Re: a study on Goth subculture

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Sat 15 Apr 2006 - 07:26:52 GMT

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    Scott Chase wrote:
    > Here's a interesting article about research on Goth subculture that
    > found a relationship between this group and things like self-harm and
    > suicide attempts:
    > It seems suggested that it's not so much a case of the subcultre
    > causing anti-self behavior but perhaps those predisposed to a negative
    > outlook to gravitate towards Gothic things.
    > But if given a case of someone standing in front of you with
    > piercings, black hair, powdery white face makeup and a The Cure,
    > Bauhaus or NIN t-shirt, can you assume they are more likely disposed
    > to suicidal ideation or other self-destructive behavior (cutting etc)?
    > The whole Goth thing could be looked upon as a memeplex (or mindset),
    > but how many characteristics need to be possessed (or possess the
    > individual if you prefer a meme view) before they cross the threshold
    > into Goth. I like The Cure and NIN, but don't have dyed hair or black
    > fingernails or a love of vampire fiction, so maybe I'm not Goth.
    > Joseph Dominick's media studies text _The Dynamics of Mass
    > Communication (5th ed.)_ talks about a "heavy metal subculture" (p.
    > 570). This text was published in 1996, so the 80's-90's heavy metal
    > thing was still fresh in pop culture. Research is discussed showing
    > some association between suicide and heavy metal as indexed by
    > subscription to a publication called *Metal Edge*. It didn't seem that
    > the researchers actually looked at individual subscribers *per se* but
    > at subscription rates in various states versus suicide rates in those
    > states. Seems a little too subtle for me, but maybe there's something
    > there. It wasn't that the magazine caused the behavior, but that it
    > served as an index of heavy metal subcultural identification. Those
    > into metal might be more likely to subscribe to this magazine.
    > But do dark lyrics cause suicide, do kids with an already dark outlook
    > respond more to dark lyrics, or are kids with a predisposition to
    > self-negating or damaging behavior more readily drawn into so-called
    > Gothic or heavy metal subcultures?
    > Is this much ado about nothing?

    The Samaritans advise that asking people whether they are suicidal does not increase their chances of killing themselves. But conversely when people spontaneously talk about their suicidal intentions they more often than not are really thinking about suicide - people bereaved by suicide will frequently say that this is something the person had talked about but everyone just thought it was attention-seeking behaviour.

    My experience is that people become suicidal specifically when they lose hope - hope that things can ever change. So when you ask them whether they feel suicidal they say 'yes', but more often than not when you ask them whether they want to die they say 'no' - it's just that they want to stop living *like this* and they can't see another way out. (This is why asking them about it and allowing them to talk about it and do a reality check is so important.)

    This would imply that, as you say, there's a circular thing here, with kids who already have a dark outlook being drawn towards these lyrics/that culture, which in turn reinforces their dark outlook - in two ways, maybe: reinforcing their belief that there's no hope to be had, and also at some level presenting suicide/self-harm as ok options. If cool famous people do them, why not me? To this extent I do think suicide is memetic. If it were possible to imagine a person who had never heard about the idea of suicide, it is also possible I think to imagine that person thinking for himself of death as a way out of an intolerable situation. But equally the shock that greets a suicide ensures that the news (the meme) travels fast. The fact is that most people do know what suicide is.

    But here again the information vs. effects distinction is key. Most people who acquire the suicide meme never act on it. Alter the context for that meme, though, and its effects can be exerted. E.g. if we hear someone talking about it then we can assume that the meme is gaining a favourable context in their minds - its effects are on the verge of being realized. Conversely, a reality check about the other options available to them might alter the context to render the meme powerless again. So in the case of goth culture it may be that the world in which these (already dark-outlooked?) kids immerse themselves is one that gives the suicide meme a favourable context, in which its phenotypic results can be seen.


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