March 21, 2005

Black planet.

"Emo is the late-90s and early-2000s version of goth."

That was the subject of a conversation last night between myself (the ex-emo kid) and Jacob (the ex-goth). We were making blueberry cobbler and listening to the Sisters of Mercy, and I was surprised to discover that I knew and liked almost every song off of Floodland even though I wouldn't have known it by name. It was because of my sister, I explained, and the fact that we shared a bedroom during most of her goth years. My complaining was for the principle of the thing; I did like the music. Why, then, did I never pick up the fishnets and eyeliner myself? Jacob reasons that my obsession and melodrama just happened to be shunted into Dickies and lip rings instead: a superficial difference in appearance but the same essential self-indulgence underneath.

It's not a bad theory. I'm pretty sure that the world was ending for me in 2001 about as surely as it was ending for Katie in 1996. It was probably equally likely that without constant musical accompaniment I was entirely doomed, and the need to dress the part and advertise my alienation was quite as compelling. So why, I asked last night, having gotten that out of my system, am I still a little sorry that I never had a goth period of my own? What was it, exactly, that gave gothness such glamour that I never quite felt my emo period measured up?

"It sounds dangerous," said Jacob. "It's depressing and self-indulgent, AND it sounds like it's really really bad for you."
"Aha! You're on to something!" I exclaimed. "Emo kids are painfully aware of their own total harmlessness. And instead of building themselves up as the kings and queens of the unapologetically damned, they're knocking themselves down as the bottom of the heap, the people who fail without trying."

Please discuss.

Posted by dianna at March 21, 2005 11:55 AM

I know I shouldn't make other people's past or present fashion/social choices a source of fun. Nevertheless, I'm greatly amused by imagining a gothic Jacob. Maybe this makes me a bad person, but I just have to ask:

Where would Jacob have been on the 1 to 10 scale of gothiness, where 1 is "wears black, is sad" and 10 is "mascara, cape, insists on being called 'Lorde Myserie'"?

Posted by: Andrew at March 21, 2005 07:29 PM

I first met him at a solid 6.

Posted by: jason s at March 21, 2005 08:21 PM

michele, get with the downloading of jacob in the long black hair and long black trenchcoat phase. wait, maybe there's one already on cementhorizon. stay tuned...

Posted by: erica at March 21, 2005 08:21 PM

whoa! hello mr. shamai!

Posted by: erica at March 21, 2005 08:22 PM

i have none of him in the trench coat! i don't think...well i might, but i'm not at my house right now and when i am at my house i won't be with a scanner. it's a dilemna. i'll keep an eye out for a goth looking jacob. though i think the proper man to ask for a photo from the goth face is jacob himself. i bet he has some.

oh man, he scared the shit out of me in that trench coat. the first day i moved into langlow and saw him and doug stalking across the outside parking lot. i was like, 'sweet jesus, who am i moving in with? murderers and hippies?'

Posted by: michele at March 21, 2005 08:59 PM

No way was I ever a 6. When I was in high school (the pinnacle of my gothness) I had long dark hair, a black greatcoat, listened to Bauhaus, and played a Vampire roleplaying game. That brings me up to a 6 or a 7. But my fury at the mention of Anne Rice's name consumed worlds and I never worked at Cinnabon. That brings me back down to a 3. It's all a matter of perspective.

Posted by: Jacob at March 21, 2005 09:14 PM

it's true, then when i first listened to jacob speak he sat cross-legged on the floor and said, 'i like computers.' which i took to mean: 'i am a big old nerd.' and i heaved a sigh of relief that i was no longer going to be murdered in my bed.

Posted by: michele at March 21, 2005 09:24 PM

uh, my point there was 6 looking, 3 being.

though i'm pretty sure that jacob did introduce me to the 'life is pain' mantra of the cinnabon worker. so how do you account for that, jacob? though you never worked there, you did seem to know their manners awfully well.

Posted by: michele at March 21, 2005 09:26 PM

When I picture Jacob meeting new people and sitting on the floor to say, "I like computers," I keep picturing the bowl-on-head-beard-in-mouth pose combined with a sort of regal holding-court attitude. I just tried to demonstrate it for him, but he didn't seem to appreciate it.

I reiterate my request to see whatever goth-Jacob pictures people may have. The ones I've seen are a) few and b) lacking in gothness (no greatcoat, damn it!). Share!

And, ahem, miss Katheryne? Yes, you. Won't you join the conversation?

Posted by: Dianna at March 21, 2005 09:46 PM

Oh dear, I was trying to lay low.

I have been hoping that you would get your hands on some evidence of Jacob's goth past. You've got what, 4 days until I'm back in town? Be warned.

My Delightful Housemate makes me perform the following parlor trick whenever anyone comes over to the house. He asks, "Do you want to see what Katie - I mean, Katheryne looked like in college?" and then makes me go and get that group picture from Paul & Jen's wedding where everyone else looks like nice people at a wedding, and then there's you in that orange paisley polyester minidress, and then there's, ahem, me. And then we snicker and get out the stopwatch and time everyone to see how long it takes to recognize me.

Posted by: katie at March 21, 2005 10:53 PM

Oh, and.

1) Jacob, did you by any chance play Vampire: the Masquerade? Because I so did.

2) Comparing emo and goth is like comparing apples and the tears of a thousand pale virgins. Emo is perky and cute. Goth was tragic and painful. Emo is about claiming to be a loser, while surrounded by your friends. Goth was not about being a loser. Rather, it was about all the rest of you being losers. It was also about us being the only cool ones who get how tragic and painful everything is. Who cares if you're too lame to ask that girl to the prom, emo kid? You're just going to die anyway.

That said, I watch the high school kids hang out at my favorite cafe here in the afternoons, and yeah. It's all a big muddle now, but I think the cute little perky emo kids with the bad hair and the black eyeliner (what?!) would totally have been the cute little sulky goth kids with the rad hair and black eyeliner back in my day.

Posted by: katie at March 21, 2005 11:03 PM

I will now expose my dorkitude for all to see.
In addition to playing Vampire: The Masquerade, I also played Vampire: Live Action Nerdiness, Mage: The Ascension, and Werewolf: the Coke-Bottle-Glasses and Buck-Teeth. White Wolf games was the company of choice among my friends. Followed by FASA.

Cha-ching! Geek cred!

By the way, please bring that picture with you on Friday, Katie. Dianna described the paisley minidress to me a few weeks ago, but I never dreamed I'd get a chance to actually see a picture of its wackiness.

Posted by: Jacob at March 22, 2005 07:34 AM

Dude, White Wolf games is teenage angst: lots of ideas that sound good in theory, horribly and awkwardly executed like a 14 year old boy with headgear and a fanny pack trying to do the macarena.

Your theory on the intergenerational parallelism of social movements is quite intriguing. I would only criticize it as incomplete, not innaccurate. In addition to a recurrent trend with different fashion tags, I'd add an emergent trend and a geographical component.

In each generation, there is a heirarchy of teenage subcultures; this heirarchization is in many senses propped up by the involuntary or de facto (or 'de admissions boards' if you will) integration of diverse social populations into public schools and colleges. See e.g. SLC Punk. However, the heirarchization of those subcultures is only as strict as the Postermodern Factor (PF) in any given area will allow. Significantly correlating with a red state/blue state map (with corrections required for urban centers,) PF factor is inversely related to heirarchization and separation of said subcultures.

Once archetypes are created and actualized, they are pushed into the two higher-PF areas: the west/east coast. The east coast is a critial-phase PF melting pot via its high concentration of secondary schools, and the west coast is a critical phase PF media dissemination center, being the (emergent) epicenter of mass-media cultural products.

Thus in the east coast heirarchization matters less for purposes of mating and interbreeding. See e.g. Revenge of the Nerds. The deemphasis of subculture membership within economic growth areas also plays a role. See e.g. computer science circa 1980. And while the west coast can serve as a reinforcer of current archetypes, see e.g. Madonna circa 1986, old archetypes are modified, parodied, and reenvisioned in ways that would have been impossible in a "real" high school or college environment. The west coast thus renders the individual traits and stylistic nuances of old archetypes 'up for grabs.' See e.g. Happy Days.

(Sidenote: possible correlation between west coast dissemination and completely static, vapid, economy-driven local subculture- perfect adaptation to relatively unchanging cultural niche.)

None of this challenges the baseline heirarchization of low-PF areas, however, meaning that the reenvisioning of groups is mainly stylistic- hence, a recurrent trend.

There are two final wrinkles, however. One is that isolated, low-PF areas are relatively inured to recurrence, and their exposure to modified archetypes is slow and received warily. Geographically unique subcultures arise from these areas, however, and thus they often provide the "new" elements from which differences between generations' heirarchies are born. See e.g. grunge (in particular fashion cues ironically lifted from isolated northwestern logger culture.)

The last wrinkle is directly correlated with emergence: the overall PF level of the nation is rising, perhaps not linearly, but over time the trend is upward. In particular, the rising PF level of the west coast is decreasing the delay between media reinforcement of archetypes and their deconstruction of those same archetypes. In sharp contrast to east-coast economics, which wreak havoc with heirarchy, economic factors on the west coast will serve as a mitigating influence on accelerated decay of current archetype dissemination.

Posted by: poot at March 22, 2005 08:28 AM

Sorry, I gave up on that after the fourth paragraph. I'll leave it for someone with a longer attention span.

Re: apples and the tears of a thousand pale virgins, I might counter by saying that it's like comparing your own self-doubt and longing for attention to oranges. Blood oranges, probably, but still oranges. I don't know, man... perky never really figured in for me. Maybe Woolseys just don't do perky well, or maybe it was that coming home and not eating dinner because it wasn't vegan and going straight to my room to wait for someone to notice that I was hungry, lonely, unloved and unnoticed (which is, incidentally, not a very productive thing to wait for in a co-op or anywhere else) was not a good way to pursue perky. Probably the latter is true in any case.

Posted by: Dianna at March 22, 2005 10:40 AM

OH. Jeez. I forgot about the obsessive masturbatory documentation of every doubt and disappointment in the form of an online journal, a form of communication which does nothing to actually bring the communicator into closer contact with the people around him/her but is an excellent way to foster a sense of disconnection because the people who read it are all in Iowa or Ohio and understand you soooo well but geographical distance makes it so hard for you to really see or talk to them and why, what did you do to get stuck here a world away from the only people you could possibly connect with, other people aren't this alone, you're a failure if this dysfunctional life is the best you can do but it's all that's keeping you going... cue tears here.

Heheh. There's no denying that this blog is self-absorbed and incessantly updated, but man, it's really nothing compared to my page. I should archive that stuff for future ridicule.

Posted by: Dianna at March 22, 2005 10:56 AM

Nono, I see what you mean. Different kinds of woeful self-absorption, certainly, but I definitely get the common thread. "The only people who understand me are in Ohio" does bear a certain relation to "The only people who understand me are not of this world."

Will bring paisley minidress photo to Berkeley with me. Between that, and my vintage Victorian getup, I think we had "appropriate family wedding attire" down.

My Delightful Housemate, who in high school harbored secret Goth sensibilities but was too much of a dork to actually be one (i.e., was never actually enough of a dork to, you know, "commit" to the lifestyle), was propelled by nostalgia at the public library to borrow a copy of...dun dun dun! "Lost Souls" by Poppy Z. Brite. Remember? Only like the high school Goth bible. And then, after bringing this thing into the house, my DH went out of town for a week and forgot it, so I stole it out of his room and have been reading and giggling like crazy. Oh man. It all comes flooding back - locking Dianna out of our room and moping around on the floor listening to Bauhaus and cutting my arms up and reading by candlelight until I got a headache and had to, you know, go do homework in some brightly lit part of the house. Sigh. Don't worry, though, I'm not reverting. It's clearly too late for that. Now, reading this book, I keep getting pissed off that these kids are just wantonly drinking each others' blood, and can't help but think that Ms. Brite was highly irresponsible for not putting a big disclaimer on the first page warning her young readers about HIV. Clearly, I am not cool anymore.

Posted by: katie at March 22, 2005 06:36 PM

Tell me if this is an accurate summary of your argument.
Rural areas are lousy with subcultures and cliques. The individual circumstances of each rural location leads kids to put new spins on old stereotypes. When those kids go to urban areas for college (your "east coast") or to become famous (your "west coast") they spread those reinventions to the rest of the country. Urban areas play a second role by twisting the new spins into even newer spins.

1) Was that so hard to say?
2) "Postmodern Factor"? PF? Where did you pick up that little gem?
3) In trying to "complete" the goth/emo parallel, you managed to contradict yourself twice and generally convolute a perfectly good conversation. Some things can be left vague.
4) Rebuttal: Mass media and local social gatherings (collegiate or not) are becoming disconnected from the dissemination of youth culture thanks to the unprecedented rise of the internet (66.4% of the US population as of late 2004). So forget red vs blue. It all comes down to the sucking void of our undying soulessness. Life is pain.

Oh crap. I'm late for my shift at Cinnabon.

PS - Katie, I hate to break it to you, but in my book Poppy Z. Brite is right up there with Anne Rice. Should be right up there on the gibbet, I mean.

Posted by: Jacob at March 22, 2005 08:53 PM

Jacob, my first inclination is to inform you that you are sadly wrong. But then I realized I'm not sure what your beef is with Anne Rice, besides the obvious. Is it the obvious? Trashy, terrible, kind of boring?

Because Poppy Z. Brite is terrible, but way more trashy - enough, I think, to mitigate the boring.

Or is it the tiresome New Orleans fetish? The troubling exoticization of the slave history of the US South? The blatant pandering to the 15-year-old goth readership? The attempt to get way too much mileage out of a limited repertoire of psuedo-poetic stock imagery? Because, yeah, they both have that in spades. Sooo bad.

Posted by: katie at March 23, 2005 03:15 PM

Jacob: thanks for reading. But don't light the cigar just yet.

Instead of outlining where I think you've misunderstood the analysis or overlooked key points, I think I'll just leave it vague. Some suggestions: low-income, low-urbanization areas where uptight midwestern housewives serve as media gatekeepers; internet as amplifier of media saturation; failure of internet to subvert traditional media messages; cyclical archetype reinforcement/deconstruction by media.

Of course, such streamlining is at the expense of actually making a rebuttal argument, but hey, that's what the internet is for I guess. Cheers.

Posted by: poot at March 24, 2005 07:23 AM

poot: some counter-suggestions
1) Brevity is the soul of wit. All of your contradictions arose from your stress of form over meaning. Make your point with a minimum of acronym and jargon, then leave it alone. Which brings me to....
2) Read back through your own argument and note all the places where you first positively and then negatively correlate population density with the rise of subcultures. Then note the places where you claim that rural areas both create subcultures and are inured against them. You can only have it both ways if you make your arguments clear. I'd probably buy your argument if you did so. Fleshing out an idea is all well and good, but be clear and brief, not sloppy.
3) Quit it with the "low-income, low-urbanization" generalizations. It's already become clear that you've never lived anywhere near a farm. Please don't paint such broad strokes just because you're sure that's how the other half lives.

You know, your streamlining was much more clear than your initial argument. Keep it up.

Posted by: Jacob at March 24, 2005 08:51 AM