I am not really “with it.” My taste in clothes—formal or otherwise—runs the gamut from 1920 to 1960, as does my taste in cocktails, bars, and restaurants. Reasonably au courant in literature, my taste in music is hopeless: big bands, Strauss waltzes, the “American songbook,” and folk music, particularly Celtic and early American. Worse still, I’ve been this way as long as I can remember. Back in the early ‘80s, I enjoyed a punk afterhours club called the Zero-Zero. It was not the music but the prospect of drinking illegally until dawn that drew me ever back. When the establishment was featured in an L.A. Weekly article with the advice, “we can’t tell you where it is, but call the hippest person you know, and they’ll tell you,” my phone rang off the hook. All such enquiries were answered with a cheery, “I can tell you where it is, but if I’m the hippest person you know, you have no business being there.”
So when arcane pop culture phenomena come to my attention, you may be assured that they are important enough to pierce through my force field of obliviousness. It does happen from time to time: I received a crash-course in the Goth scene when one of my favorite Hollywood dives, Boardner’s, transmogrified into something out of an Anne Rice novel.
This past summer, I hosted a young relation of mine, Michael Feidt, Jr., whose elegiac longing for his old local I quoted in my last piece. Although not a member (and, indeed, rather despising it), he told me of a youth subculture of which I had not heard—the “Emos”—“short,” so he said, “for emotional youth.” Adopting much of the white pancake makeup and dark eyeshadow and nail polish of the Goths, these folk eschewed the sometimes fanciful regency gear of the latter for T-shirts and REALLY tight jeans on starved, skinny bodies. As an example of their ethos, Mike showed me on youtube a very disturbing video of a song by Green Day (one of their hallmark bands) called “Jesus of Suburbia.” This featured a rather scrawny and annoying looking lad’s odyssey through a blighted suburban landscape, coupling joylessly with an even less attractive girl and arguing with his Boomer harridan of a mother.
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It was all quite despairing, and, so Mike assured me, that is the leitmotif of Emo culture. “They’re so burned out emotionally because of how awful their lives and upbringing are, they claim not to be capable of feeling anything. So they cut themselves.”
“Cut themselves?” I asked.
“Yep,” came the reply. “But to minimize the actual danger, they’re careful how they do it.” Then, using his index finger on his inner forearm as an indicator, Mike intoned, “down the road, not across the street!” We laughed neurotically.
Questioning the other young people in my life, I came up with a composite picture of this crew. They are indeed navel contemplators, convinced that all structures, religious or civil, are worthless, as are individuals, to include oneself—to paraphrase the late Fulton Sheen, for Emos, life is definitely not worth living. Suicide is something of a problem among them.
Nor is the phenomenon confined to these palmy, post-9/11 shores of its origin. Last year, Time reported a rash of attacks on wealthy Emos by other youths is three cities across Mexico. Concerned by the growth of Emo-dom, a law was introduced into the Russian Duma to ban Emo clothing and makeup at schools and government buildings; to the wise men of Moscow Emo is a “dangerous teen trend” resulting in “anti-social behavior, depression, social withdrawal and even suicide.”
Where did this strange lifestyle originate? According to the infallible Wikipedia, Emo is a spinoff of punk (quite believable, considering some of the folk one encountered at the Zero-Zero, back in the long-ago). But how to account for its recent popularity? Certainly Green Day and such bands have been around for a while (apparently, GD first played the Bahooka, one of our local watering holes that is one of the last remaining Tiki holdouts in the L.A. area, and won passing fame as a location for the Johnny Depp vehicle, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). So why now, and not, say, twenty years ago?
The answer is to be found, it seems to me, in the laps of the Boomers, where so much else that plagues us originated. Although much was incomprehensible to me in “Jesus of Suburbia,” one line hit me VERY clearly: a disparaging reference to the “Moms and Brads.” The latter reference was clear, as indicating the innumerable male-esque figures—stepfathers, mother’s boyfriends, and the like—who flit briefly through so many young people’s lives today, effectively ensuring that they will never know what having a father or belonging to a real family is like. Given that the family is the first school of our behavior, and so often gives us our sense of where we stand in the world, is it any wonder that a generation without such is adrift?
For even though the Emos are perhaps the most grotesque manifestation of the situation I know of, the same angst that eats them is rife amongst younger folk, albeit in milder forms. One of the saddest things ever told me was imparted by Mike during an evening watching The Thin Man (as my endless army of nephews, nieces, younger cousins, and God-children may tell, viewing William Powell and Myrna Loy is an occupational hazard of a visit chez Coulombe).
“You know, Uncle,” he said, observing the obvious relish for one another’s company and witty repartee between the leads, “the idea of a marriage like that, where the husband and wife not only love each other, but really enjoy each other, is so foreign to my generation that it borderlines on mythology.” Pace the Duma, the responsibility for Emoism does not lie with its practitioners. Nor can it be solved by legislative fiat. One hopes this truth will somehow filter through to the masters of society, before my generation is forced to learn that Soylent Green really is people. At least fiancées might begin to consider that the tone they set for their future children’s environment is the most important task placed before them.
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