‘Goth’ defined: Seminar sheds light on what is behind mysterious teenage trend

PORTSMOUTH – You’ve seen them in the parks or at the mall, wearing black nail polish and lipstick or ripped tights and combat boots. Some have purple hair and strange tattoos. Others hang out at cemeteries or listen to music with lyrics about death.

These are Goth kids, teenagers who dress differently so they may appear mysterious to others or are secretly or openly obsessed with the occult, said Gordon A. Crews, associate dean of the School of Justice Studies at Roger Williams University in Bristol.

“Why all the black? What most of them will tell you is, ‘We don’t exist to you anyway.’ The black is a way of being on the other side. It is a way of separating,” he said.

Crews, who has written books and articles about the occult, satanic involvement, gangs and school violence, presented pieces of his research on Goth behavior during a seminar for law enforcement officials Wednesday at the university’s conference center on Anthony Road. About 30 officers from around Rhode Island and as far away as Boston attended the program.

Crews, a former police investigator, became interested in studying the Gothic movement in 1987 after he discovered an unusual mural inside an abandoned house while he was leading a pack of bloodhounds through the woods in the South. The mural depicted Satan grabbing baby Jesus from his mother. The following day, he returned to the house to find it had been burned down.

Since then, he has researched Gothic activity and interviewed people who follow it, including a man who claims to be a 450-year-old vampire and sleeps in a coffin. The Goth movement grew out of the 1970s punk trend and became popular in the late 1990s, at about the time school shootings were becoming more frequent. Some school shooters, like Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, who killed 13 people before committing suicide at Columbine High Schoolin Colorado in 1999, have been described as Gothic.

Most Goths are young, white and intelligent, and many teens use the behavior as a protection mechanism, Crews said. They may feel ostracized by other social groups, so they dress and act mysteriously in an effort to be feared by others.

“What they will tell you is they would rather be left alone than be bullied or attacked,” he said. “It is up to the individual to define what Goth is for themselves … The mentality is, ‘I want to be left alone but I want to be seen. I want to see the shock on other peoples’ faces,” he said.

But others take the movement to the extreme. For them, it is a belief system rather than a trend. They are into witchcraft or believe they are vampires. Some practice Satanism, drink blood or mutilate their own bodies, he said.

Newport Patrolwoman Sandra Langlais, the school resource officer at Rogers High School, was among the attendants. She said Crews provided some interesting information about a group of students she knew relatively little about before the seminar.

“I’m glad they offered this program,” she said. “We have, maybe, a half dozen students at the high school who dress in that particular manner.”

Langlais said it is encouraging that local law enforcement officials are talking about the Gothic movement now before the unseemly aspects of the subculture become an issue.

“It is interesting to find out what is going on in other areas of the country,” she said. “It’s not of a particular concern here yet. We do need to talk about it.”

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