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What Is This Gothic Sub-Culture?

April 22, 1999

LITTLETON, Colo. (AP) _ They call themselves ``Goths,″ short for Gothic, a subculture of youths who wear black, listen to shock rocker Marilyn Manson and think a lot about death.

It’s a haven of dark fantasy, embraced by many adolescents looking for their own place in a confusing world. They form cliques at schools and communicate over the Internet in the countless Goth Web sites.

And yet for all their interest in doom and gloom, the Goths were largely seen as benign outsiders, a little weird perhaps, but certainly harmless.

Until this week.

Two Littleton high school students who adopted at least some of the trappings of the Goth lifestyle, from their dark trench coats to their interest in Manson’s music, mowed down their classmates, killing 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives.

Those in the Goth world quickly distanced themselves from the massacre at Columbine High School. Although they celebrate what they see as the beauty of the macabre, they said they don’t believe in violence and hate.

``I do not feel that those youths in any way reflect Goth youth or Goth culture,″ said Ali Ohta, publicity director for Cleopatra Records, a Goth music label based in Los Angeles. ``These youths were heavily troubled. Everyone, including the media, is looking for a scapegoat.″

Manson said in a statement: ``It’s tragic and disgusting any time young people’s lives are taken in an act of senseless violence. My condolences go out to the students and their families.″

Manson had been scheduled to headline a concert in Denver on April 30. The show was canceled by the radio station sponsoring it.

Columbine students described the suicide assailants, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, as part of clique of about 15 students who looked to their classmates like Goths. The dressed the part with their black trench coats, rain or shine. Harris belonged to a Web group featuring Gothic lore.

But some students said the pair only embraced some of the Goth look.

``They’re not that bad, with all the white makeup and all the ear piercings,″ said one student, Jalene Sauter, 17.

What’s more, the two teen-agers apparently were influenced by neo-Nazism, harbored racist attitudes and were in a simmering feud with the school’s jocks. All of which would be anathema to a true Goth, according to Rik Millhouse, managing editor of Interface magazine, which follows the Goth culture.

He described Goth fans as ``by and large passive peoples whose main direction in life is one of encompassing acceptance for persons of all colors, creeds and individual pursuits.″

The Goth movement is linked to music, growing out of post-punk Britain in the 1970s and rising in underground clubs in Los Angeles as ``death rock″ in the early 1980s. Goths are interested in vampires and witchcraft and death _ the darker side of life. Many cultivate a ghostly pallor.

The Web site for a Goth band called Lestat reads, ``Death is the mother of beauty.″ Other sites sell a variety of Goth gear, from leather armor, to cloaks and capes, to little gargoyle statues.

``I think for kids Goth is a source of power, a source of community,″ said Kirk Olson, an associate with Minneapolis-based Iconoculture, which does market research on cultural trends. ``Kids who feel alienated are searching for power in something else. One way of doing that is to differentiate themselves as much as possible from the mainstream.″

Sharon Hartmann, co-owner of Rising Phoenix, a Goth coffeehouse just outside Denver, said the Goth people are ``just like the hippies in the 1960s.″

``They’re just trying to find their own identity, to fit in, experiment,″ she Ms. Hartmann, whose shop has twice-weekly ``Goth Night″ dances. ``They’re good kids, kids just like anybody’s kids. They are anybody’s kids.″