SALT LAKE CITY—Blue-haired Alicia Porter pounds her computer keyboard, updating her Gothic Web site. The 22-year-old English major at the University of Utah, like many Goths, chafes at the Gothic label.

Nevertheless, she is deeply offended that the media have linked her subculture to the April 20 massacre in Littleton, Colo., because the killers, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, wore Goth-like black trench coats and allegedly favored Gothic music.

“Everything I've read about the Colorado killers' attire indicates a Neo-Nazi connection, not a Gothic one,” says Porter. “Gothic culture as a whole has no interest in guns, bombs, violence, anarchy, racism, Hitler and Nazism. Goths are noted for their nonviolence, creativity and interest in intellectual pursuits. I hope my Web site will clear up some of the misconceptions that the media has presented.”

Since the Colorado tragedy, others from Gothicism — the youth music subculture known for black clothes, multiple body piercings and morose musical lyrics — have rushed online to defend their culture. Says Darius (who uses his first name only), a 20-year-old Atlanta resident and editor of the electronic magazine The Twilight Journal: “The Gothic subculture is not about violence, or murder, it is about life. The media has turned the tragedy in Littleton into a blame game.”

But not everyone is buying the scapegoat theory. Catholic philosopher Dianne Irving of the Pontifical Faculty at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., warns against the more subtle dangers of Goth. Although, like Alicia Porter, she considers the Colorado gunmen as more Neo-Nazi than Gothic, nevertheless, Irving maintains that both subcultures spring from the same root of ancient Gnosticism.

“Gnosticism is an ancient form of pantheistic, polytheistic paganism which usually involves a light side and a dark side, and which necessarily entails principles and doctrines contrary to our Catholic faith,” says Irving. “In my philosophy work, I take Gnosticism all the way back to 2400 B.C., to the ancient pagan creation mythologies which predated pre-Socratic philosophy.

!ldquo;When we talk about the Goths, the NeoFascists, the Neo-Nazis, Satanism, witchcraft and Wicca — all elements of Gnosticism which are incorporated in various degrees into the Gothic scene — we are not talking about ‘different but complementary views of the world.’ We are talking about totally different cosmologies. The Church scholars understand this.”

“But this kind of analysis is way above the heads of these kids,” Irving continues. “Despite their arrogant elitism, they really react on a purely emotional level; what passes for ‘intellectual’ is really centuries-old pagan mythology and propaganda. Parents need to educate themselves by visiting the Gothic and the Gnostic Web sites.

“The Gothic scene is not just a ‘benign phase,’ especially when you consider the high rate of youth suicide in our culture. It is a cultic, troubled mindset that becomes obsessively habitual and morally blinding, and should not be taken lightly.”

Fixated on Death

Parents, teachers and pediatricians have publicly voiced concern about Gothic fixation on death and suicide. According to the Statistical Abstract of the United States, suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth aged 15 to 24.

When one important founder of Goth, Rozz Williams, 35, committed suicide by hanging in his West Hollywood apartment in 1998, the Goth music scene treated him as a fallen hero. Preoccupation with and glorifying death can lead to suicide, says Randy Johnson, cult expert and police captain in West Jordan, Utah. “Teens are going through such tough times, anyway,” he says. “So much about Gothdom is dark. I've not seen much positive in it.”

In November 1997, a U.S. Senate subcommittee chaired by Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) investigated, inconclusively, whether the violent lyrics of Goth star Marilyn Manson (who takes his names from Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson) led to the suicide of 15-year-old Richard Kuntz of Burlington, N.D.

Manson evokes shouts and cheers in his concerts when he advocates taking drugs or killing parents, according to the testimony of the Parents' Music Resource Center on Music Lyrics before another government hearing, the Senate Commerce Committee last June 16.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, at the same hearing, went on record saying: “Although the evidence is incomplete, based on our knowledge of child and adolescent development, the AAP believes that parents should be aware of pediatricians' concerns about the possible negative impact of music lyrics and videos.”

!Where Goth Began

Goth sprang from British punk rock in the late '70s and invaded America in the early '80s. Bands such as Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, and The Cure extolled the Goth world-view of darkness and despair, angst and alienation. In imitation of Goth on-stage style — itself partly a reaction to the colorful disco scene of the '70s — Goth chic is mostly a parody of theatrical horror-movie costumes.

Black hair, black lipstick and eye-shadow (for men and women), and black clothes are typical. The look is androgynous and, often, quasi-Victorian or medieval, favoring velvet, lace, leather, fishnet and bondage attire. Since the pallor of the undead is prized, many Goths powder their faces white. Those bored with black often dye their hair blue, purple, silver, orange and other colors not found in nature.

Borrowing their name from medieval European barbarism, Goths gravitate toward art and literature from 18th- and 19th-century dark Romanticism, Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe, Goethe, Baudelaire and the current vampire queen Anne Rice. They relish life's dark side. Goth clubs are often candlelit places swirling with machine-generated smoke. Goth dance is a highly personal and agile activity — full of frenzied spins, thrashings and falls — not a social act.

In the Goth culture, sexual expression is most definitely not reserved for marriage. Transvestitism is widespread, especially among males.

Fetishism, homosexuality and other deviancies are accepted, and some Goths seem fascinated with vampires and blood. Things holy are routinely blasphemed — crosses, rosaries, crucifixes and sacred images (although some Goths call themselves Christians). Christ is freely mocked in song lyrics. New Age spirituality, Wicca witchcraft, paganism and black and white magic are popular. Satanism is practiced by a small segment of the Gothic population, according to police Capt. Randy Johnson.

When Pope John Paul II wrote his apostolic letter To the Youth of the World in 1985, he could have been talking to the Goths. “You cannot close your eyes to the threats that lie in wait for you during the period of youth [such as] the temptation to scepticism regarding traditional values, which can easily degenerate into a sort of extreme cynicism … [or] the temptations caused by … a type of entertainment business that distracts people from a serious commitment in life and encourages passivity, selfishness and self-isolation” (No. 13).

Whatever else the Gothic scene is, it is most certainly an “entertainment business” made possible by advances in technology and affluence in culture and generating huge amounts of money for its purveyors. But the Holy Father reminds the Church that we are a people of hope. Only with hope, we can believe that, as the old axiom says, “Losing your way can be one way of finding it.”

Father Jeremiah Kenney, judicial vicar and vice chancellor for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, pastors a city that has its share of Goths.

While careful not to underestimate the inherent dangers of Goth, he says, “Much of the Gothic comes from the crying and longing of young people for God. Our hearts are restless until they rest in him.

“As Christians, we believe that Jesus Christ is the way to the father. But sometimes youth take the wrong path. They get lost in a labyrinth, but they are always searching for the unknown God. Goth doesn't reflect Judeo-Christian heritage; it's senseless wandering. But God loves the Goths. We can't lose hope.

“Have patience, patience, patience, patience. Love them, but challenge them. Above all, keep communication open. The challenge of a parent is not to be a friend to their child, but a parent.”

Una McManus is based in Columbia, Maryland.