Friday, March 28, 2008

Girl Beaten To Death For Being A Goth

British teenager Sophie Lancaster was viciously beaten after trying to protect her boyfriend Robert from a gang of drunken teenagers. The couple's unconscious and bloody bodies were found lying side-by-side. Robert survived; Sophie didn't. Apparently, they were singled out for their Goth attire.

I read stories about violence and death every day, but this just got under my skin.

It's such a simple dynamic, isn't it? Angry, amoral thugs with no articulate way to express their desperation and frustration with the world find someone "different" to attack. The fact that she and her boyfriend embraced the Goth lifestyle is not even the most basic issue. In other places in the world there are Sophies who are physically attacked for being gay, of color, or even simply being a woman.

The worst part is, there is no real justice. The only real justice is if, decades into their life sentences, one of the boys responsible achieves a sufficient level of intelligence and empathy for human life that tortures their conscience. Even if if you gave them the death penalty, I don't see how justice is really served. If you don't have the reverence for human life to prevent yourself from smashing in the brains of a beautiful young woman like Sophie, you won't even understand why you're being executed.

But this dynamic has been around pretty much forever, hasn't it?

You know, back in the mid-to-late 1990s, the big "panic" was about "those anti-social Goths." Some parents were taught to spot the "warning signs" of their child becoming a Goth. Stories like Columbine, "the Vampire Clan," and others were held up as "proof" that the United States were under a "Goth Attack." Horrors!

But it was never really about "the Goths" (our cultural shorthand for a subculture that is far more complex and textured than the term describes). It was about disaffected teens, often from broken homes and low-income situations, who grow up amoral and sometimes with untreated mental disorders and substance abuse issues. I've seen a legion of these sorts of individuals go from childhood to a criminal adolescence to a horrible adulthood (if they make it that far).

A true "Goth" takes darkness and makes art out of it -- the art is in the way they dress, and can be in other creative endeavors they pursue like art or writing. Or they can celebrate and at the same time defuse the darkness in constructive outlets like movies, music, or roleplaying.

Sophie's attackers, on the other hand, lack that sort of transformative ability. They are raised to deny the darkness, and to believe they are "the normal ones" and the natural inheritors of the world. But though they deny the darkness, it is still very much there. Their darkness is raw, immediate, and ready to spring out at the first unlucky individual.

Anyway, this news story bummed me out. Probably bummed you out too. Sorry.


  1. Absolutely horrified. My prayers go out to Sophie's family and friends. Makes you wonder if our species will ever really learn to just get the hell along with each other.

  2. I read about this a couple of weeks ago. The attack took place in a town not too far - about 30 miles - from where I grew up. That town in particular isn't the most tolerant part of the world in any respects.

    Between this case and this one: I'm not exactly missing the UK right now.

  3. I'm not sure "denying the darkness" is what they were doing. Certainly they weren't taking it in peaceful directions:

    Herbert and Harris face mandatory life terms when sentenced next month.

    Both are the product of broken homes, Herbert and Harris were already well known to police when they killed Miss Lancaster, often congregating to drink alcohol at KG's cafe - a council-run Internet cafe for teenagers.

    Described by locals as a "vicious, violent yob" with a "nasty laugh," Herbert never knew his father and he and his older sister, Kirsty, 18, were raised alone by their mother Christine, 49, a worker in a shoe factory, on a gloomy estate.

    He started drinking and smoking drugs as young as 13 and belonged to a gang known locally as the Bacup Crew.

    They posted images of themselves, brandishing wooden poles and singing rap songs, on the video website YouTube.

    On the night of Miss Lancaster's death Herbert, who is autistic and semi-literate, had been drinking and was seen bragging about taking the virginity of a 16-year-old schoolgirl in the park earlier in the evening.

    Police later described his behaviour as "repulsive" and "out-of-control." Harris' upbringing too was depressingly familiar.

    As a young boy he was raised by his father, Gerald, a textile factory foreman, and mother, Martine. But the pair never married and have since split.

    He admitted drinking heavily and starting the chain of events which lead to Miss Lancaster's murder when he punched Mr Maltby, telling police he did it simply because he was "drunk and showing off".

  4. Did you see this?

  5. This event is only a small part of a huge wave of youth-led violence in Britain. Large groups of violent youth have plagued the streets of English and Scottish cities for some time now, with obviously terrible effects on their communities. A quick search of the internets will show what I'm referring to, for those who are unaware. It's a truly terrible that people could behave like this towards one-another.

  6. This is horrible, "bummed out" doesn't cover how I feel about this.

    Not many weeks ago, a 15 yo boy was shot in the face by a classmate in a US high school for being gay. Another one was whot on the street for dressing like a girl.

    I know this is about an awful lot of unresolved issues, but I just can't muster any simpathy for the attackers.

    There's NOTHING that justifies or explains beating a young couple to death for dressing differently.


  7. Anonymous12:49 PM

    There isn't a huge wave of youth led violence in the UK. There's simply a lot of attention on this issue at the moment. In fact *by all measures*, crime, including violent crime, has been dropping for years. Don't believe me, use the Internet and do some research.

    That's not to say that gang culture doesn't exist in the UK, or that violent crime isn't more focussed in our inner cities, just that popular opinion - reinforced by irresponsible, sensationalist newspapers like the Sun and the Mail - doesn't map across the reality of the situation.

    God, this story is depressing. For soooo many reasons.

  8. There's definitely something in the air, and not just in England. In Mexico, people are targeting emo kids. It's pretty sickening.

  9. And now there are the anti-emo groups starting to pop up, just read about one in Mexico City (D.F. for those in the know), and these kids just want to kill the emo kids.

    I can understand not liking one thing or another but actually resorting to consider murder is just pre cro-magnum at best.

    This is the world we live in where corporations can rape countries into poverty yet the youth in these profiting nations would rather kill one another due to superficial ideals/looks.


  10. not to get more into the subdivisions of teenage youth but why did it not shock me that the assailants look like football hooligans?


  11. I live in the UK. A couple of things:

    "In other places in the world there are Sophies who are physically attacked for being gay, of color, or even simply being a woman."

    Oh, that all happens here too.


    Yes, the right-wing media in this country is certainly sensationalising the problem, and demonising young people, but that doesn't mean the problem isn't real. I work in an A&E department (Lewisham, south London) and my partner works in a secondary school (she specifically works with young people who have behavioural problems) and I can tell you from first hand experience that the young people in this country are in serious crisis; there is horrifically violent culture that has become ingrained- and is mostly passed down from their parents, in my opinion. The commenter who mentioned football hooligans isn't far off the mark; today's "hoodies" are the children of yesterday's skinheads.

  12. That's rly sad :(

    In other places in the world there are Sophies who are physically attacked for being gay, of color, or even simply being a woman.

    And transsexual :( Transwomen face this so much too, where guys will just attack them b/c they're transgendered :(

    It's so sad how ppl can hurt and kill others just b/c they look different or express themselves differently or something :(

  13. I was going to comment, but Jamie said all I was going to say.

  14. Just to clarify for the sake of my city and country (México, D.F.). It's not the 'people' who were targeting emos. It was two particular groups, the Punks and the Darkies (México's version of Goths, far less into art and more into feeling superior), who did try to beat up emo kids because they were 'polluting their subcultures'. The rest of the country was appalled, and police is protecting emo kids right now from that kind of attacks.

  15. "It was two particular groups, the Punks and the Darkies (México's version of Goths"
    I wouldn't be as quick to acuse the goths and the punks, a great number of people who indentify in one of those groups were apalled and quickly started/joined the protest against the violence. Is true that many felt their spaces were gradually invaded but lots of young teen following a fad but into the people whow jumped to beat up emos were people of all kinds and classes. Many didn't even know what an emo is. Not even many of the emos themselves.