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May 2, 2007 at 11:12 pm #138417inariParticipant
Recently, a couple of young Australian girls commited suicide, their bodies were found a week or so ago in the bush. These girls belonged to a subculture called ’emo’. The following article outlines why young people can be attracted to such subcultures, and how others may respond to this.
I am posting this article because WE have so many young people, who may feel similarly alienated from mainstream society. Actually, on second thoughts, it probably doesn’t matter how old you are, ones skin might just become a little thicker as one gets older.
If you are feeling down or like an ‘outsider’, please be sure to talk to someone about it, whether a counsellor, trusted friend or other suitable person. And remember, you are not alone.
Jack Sargeant: It’s hard to be emo and be respected
Don’t blame the internet or youth culture for the recent suicide of two young girls
May 03, 2007
YOUTH subcultures emerge, vanish and mutate continually. Often this happens beneath the radar of the news media and is of interest only to the adherents of the trend and perhaps their peers. When these subcultures do enter the spotlight it is almost invariably because of a perceived crisis; traditionally, narcotic and sexual abandon, crime and suicide.
There have always been young people who have felt hopeless, unloved, alienated and, yes, suicidal. And there have been all manner of often incorrect explanations proffered for such behaviour. The double suicide of Jodie Gater and Stephanie Gestier in Victoria is merely the latest to tweak media interest and inspire pointless armchair analysis. In this case, the media has focused on emo and MySpace.com.
Contrary to popular belief, emo is not a modern suicide cult; rather, it comes from a music genre with its roots in those post-punk bands that embraced a more complex musical structure than the thrash and grind of hardcore, and whose lyrics retained a more self-aware, poetic introspection than simple shock value. Of course, that was about 15 years ago and, like everything, it has evolved, but its central tenets have remained.
MySpace is the social phenomenon that has confounded most people over 30. Put simply, young people are using the website as an online community, creating profiles that list their interests and posting blogs, artwork, music and writings. The difference between MySpace and the traditional diary, poem or note is that the social circle of the average teenager is no longer confined to physical geography but reaches a global community.
Some teenagers do feel different. They would rather listen to music and write than join in the seemingly endless activities celebrated by the dominant, mainstream culture. Almost invariably, those drawn to introspection and, perhaps, self-indulgence are also drawn to virtual friendships. People can sit at home yet, thanks to social networking, can communicate with other similarly disenfranchised friends.
Blame the sun. In Australia, the dominant culture celebrates the weather and is manifested in the beach, athletics, football and cricket. It celebrates the body beautiful and rarely mentions disease, death, loss, sorrow or tragedy except when they happen to somebody else. School athletes, local sporting teams, national sides and heroic swimmers are the nation’s stars. To reject this physical culture in favour of introspection is a revolutionary gesture of individuality- something punk embraced and its numerous offshoots, including emo, celebrate.
Or to put in terms of those who like sport and the bludgeoning rituals associated with it: emos are nerds. Those young people who turn up at the Big Day Out proudly wrapping their sweaty, drunken, semi-nude bodies in the Australian flag are not emos. The emos are probably the kids who buy the records of the bottom-of-the-bill bands and stay home thinking their idols have sold out for playing in daylight.
Emos, similar to goths and the punks before them, tend to be the victims of bullying because of their lack of interest in the vagaries of dominant culture. Were Gater and Gestier bullied? I do not know but I imagine they were.
Like anyone who embraces the alternative while still at school, they would have faced, at the least, snide comments from their mainstream peers.
Last year, street magazine Vice published an issue dedicated to Coober Pedy. The magazine doesn’t pretend to be in-depth or thorough but offers a brief insight into the topics it examines. The Coober Pedy issue included street interviews with some of the South Australian town’s teenagers in which one girl said in brutally simple terms: “A couple of girls tried to turn emo but we gave them a hard time ’til they stopped.”
The problem with homogeneity is that anybody who is different is seen as a legitimate target. In making those who are different the “other”, the group can continue to exist and reinforce its perceived dominance. Those who seek to be different, or who are different, want to be left alone, often luxuriating in that difference, enjoying the feeling of being part of what is often understood as a unique elite that exists apart from mainstream culture.
In the aftermath of the suicides of Gater and Gestier, there has been much examination of subcultures but little of the mainstream culture that implicitly legitimises the process of bullying through the stigmatisation of social and cultural difference. When bullies are exposed, they are often seen as victims themselves, and they may well be, but they are enacting a role that is made legitimate by a world that values conformity above individuality.
The media and social commentators would do better to examine the dominant culture that bullies so often represent rather than the vague cultures to which the disenfranchised are drawn.
Jack Sargeant is a Sydney-based writer and academic.
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