clothes that might look unusual and listen to a variety of kinds of music, and have unusual hobbies, and that this doesn't make them bad people, just different. I do realise that, especially with Metal, Goth and Punk, that there are aspects of those subcultures that are not age-appropriate for primary children. Goth is, after all, a subculture founded on appreciation for things that are dark, scary and morbid. What I am saying is that there should be work to prevent the basic attitudes of 'different = bad' from forming. 

Aside: There are age-appropiate versions of traditionally Gothic themes; just look at Monster High dolls and the Hotel Transylvania film, not to mention a good few of the movies Tim Burton worked on! I read 'Goosebumps' books and Point Horror, the Little Vampire and plenty of other children's books that were both spooky and age appropriate. Toned-down versions of Gothic themes do exist and there are plenty of children that enjoy them. 

Education on the existence of alternative and minority groups should not be entirely focused on specific groups, and when it is, it should run a bit deeper than festivals, landmarks, symbols, clothing and food. I remember doing a project about Pakistan, a project about China, and a project about Islam, but I know little about life in any of these cultures, and I was hardly the kind of student that didn't pay attention. I do, however, know about Chinese New Year, that the Great Wall is nearly 4,000 miles of wall, a bit about painted vehicles, that Islamabad is the capital of Pakistan, and how to wear a head-scarf in a particular way, and that having take-out for lunch is far tastier than school dinners. Instead I think there should be an emphasise on learning to appreciate difference instead of feeling threatened by it, about learning to be politely inquisitive instead of rude and assuming, about learning to differentiate between popular misinformed stereotypes and reality etc. - skills equally applicable for interacting with any group of people outside the pupil's own communities, and learning to see people as individuals rather than as members of homogenous groups and stereotypes. 

Most small children are actually quite curious anyway, and the prejudices and closed-mindedness are things they seem to (from my experience) start to pick up on around aged 7 to 9, and they pick it up from closed-minded adults around them. Sometimes even younger children pick up on this. I guess the important thing is to aim attempts to build the skills that keep them curious and open-minded about other cultures, subcultures and lifestyles and that help them to identify unpleasant stereotypes as what they are before the negative attitudes have become ingrained. While it isn't impossible, it is a lot harder to change someone's mind once they have latched onto an idea, and remedial action based on dispelling stereotypes and undoing prejudices are again generally targeted on specific groups (e.g tackling homophobia, tackling racism, tackling Islamophobia, etc.). I also understand that certain groups have historically and contemporaneously been marginalised and oppressed, and learning about these things is important too, but the world is really too diverse a place to teach about every single form of diversity individually. 

6 comments:

  1. I think you are right. Intolerance is learned, people aren't born with it. The number of friends and people I have talked to with bright hair who say kids love them, but parents drag their kids away makes me sad! When I was a kid, I thought the Goth teens around my town were awesome, although I did not know what they were. My mum was not such a fan, although that might also have something to do with the fact that one of them was my brother's nemesis from playgroup! :P

    But the important thing is to have a generation that grows up not judging so much. I am jealous of Goth friends whose parents were supportive of their interests. I also remember in school kids using 'gay' to mean stupid or bad, and other thoughtless things like that. We clearly need to educate people younger, and remind them it is not ok. So often they learn behaviour like this from family or the wider world.

    It is not impossible for a change to start happening. Things can slowly get better, if more people care and make an effort.

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    1. I think there's been a general trend over time towards increased tolerance of diverse ways of living, even if sometimes things threaten to take steps back (especially in terms of racism and xenophobia, and I could get political about those that stir these things), but there's still progress to be made. People also need to learn that you can disagree with someone and think what they're doing is wrong without being a jerk to them - you don't have to agree with someone's religion, politics, or anything else to be polite to them and afford them the basic respect everyone should have as a human being - too many people think they need to attack those they disagree with.

      Little children think my green hair is magical!

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  2. Even six years later, reading about Sophie makes me sad and ill. I wonder if she'd be amazed at all the people keeping her memory alive.
    I've been hated for wearing all black, being chubby, skinny, white and all sorts of things. There is someone out there who will hate something about you no matter what it is. Teenagers and young men are the worst, especially when there is a group of them.
    Have you seen the TV program NCIS? They have a goth scientist who is adorable, smart & nice. She is such a positive goth role model. Too bad there are not more of those in the media!

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    1. I hope Sophie would be proud of all the good work done in her name, to make life better for those similar to her. We're just people, like everyone else, we just like different clothes, different music, different books, etc. That doesn't make us evil monsters or or inhuman, it just makes us different.

      Abby Sciuto is one of my favourite TV characters ever! I happen to quite like crime dramas, whodunnits and police procedurals, so I am definitely a fan of NCIS!

      I've had a similar experience, and you're right in saying that teenagers, especially certain subgroups of young men, are the worst for this. The scariest thing that's happened to me is being chased by a gang of teenage boys who took exception to how I was dressed. It was quite terrifying. I'm glad I could out-run them and hide in the train-station where there are always lots of police.

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  3. Excellent post! I think you have some great ideas but the question is, how do we get them implemented when a large number of people are closed minded and likely, oppose such education campaigns? I'm asking this as a person who lives in a country where there is a very strong backlash underway against those of us who support dignity and acceptance for all.

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    1. In the UK, I think there is more acceptance of progress - the S.O.P.H.I.E Foundation has been to several secondary schools and young offenders groups already, and there is a definite drive to push forward other equality and anti-descrimination measures - most schools have some project or other. https://www.lgbtyouth.org.uk/news/safer-stronger-fairer-highlands I missed this earlier this month, but this an example of the sort of thing happening for LGBT youth in my local area, and there's generally quite a focus on the largest forms of diversity (race, nationality, sexuality, disability, etc.). My only concern is that this sort of work targets discrimination against certain specific groups without addressing the generalising and xenophobic (here using the term to mean a fear and dislike of that which alien in general, rather than specifically foreign) attitudes underlying all forms of discrimination.

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