I hate emo

| 12 Comments

In the way of living somewhere where everything comes late, I have been noticing a ton of emo kids in Austin lately. They were around Portland before I was ever out of Reed, but I've only noticed them down here in the last year or so. The ones in Portland are probably on to something else by now.

If you don't know what emo is, you can start here, but basically it's a fashion/lifestyle "subculture" characterized by a certain style of dress and a heavy dose of misery, as well as allegiance to some specific music. Those kids with the tight jeans, stringy black hair in their faces, and constant expression of contemplation constipation? They're emo.

And there is no way for me to properly emphasize how much I hate emo.

Now this is almost inevitably due to my being too old and uncool to properly understand. I get that. But I hate it all the same. It is definitely not that I have a problem with wallowing in your own angst (I mean, c'mon, that's pretty much my favorite past time), or a particular issue with your hair being in your eyes. I'm not even bothered as much as I once was by folks who don't shower often. Emo music is all bad, as far as I can tell, but I've heard worse.

What bothers me is the way emo looks an awful lot like a really, really poor imitation of two subcultures that I do have a bit of experience being in and around: goth and grunge. These kids think they're miserable? I remember when you could be miserable AND sexy.

I was never really goth (though I've made the occasional attempt). I'm a bit young for it. Goth culture came to the U.S. in the late 80s and early 90s (from England and Germany, mostly), when I was still adolescent. However, it was still very much alive and kicking by the time I was in high school and college in the mid-late 90s. One of the annual events at Reed was a "Fetish Ball," where the goth kids got up in their finest leather and lace and did things like bit and flogged one another. I attended. I wonder, now, how much of the sexual subculture that was being celebrated so publicly was really taking place privately, but that wasn't really the point. The point was to celebrate pain, to indulge in thinking it was sexy, and for everybody to look hot. It is undeniably silly now (and was then, too, actually), and there was definitely an aspect of commercialism and commodification to it even then, but there was also something real behind it. For the most part, those indulging were freaks, even within the already freaky Reed social hierarchy. It was a way to embrace being an outcast.

I did grunge a lot better than I did goth. Partially it must have been regional, since I grew up in Oregon in the shadow the of the Seattle scene, and partially it was just better timing, with grunge hitting big right as my early teen hormonal flood kicked in. I don't have a picture to show you, but I wore my jeans-black tee shirt-flannel-Docs combo faithfully, even if my hygiene was always a little bit too good. And it wasn't just about fashion. Wikipedia describes grunge music as being "typically angst-filled, often addressing themes such as social alienation, apathy, confinement, and a desire for freedom." That's pretty much Grace, circa 1992-1997. Grunge was, to those who embraced it in my generation (and the one before mine, really), what punk was in the years before that--a reply to a mean, confusing, alienating world that was both defiant and resigned. And again, it was for outcasts--those who saw what was happening in the society around them and in their own lives and, for whatever reason, couldn't pretend it was going to be OK.

Given that I grew up with and identified with both goth and grunge, two subcultures that were built on angst (remember, I could have been a rave kid instead if I'd wanted to be happy), it seems like I'd be all over emo, right? No. Emo may look something like a goth-grunge slushy, but it strikes me as a very pale imitation of the real things. Unlike goth, there's no sexiness to emo. The emo kids want to cut themselves, but the pleasure-from-the-pain element doesn't seem to come into it. And the emo-ers may not wash, but there's none of the rebellion of grunge, none of the insistence that this outside part doesn't matter anyway.

It is almost inevitable that I am missing some important core element of emo here, just by virtue of being too old and too far outside of it to understand what it means to the people who are inside it. The commodification and fake misery I see when I look at emo kids is probably very similar to what old-school punks say when they looked at grunge kids, and it definitely resembles the Hot Topic-ization of goth. And much as it annoys me, if emo culture is providing to kids now some of what goth and especially grunge culture provided to me as a fucked-up outsider kid, them more power to it. But I still can't help but resent how fake it looks, and how it doesn't seem to recognize its roots, and how we did it better in my day.

12 Comments

yes! good god yes. this is brilliant and perfectly describes what i couldn't put my finger on. i see remnants of grunge at political events and rallies but i've yet to see any emo kid, in the supposed hotbed of liberal political activism, at any meeting i've attended.

Yeah, this is a great entry.

Emo seems to me like all of the bullshit without any of the good stuff.

~Jess (who is too young to be grunge, but is a total wannabe ;) )

Fuckin hippie ass emo kids.

Part of me wants to adopt these little emo-lings and turn them into *proper* goths. But frankly i couldn't stand the whining...

Isn't grunge a "really, really poor imitation" of punk?

This was really interesting, to hear what the world at large thinks of emo subculture.

While I'm by no means "emo" myself, all of my friends are of the diehard, My Chemical Romance-loving, skinny jean-wearing persuasion, so maybe I can try to address some of the issues you brought up.

I wasn't around for the punk, grunge, or goth eras, but it sounds like they have only two things in common with "emo" subculture-- music with similar roots, and a reputation with outsiders as being "alternative", "freaky", or otherwise out of the mainstream.

The difference, though, is that there really is no "emo subculture" beyond the prescribed music. There are hopeless, numb-by-choice apathetics, and there are cutters who like to wallow in pain. Strikingly, most emos hate other emos. Not much of a subculture at all.

The only thing that I like about "emo" is exactly what you address in the last paragraph of your post-- emo does provide a group for social misfits. It's been a place where writers and neglected children of alcholics and kids who are afraid to come out to their parents have been able to make friends. (All of these people exist in our group of 6-8).

As for the lack of sexiness, I'd attribute that to the general affiliation with LGBTAPQ subculture-- in the same group of 6-8, I am the only kid confirmed straight. Emo culture is a safe haven for teenagers who are still undecided, where being gay or bisexual is more than normal and okay, it's almost encouraged. I'm just guessing, but maybe emo is supposed to look "unsexy" or at the very least, androgynous, for this very reason.

Great post, and great observations.

I think they're cute, in the same way any large "anti-conformist" teenage trend is. It's more attractive than the other teenage subcultures, at least.

It's rockabilly kids that drive me up the fucking wall.

Did you see that in Mexico, there are anti-emo protests happening? And pro-emo protests in response?

ok well idk if ur too old to understnad and watnot but im sure you can get it. my mom gets it. and shes not young.
emo is completley diffrent than goth and grunge/punk and thats what people miss. they think that first you go punk then emo then goth like its all in stages or something.
emo is just a tpe of music that just happened to have a style along with it. im emo and i may not be sexy but there are tons of emos that are including my boyfried and my best friend. maybe the reason emos go home and cry is becuase people like you ragging on them. me and my best friend laugh all the time have a ton of inside jokes but were emo. so what now?

To start, it states in the bible to judge nobody. It is his job and his job only. Now if you don't believe in God, then I have plenty of other things to say.
It is somebody else's life stop wasting yours hating somebody. Your stereotypical ranting is actually pretty funny though I have to say. Until it gets serious. Until you have people in Mexico protesting against...emos? Congrats guys you are protesting against a label that you gave them. That is a really sad life if all you can say is you started the emo protest.
This article is YOU whining about other people. Obviously you are very close minded and I pity you for that. If I had to live with my mind that closed to others I would whine too. Your only hurting yourself.
It is humanity's habit to hate things that are different from yourself. It takes strength to throw that state of mind away I know. It is also humanity's habit to judge people and pretty much everything. To divide everything. To name it. Divisions cause hate, hate causes the world to sink deeper into its peril.
So to conclude, get over yourself, open your mind, and stop hating people.
Oh and labels are for canned food, not people.

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