A Study of Gothic Subculture

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Updated 3-12-2009
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Deseret News
Sunday, April 6, 1997
By Mark L. Reece and Hans S. Moran, Staff Writers

'Goths' Say Culture Isn't to Blame in Death

It was apparently at a weekend "Goth" party that 14-year-old Jens Dietz spent the last hours of his life. His mother blames his death on kids involved in the dark Gothic subculture. She said she believes teens at Valley Junior High School bragged about placing a medallion in her dead son's hand and holding a howling ritual "to open the portals." [Is it surprising that a woman, stricken with grief over a senseless death would search for something to blame? She may believe it, but does that make it true?]

But some Goths said the reported behavior is just ridiculous sensationalism. They also said the blame for the boy's death shouldn't be geared toward their culture but rather directed at the individuals who were around Dietz at the time of his death. As one self-described Goth named Owen put it: "They were too stupid to realize that kid needed to get to a hospital. They weren't apathetic or deep into the pathos, as some may think from the misconceptions we often get labeled with. They were just dumb." Owen, 22, spoke Thursday night outside Caffiends Coffee Bar, a popular Sugar House hangout for Goths near 2100 South and 900 East. He was dressed in a dark blue gown and black coat. A crystal encasing a talon and a Greek cross adorned his chest. His face was painted white, complemented by blue lipstick and eyeliner. His jet black hair reached beyond his shoulders. As dozens of similarly dressed and made-up people walked in and out of the establishment, Owen talked candidly about the culture he's been a part of for almost five years. "These kids, well... I'll call them baby bats," the 22-year-old Owen said, measuring his words so as not to offend anyone. He delivered the nickname with a dose of sarcasm, taking a shot at at least one belief commonly associated with Goths -- vampirism. "True Goths don't believe in that stuff," Owen said. "I grew up Jewish and am now atheist. Besides, we have to hold down jobs, we have to keep up our apartments. You know, live life." Why, then, the dark clothes, the ornaments hanging around the neck and the obvious propensity for dreariness and tragedy? Why surround yourself with H.R. Giger posters (of "Alien" fame and creator of the biomechanic style of fantasy art) and the music of Bauhaus? "It's just part of the scene, part of the attitude. Goth is a style of music and dress," he said.

Dietz's mother, Brenda Patterson, said it's more than just a fad involving weird clothing and brooding rock music. She said a girl at Valley Junior High who knew her son told her that the kids who had seen Dietz's lifeless body in the car were bragging at school about what they were going to do with him. Patterson said the student described the group as Goths. [This apparently is the only reason Goth is connected to this at all. Does this girl saying these kids were Gothic mean that they were? These are rumors, not evidence. Note also that this connection with Gothic was made by the mother and a girl, not in any other "official" capacity.] "After he had died, they discussed cutting him up, setting him on fire or burying him in the desert," she said. "They did some sort of ritual, put some sort of medallion in his hand, went to a local church and did a howling for him to open the portals. It's just horrifying to me," she added. "The more I find out, it almost seems possible that it may have been some sacrifice of some sort, knowing they didn't cause his death but they didn't prevent it either." [It is unclear whether the kids even realized that he was in trouble. If they were smoking pot and taking LSD, they were not exactly in a state of mind that would be able to tell he needed help.] Patterson then asked, "Why didn't these kids go for help when he was in trouble?" According to a West Valley police report, the kids were scared. Still, some who attended the weekend party were at Dietz's viewing. Patterson said one boy talked to her for a few seconds at the funeral. "He said to me that Jens was his best friend," Patterson said. "It concerns me because his mother is insulin-dependent also," adding the teen should have known what could happen if Dietz wasn't taking his medication. [Perhaps he should have known, but did he know? Just because his mom is insulin-dependent does that mean he's ever seen what insulin shock looks like? If these kids were taking various drugs then they might have made the more likely conclusion that Dietz was having a bad reaction to some drug when he became sick. People often show the exact same symptoms described for diabetic shock -- disorientation, fatigue, passing out -- after smoking pot, taking LSD, or drinking too much. This is not to say they should not have gotten him medical attention, but there are great multitudes of people who have gotten sick at a party and woken up alive the next day. Unfortunately, there are some that haven't, but they are more uncommon that those who sleep it off. See Nate's profile to read of how he saved a friend's life when she got sick at a party.] Patterson said her son had trusted the teen, whom he had met when he was 12, because he accepted Dietz's diabetic problems and didn't judge him for that. "They called each other occasionally or met at the mall," she said. "I was discouraging the relationship as much as possible because (the friend) had begun to wear black makeup and was doing things that I wouldn't approve." But she didn't think the boy was any kind of threat because "Jens didn't like to wear all black or dye his hair all black." Still, some of the kids were "into some pretty ugly things," she said. At the time of his death, Dietz was a ninth-grader attending Westlake Junior High. Patterson said she thought her son probably didn't know any of the kids at Valley Junior High, except the friend. "These kids file their teeth, consider death glorious and some worship Satan," she said. "Parents should try to look at this a little more seriously, that this may not be just a rebellious stage. (Some) bands . . . talk about murder, unburying corpses, stuff like that," she added. "Because it's not your type of music you don't really listen to what the lyrics say." [She is claiming to know something about the music, then says she does not actually pay attention to what it is about. She does not know anything about the culture because it is not her type of thing, yet she claims to know enough about it to say it is responsible for her son's death?]

Owen, who travels between Utah and Los Angeles and describes himself as a classically trained opera singer, said society grabs onto the negatives of the Goth subculture and just hangs on. "These are kids," he said of the younger teens into the Goth scene. "If they want to find some connection with the occult or vampirism or whatever, they'll find that connection. I personally don'tfeel such a connection." As an example he point to the shock-rock group Marilyn Manson, held by some to be affiliated with the Goth scene. "Marilyn Manson is not Goth; Marilyn Manson is a rock group. People want to hear things to the contrary, they want to be fed the sensationalism," he said. "All I'm saying is that this is more than just some phase for me, it's what I am. And I'm not into all that other stuff." So do Goths pose a threat to society? "That's a good question," he said. "Everyone is different, you know? Overall, no, we're not a threat. I can think of far more dangerous groups out there than a bunch of kids who look pale and tragic." Salt Lake Police Sgt. Chuck Gilbert, who is with the Salt Lake Area Gang Project, agreed. "We haven't had any trouble with the Goths," Gilbert said. "They're mostly kids preoccupied with death who wear a lot of white, black and purple makeup. They really don't focus on committing crimes, and for the most part they aren't what we would classify as a gang. They're just real bizarre and, for the most part, they've been harmless."