Taking emo to heart
While critics see it as a subculture of despair, many teens find shelter in it, writes ZARA NICHOLSON
EACH new generation faces its own challenges and there are always sub-cultures for teens to latch on to in their search for an identity, and a sense of belonging. Emo, a sub-culture of the hardcore rock, punk and goth scenes, has been around for some time but seems to be enjoying a strong resurgence in Cape Town.
Emo, short for emotion, is based on emocore, the music genre that developed in the late 80s and early 90s.
Most emos favour tight jeans and Converse sneakers, preferably in black, much like goths.
However, emo kids also like red and even the odd neon burst of colour.
Studded belts and black wristbands are common accessories in emo fashion. It’s also about the hair. Emohaircuts are characterised by spikes and/or long fringes that sometimes hang over both eyes.
Emo art is usually dark in nature, contrasting negative emotions with cartoon-like images.
In emo art, there are often “consoling images”, such as two people embracing or holding hands – although they may be slouching at the time and looking deeply unhappy.
Most emo graphics, paintings and drawings are black and white with some elements of red and neon colours. Many emo pictures are self-portraits. Some are cute, some showoff the fashion aspect, while others show the subject in a state of deep melancholy, with exaggerated tears or dark mascara.
Emocore developed in the late 1980s when some punk fans grew exasperated with the violence and aggressive anger that typified hardcore punk.
Emocore, which started in Washington, with bands like Rites of Spring and Embrace – key members of which joined to form Fugazi – focused on individual pain rather than politics, with lyrics that dealt with nostalgia, disillusionment and poetic desperation.
The music was substantially different from hardcore, featuring – along with the more introspective lyrics – a pop-punk sensibility that gathered more commercial appeal.
Famous emo bands that have come to the fore since then include My Chemical Romance, City of Caterpillar, Boys Like Girls, AFI and Fall out Boy.
Emo has since become a full-blown culture – although many associate it with “pseudo depressive and histrionic” behaviour.
In cyber battles, so-called “true” emos blame the “fakes” for what the more cynical among them call “nothing more than the side-effect of being a teenager”.
According to the emo-corner website: “Not all emo people are cry babies or suicidal. Many emo kids come from families which are having serious issues.”
Butwhile emo may be a fad or simply a type of fashion and music that certain teens enjoy rather than mourn, there are incidents which seem to suggest it promotes teen depression, thoughts of suicide and self-mutilation.
In Russia, a law was presented to regulate emo websites and forbid emo style at schools and government buildings, for fear of emo being a “dangerous teen trend” promoting anti-social behaviour, depression, social withdrawal and even suicide.
One emo source said: “Cutting (selfmutilation) is a big thing and is seen as a way to garner sympathy and attention. It’s rare to find an emo who ‘secretly’ cuts themselves.”
A top Grade 11 pupil from Garlandale High in Athlone, who is from a conservative Muslim family, says she is an emo and only wants to be known by her pseudonym, Morbid Angel.
“Being emo for me is having the sense that you are not the only one being treated this way (outcast, freak etc),” she said.
“Like you’re not the only person who feels as if they are alone in a room filled with people. But I’ll always choose life over death, no matter how bad the turmoil inside me gets or how invisible I am to people.
“I’ll always know that there are people out there who feel the same.
“I come from a very religious background. I am Muslim so there’s this constant battle within myself.
“I do believe in God and my parents are very conservative. I’ve been finding God recently, but does that make me un-emo?
“I would say that my family is abnormal at times – I mean what family doesn’t have their moments?
“I had to deal with a lot of rejection, heartbreak and low self-esteem, but I’m your average teenager. “I might be sad a lot, but I’m still human. “I don’t cut myself and I don’t want to kill anybody. All I want is acceptance and encouragement from the people who say they care.”
Her parents do not know that she is an emo and the consequences of them finding out scare her.
“I don’t think they know what it is and they would probably freak if they found out.”
The reasons kids choose the emo way of life range from not finding acceptance in other social circles, or going through a difficult family issue, to an interest in art or fashion.
Another emo said: “I think emo is just another label, but my definition of it will be for real. Personally, I used to cut (myself) but I stopped. Take it from me. It’s hard to stop.”
Rod Suskin, a Cape Town astrologist and psychologist, says rebellion is a very important part of teenagers ultimately finding and developing their own personal identity.
“We should see emo as part of our culture, not as an alternative to it.
“It is a mirror of our cultures and addresses all the usual issues from sexuality to gender to relationships.
“It deserves to be ‘heard’ and recognised as relevant.”