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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 25-May-2008
Teen "emo subculture" creating violent fault line in Mexico City

Web Log - May, 2008

Teen "emo subculture" creating violent fault line in Mexico City

The depressive 'emotive' music style is also being blamed for suicides in Europe.

In the Broadway play The Music Man, the parents of an 1890s Iowa town learn that pool is an evil game and that, because of the new pool table in town, "Libertine men and Scarlet women and Rag-time, shameless music [will] grab your son and your daughter in the arms of a jungle animal instinct!"

When I was growing up in the fifties, I read in the newspaper that experts were saying that "Superman" comics, my favorite, were evil and were causing kids to turn to a life of crime. That's when I first began to realize that most "experts" are nuts.

After that it was rock 'n' roll that was evil, then 1970s TV crime shows like Kojak, then porn, then video games. Last year, it was the TV show '24'.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, these cultural artifacts are not causes of anything; rather, they're signposts, showing the direction in which the culture or a group within the culture is moving.

And so today, when we have European adults calling "emo" music the work of the devil, and when we have groups of emo youths being beaten and killed in Mexico City, it appears worthwhile to study the "emo" phenomenon for what it tells us is happening in some teen subcultures.

Emo band My Chemical Romance
Emo band My Chemical Romance

Emo music has been around since the 1980s. Its adherents describe it as "emotive," and it's a subculture embodying a certain type of music, a characteristically dark style of dress, and a totally non-violent non-political attitude, not opposed to anything. Slit wrists, claims of self-harm and suicide threats are characteristic of some descriptions of this subculture.

Although emo music has been around since the early 1980s, it's only become a phenomenon since 2002 with the emo band My Chemical Romance (MCR) and their debut album I Brought You My Bullets You Brought Me Your Love. No, I'm not joking. And here are the lyrics to the song, "This is the best day ever":

    And we can run, from the backdrop of these gears and scalpels
    At every hour goes the tick-tock bang of monitors as
    They stared us down when we met in the emergency room
    And in our beds, I could hear you breathe
           with help from cold machines
    Every hour, on the hour, they drew blood
    Well I felt I couldn't take, another day inside this place
    From silent dreams we never wake, and in this promise that we'll make
    Starless eyes for heaven's sake, but I hear you anyway
    Well I thought I heard you
    Say I like you, we can get out
    We don't have to stay, stay inside this place
    Someday, this day, we kept falling down
    Someday, this day, set the ferris wheel ablaze
    You left my heart an open wound
    And I love you for
    This day, someday we kept falling down
    One day, this day all we had to keep us safe
    And if we never sleep again, it would never end
    Well I thought I heard you say to me
    We'll go so far, far as we can
    And I just can't stay, one day we'll run away

MCR's most popular counterculture statement came in 2006 with their album, "Welcome to the Black Parade," where the Black Parade is the place you go when you die. Some of the lyrics are: "And we will send you reeling from decimated dreams. Your misery and hate will kill us all. So paint it black and take it back."

Hannah Bond

The "emo" subculture has burst into the consciousness of many Europeans recently, thanks to the suicide in Kent, England, of Hannah Bond, a 13-year-old emo fan, last September.

Hannah Bond, before and after adopting emo lifestyle <font face=Arial size=-2>(Source: Daily Mail)</font>
Hannah Bond, before and after adopting emo lifestyle (Source: Daily Mail)

In an article titled "Why no child is safe from the sinister cult of emo," we learn that the number of children admitted to hospital due to injuries inflicted on themselves has risen from 11,891 in 2002-3 to 15,955 in 2006-7. In both periods, there were more than three times as many admissions of girls as of boys.

The above picture shows Hannah Bond both before and after adopting the emo style of dress. In typical emo fashion, she's dyed her hair black, allowing it to cover one eye, she wears black makeup and black clothes, and she wears bracelets, presumably to cover up the self-inflicted slits in her wrists.

It's easy enough to understand that emo music doesn't cause teenage girls to commit suicide, but that it attracts teenage girls who are already attracted to thoughts of suicide.

The questions that I can't answer are these: Are emo fans really more likely to commit suicide than non-emo fans? (I suspect not.) Are emo fans who slit their wrists really trying to kill themselves, or are they just using it as a way to get attention or shock their parents? (I suspect the latter.) Did Hannah Bond really intend to go all the way and actually die, or was she only trying to shock her parents with an attempted suicide? (We'll never know.)

Development of emo

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In my article several months ago, "The nihilism and self-destructiveness of Generation X," I quoted the lyrics of several Gen-X popular songs, and contrasted them with the music of previous decades -- the romantic escapist music of the Great Depression and World War II eras, the sweet "live, love, laugh and be happy" post-war love ballads, and the protest music of the Awakening era Boomers.

As Gen-X music took hold in the late 1970s and 1980s, the protest music morphed into counterculture "punk rock" music, with dark lyrics mostly rejecting Boomer values, and often emphasizing themes of violence, isolation, disillusionment and death. This was especially apparent in the sub-genre deathrock.

Emo, which originally stood for "emotive hardcore," began in the 1980s as a punk rock sub-genre that stressed emotions and rejected violence. As it's grown, it's adopted the same punk rock themes of isolation, disillusionment and death, but in punk those themes are turned outward in the form of violence, while in emo they're turned inward.

Urban tribes in Mexico City

Here's how a recent BBC report described what's happening Mexico City:

"The clothes, the hair, the look -- emos -- short for "emotional." Young people big on feelings.

Top 3 frames: Emos; bottom frame: Punker. <font face=Arial size=-2>(Source: BBC)</font>
Top 3 frames: Emos; bottom frame: Punker. (Source: BBC)

Young emo teen boy: "Emos let their feelings lead them. We have feelings of emotion, of happiness, sadness, or anger. We're not just depressives like others say."

An idea that started two decades ago in the United States, uniquely this is a worldwide youth movement that doesn't want to change the world. Their mantra instead: Express, don't suppress, your emotions.

Black is the emos' distinctive trademark look -- clothes, makeup, hair -- asymmetric hair -- and usually falling over one eye.

Not punks rallying against an unseen establishment, but young people drawn to a life that puts the individual first.

Now they're standing up for the right to be emotional. [Pictures of emo demonstrations] But this time, it's for self-protection -- from the likes of these -- punks, goths, and rockers, who hate what emos stand for, and the way they stand for it.

Rival tensions between teenagers, yes, but here in Mexico, the animosity is turning violent in city centers across the country.

Look at this -- clashes in one central Mexican town -- this young emo is cornered and beaten. They young man survives, but his attacks run around looking for more emos.

Young teen boy: "I don't like them very much because they [don't] want to look like punks and goths, and those cultures are much more important. Emos have no idea about them."

In other cities, the emos have felt besieged, and here's why: More aggression, more insults, from their jumping, shouting opponents, all questioning what they say is the emos' self-obsession and copycat style.

But in keeping with their passive view on life, emos we spoke to say they're not frightened.

Young teen boy: "We're not aggressive. We do not bother anyone. But people don't understand."

Individuals might not be concerned, but the police have had to deploy hundreds of officers to protect them. With Mexico's history of intolerance against anything strange or different, emo numbers are large here, because there are so many people who feel stifled by the conservative society they live in.

Emos -- the rebels with no cause but their own. Duncan Kennedy, BBC news, in Mexico."

It's always fascinating to hear the always-politically-correct BBC try to explain something, but this stuff doesn't make sense. People don't bash each other's face in because they have different taste in music, or they have different clothes. They do that because of ethnic differences.

And that's evidently what's going on in Mexico. The different groups -- the punks, the goths, etc. -- are calling themselves "urban tribes." Another news account entitled "Mexico Declares War On Emo" describes the situation as follows:

"Chances are if you aren’t emo, you hate emo. But you likely don’t hate this straight-haired, massacre-lined subculture as much as the Mexicans do. In recent weeks, a wave of emo bashings has swept across Mexico, several news agencies have reported, fuelled by punks, rockabillies, goths, metalheads and basically anyone who’s not emo.

According to Daniel Hernandez, who’s been covering the anti-emo riots on his blog Intersections, the violence began March 7, when an estimated 800 young people poured into the Mexican city of Queretaro’s main plaza “hunting” for emo kids to pummel. Then the following weekend similar violence occurred in Mexico City at the Glorieta de Insurgents, a central gathering space for emos. Hernandez also reports that several anti-emo riots have now also spread to various other Mexican cities. Via the Austin American Statesmen, several postings on Mexican social-networking sites, primarily organising spot for these “emo hunts,” have been dug up and translated. One states: “I HATE EMOS!!! They are not even people, they are so stupid, they cry over meaningless things… My school is infested with them, I want to kill them all!”

Another says: “We’ve never seen all the urban tribes unite against one single tribe before… Emos, their way of thinking is for crap, if you are so depressed please do us all a favour and kill yourselves!”

More recent reports state that the emos have begun to fight back against the other “urban tribes” and organised marches in Guadalajara and Mexico City, escalating the violence and leading to increased police presence. Also, some Mexican newspapers, such as El Porvenir, have called for government intervention to protect the emos, writing, “It’s the responsibility of the authorities to make sure the threats aren’t carried out and the aggressions are punished.”

This theme was carried forward in an article subtitled "Mexico City's Urban Tribes Go on the Warpath Against Emos":

"Que Se Mueran Los Emos!" ("That The Emos Should Die!") the "punketos" howled and the bottles began to fly. One young man with an astonishing Mohawk whipped off his studded belt. ...

Halfway up a lamppost as the near-riot unfolded outside the Chopo "tianguis" or bazaar where Mexico City's urban tribes have gathered on Saturday mornings for 28 years, a ten year-old kid flashed a finger and spat on the Emos below cringing behind a phalanx of police and mindlessly chanting their own name--"Emo! Emo!"--over and over again.

Who are these mysterious Emos and why have they been so violently excluded from the ranks of an urban tribalism that knits the city's counter-culture youth into a loose federation of "punketos" (punks, both anarcho and otherwise), "darketos" (darks), "Goticos" (Goths), "skatos" (lovers of ska music), "metaleros" (ditto heavy metal), "ipoperos" (hiphoppers) and "cholos" (gangbangers), amongst other colorful "bandas"? ...

Emos habitat is in comfortable middle and upper middle class neighborhoods like Coyoacan and the Condesa and their musical tastes are one notch above "fresa" (literally "strawberry", a pejorative)--pop punk, post hardcore, and alternative rock. During the altercation outside the Chopo bazaar, several Emos grasped hand-written signs that read "I'm an Emo and so what?" ...

Spread anonymously on the Internet, the anti-Emo putsch soon became national phenomena. 80 anti-Emos were rounded up by police in the northern city of Durango. Anti-Emo demonstrations were staged in the states of Puebla, Jalisco, and Sinaloa. There are reportedly over a hundred anti-Emo videos now posted on YouTube including one entitled "How To Kill An Emo." ...

Underlying the hostilities between the Emos and rival urban tribes is the class divide which yawns wide in Mexico City. The Emos spring from the loins of affluent families and are often enrolled in private schools and the high school system of the National Autonomous University (UNAM) in a country where only 17 per cent of young people will have a chance to go to college."

Mexico's fault lines

I've quoted several different news stories and articles at some length, because I needed all of these sources to figure out what the heck was going on.

Mexico's last crisis war was the Mexican Revolution, running from 1910-1922, so Mexico is deep into a generational Crisis era, and overdue for a new crisis war.

Mexico is like other Latin American countries in that the major fault lines are between the indigenous peoples ("Amerindians") and the people of European ancestry. The indigenous peoples in Mexico are the Mayans in the south and the Aztecs and Commancheros in the north. The Europeans -- descendants of Spanish or French -- generally live in the center, around Mexico City. During the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s, Pancho Villa (from the south) was the leader, along with Emiliano Zapata, of the indigenous rebel insurgency groups.

What we infer from all of the sources that we quoted above is that the split between the emos and the "urban tribes" is reopening the fault line between market-dominant European descendants versus the disadvantaged indigenous people.

This fault line has been growing anyway, with increased violent crime from drug cartels, thanks to the increases in the prices of tortillas and other food items. The rise in food prices has sparked numerous demonstrations in Mexico City, as it has around the world, and the attacks on emos are just the latest manifestation.

Generational Dynamics predicts that there'll be a new Mexican Revolution along the European/indigenous fault line, and that it will spread into the southwestern United States.

From the point of view of generational theory, the emo vs urban tribe development is fascinating, since it illustrates how a cultural artifact can be adapted as a tool to separate identity groups. Identity groups are usually separated by things like skin color or language, but the groups themselves may develop cultural differences to further distinguish themselves -- that's how new religions are created, for example. The use of a popular music form to distinguish identity groups shows how versatile human beings are, even (or especially) when they're on the path to total war. (25-May-2008) Permanent Link
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