I am finally completing the last task of Blogging 101…what a fantastic kickstarting experience this has been. I am very thankful to WordPress for putting this program out there and getting me as far as they did in the past month.
I am looking forward to my first non-Blogging 101 post next week – and I have a great topic to blog about. I’m heading out to Los Angeles this week for business and pleasure and I’m going to go see Cathouse Live at Irvine Meadows (a variety of ’80s bands and artists – check it out) with my bff and ’80s LA roomie Tami. Yay for me and Tami!
But back to the assignment…
Today’s task: develop a regular feature for your blog.
The Happiness Engineers at WordPress go on to say that “Creating a regular feature means your readers have something specific to wait for at regular intervals…[w]hen you go serial, you ensure a steady stream of content.”
Because my graduate studies start back up in three weeks and I really don’t know how much time I’ll have for this blog outside of the occasional concert review (I’ll always make time for live music!), I am going to go serial with a “Pop Culture Psychology” category that features posts about assignments I work on. My goal is to post something at least once a month.
I’ve pondered and surfed the thesaurus and simply cannot seem to come up with a clever name for a blog series (PsychologySandy? Lesson Learnings? Classroom Consciousness?) but in the end decided to simply add a WordPress category.
For those of you who haven’t read my “About” page, I am a graduate student studying psychology, and I plan to focus my studies on how pop culture influences behavior.
So to kick off this category I give you below a paper I wrote in an undergraduate education class that I entitled: “Goths in the Classroom: Menace or Merely Morose?”
The assignment was to write a paper on an education topic of my choice. In a discussion forum on violence in schools, the Columbine tragedy was brought up and I recalled the ensuing focus on the supposed “Goth” perpetrators. The media seemed to place blame on something they didn’t understand. Having known Goths (I have never considered myself Goth but I would consider them a close cousin of the rocker), I thought this was absolutely ridiculous. But then a distraught society always needs to place blame somewhere. I decided to check out the official research on Goths in the classroom.
I’ll mention that this paper was written in APA (American Psychological Association) format. For those of you not familiar, APA is an academic writing and citation style. I recently started reading the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (having previously relied on the Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL)), and I realize this paper could use some APA adjustments. Also, some formatting was altered in the cut and paste. Fortunately, I doubt that matters to 99.9% of the people who read this. I hope some of you at least find it interesting!
Goths in the Classroom: Menace or Merely Morose?
The main issue I researched has to do with understanding students involved in music subcultures, specifically those known as “Goths,” and whether they constitute a threat to school safety. I researched this issue for several reasons, first and foremost because I have a personal and academic interest in the psychology and psychosocial traits of members of these types of subcultures. This issue is important in education because Goth students have been showing up in classrooms all over the world for nearly four decades now, and they have been generally characterized as either a dangerous menace and/or depressed misfits. They were brought to the forefront of national attention after the Columbine school shootings in 1999, when the media fixated on the Goth perpetrators and attempted to place blame on the music culture influence. This issue affects students, schools and education in that it is important to understand, and not make assumptions about, the various subcultures and personalities in the classroom so as to learn the best ways to respond to and educate these students. As they have throughout history, schools must continue to be aware of and prepared to respond to the myriad of social conditions influencing students (Tozer & Senese, 2013).
Summary of Articles
The first three articles discuss the history and context of Goth music, and the philosophical tendencies of its adolescent followers. “’Goth’ comes from the name of a German tribe” but “[t]he word ‘Gothic’ derives from the English tradition of the Gothic novel, meaning macabre, somber, funereal, scary” (Eckert, 2005, p. 550-551). Generally speaking, appearance wise, Goths are easy to spot in the classroom: they tend to have black clothes, black fingernails, black hair, and their “…fashion senses resemble that of Morticia Adams” (Koener, 1999). The author of one article explains that “Goths are united by a fascination with death and a love for the morbid, introspective music…whose songs of tortured love and self-loathing waver between sinister and romantic” (Koener, 1999).
The music and lyrics can be described as gloomy, but also “bombastic” (Eckert, 2005, p.553). Many Goths refer to their music as “industrial,” so termed due to the origins of the beat being created by clanging on factory floors (Koener, 1999). The overall effect is intense and haunting, and unmistakable to anyone accustomed to the various strains of rock music.
Eckert (2005) gives a thorough background of the political thoughts within the Gothic subculture in Germany and claims that, for the most part, “Gothic subculture is nonpolitical.” However, the article does discuss the fact that there has been a Goth music sect with racist tendencies, and this seems to have influenced the perpetrators in the Columbine tragedy (Koener, 1999). This factor, along with their fascination with the violent video game Doom and movie The Matrix, caused the media to fixate on popular culture as a cause of the violent incident.
Interestingly, Goth music saw a significant increase in German popularity after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which led one author to question “Why is it that after the fall of the wall, when they started to enjoy the freedom of whatever subcultural expression they liked, young East Germans apparently were more attracted by Gothic, with its obsession with the macabre and with death, than by the others?” (Eckert, 2005, p.549). The author theorizes an answer that perhaps coincides with the decadent and violent culture that American adolescents of the 1980s-2000s experienced: “…it might be a way of transcending their individual lives and thus freeing themselves from the burden of an unsatisfactory and scary reality” (Eckert, 2005, p.549). Koener (1999) adds: “They’re open to anything that speaks to their alienation and despair.” One eighteen year old puts it quite eloquently when she states: “For me it means a kind of melancholy and reflectivity that spreads to all areas of life. With Gothic there is an additional sense of longing to reach a level that one can’t grasp as a normal person” (Eckert, 2005, p. 550). Koener (1999) interviewed long-time Goths, now adults, who explain that “Goth is about the transgressive, very much the embracing of the decadent” and that “[p]eople are in it to feel a release from tension and anxiety.” Another states that most Goths are “quiet and introspective, much preferring a good horror novel to a bare-knuckle fight” (Koener, 1999). “Central for them are the love of music and participation in a scene removed from the mainstream and mass commercialism” (Eckert, 2005, p.559). These explanations would seem to imply that the Goth subculture provides a way for some adolescents to process their reality.
Another article primarily discusses the issue of rock music lyrics in general and their influence on suicide. Dettmar (2000) argues that “[r]ock-n-roll had deployed irony as a narrative strategy from its earliest days…” but that it has “…become increasingly sophisticated and understated over time.” This graduate teacher author held a class discussion on the lyrics of a song that had recently been implicated as a factor in a teen suicide, and after a review, the students concluded that the song actually dissuaded suicide. Dettmar (2000) also mentions that the particular suicide at issue was “…largely ignored by the major news media until the possible link to rock-n-roll became public knowledge.” It concludes by pointing out that “[s]ongs, like any other text, can always be appropriated for inappropriate ends – by both rock’s insiders and its outsiders, by despondent teens and slipshod media pundits…” but “…to the degree that songs…(and fiction like American Psycho, or television programs like South Park) are used to justify the way behaviors they seek to condemn – through irony – we as cultural educators have much to answer for” (Dettmar, 2000).
While the three articles above tend to encompass a view of Goth culture from both insiders and informed, if not sympathetic, researchers, the final article addresses it from a more conservative outsider and clinical aspect. Rutledge et al. (2008) posits that “[t]he Goth culture attracts teens who are depressed, feel persecuted, have a distrust of society, or have suffered past abuse…they have a higher prevalence of depression, self-harm, suicide, and violence than non-Goth teens.” They quote statistics to back up these claims. When it comes to violence, however, the article seems to concede that it is generally directed at the Goth, whether past experiences caused them to be attracted to the culture, or after becoming a part of the culture, and not coming from the Goth. One caveat, however, involves the most striking of the statistics which show that while “[b]etween 7% and 14% of adolescents will participate in self-harming activities…[t]his number increases to 53% in the Goth subculture” (Rutledge et al., 2008). The author does point out, however, that many Goths “…simply enjoy the music, the fantasy found in role-playing games, and the shock value they receive when walking around in the mainstream culture” (Rutledge et al., 2008). The article also makes a poignant statement for teachers to consider about Goths: “[t]hey often possess above-average intelligence and are highly literate and creative” (Rutledge et al., 2008). The authors espouse the need for teachers and school administrators to be aware of signs of depression and self-harm, to be informed about and aware of the Goth culture and its propensity for these risks, and to make sure that access to non-judgmental support is easily available. Rutledge et al. (2008) also makes a generalization about Goths that would seem to make this advice applicable to all adolescents: “Many tend to be nonviolent, passive, pacifistic, and tolerant, whereas others can exhibit signs of anger, depression, and violence.”
The authors’ generally recognize, and I agree, that these gloomy students are really no more a menace to the classroom than any other teenager. All agree, however, that the Goths’ dark countenance is very real in some regards, and should be monitored for signs of depression and/or danger to themselves or others. They all also point to a certain psychosocial understanding in the introspective nature of Goths. I agree with these generalized opinions because I think that inwardly, these teenagers are not much different than any other group of teenagers. Music subcultures can have a strong influences on the development of personal, interpersonal and social capacities just like sports or any other group a teen chooses to associate with; it is a process for self-identification. The fact that they use music, art and literature to find their way could make for interesting and appealing classroom assignments and productive discussions about society. I agree most strongly, however, with Dettmar (2000), when he states that educators need to address cultural awareness in education.
Future Educational Implications
The educational implications of this issue seem to favor liberal arts studies in order to foster an in-depth study of our culture to provide the critical thinking skills and guidance needed to survive the psychosocial and mental health issues that arise in the everyday life of students. Today’s adolescents have been and will for the foreseeable future continue to grow up in an ever-changing, technology-oriented, information-overloading, media-based and entertainment-obsessed culture that is becoming immune to an array of disturbing events. Educators should try to understand how individual students find ways to react to society, whether it is a phase or a lifestyle, and work within that context to encourage a deeper understanding of the entertainment culture. Without being able to put their studies, society, and experiences in a context of reason they can relate to, students may not learn to develop the skills to adjust to and control their world moving forward.
Teachers, parents, students – society – need to care about this issue because Goths and a myriad of other entertainment-based cultures appear to be growing in influence. These cultures attract kids of all demographics and backgrounds, and all show a wide-array of mental health and societal effects. Training students for intellectual and moral growth can be tailored to their interests and used to develop problem solving and decision making skills. A liberal arts education must be made to co-exist with vocational training. As Aristotle argued: “Educating for the ‘whole of human excellence’ means educating for both vocational ends and other ends that are useful ‘for their own sake’ in the development of a good person” (Tozer & Senese, 2013, p. 336).
Dettmar, Kevin J.H. (2000). Ironic Literacy: Grasping the Dark Images of Rock. Chronicle of Higher Education, 46(39), B11. Retrieved from http://db24.linccweb.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=3164461&site=ehost-live
Eckart, G. (2005). The German Gothic Subculture. German Studies Review, 28(3), 547-562. Retrieved from http://db24.linccweb.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=19336390&site=ehost-live
Koerner, B. I., Herbert, W., & Marks, J. (1999). From way cool to out of control. (Cover story). U.S. News & World Report, 126(17), 20. Retrieved from http://db24.linccweb.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=1767991&site=ehost-live
Rutledge, C. M., Rimer, D., & Scott, M. (2008). Vulnerable Goth Teens: The Role of Schools in This Psychosocial High-Risk Culture. Journal Of School Health, 78(9), 459-464. doi:10.1111/j.1746-1561.2008.00331.x Retrieved from http://db24.linccweb.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=33533369&site=ehost-live
Tozer, S. & Senese, G. (2013). School and Society: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. (7th Ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.