Spin Magazine Nov 2002
Something Wicked This Way
Comes Each summer,
500 goths descend on Disneyland to smoke
cigarettes and mock Snow White. Why? Because it's the only place
where they can truly feel at home
By Chuck Klosterman Photographs by Alexei
IF YOU CAN'T find a reason to hate Disneyland,
you're just not trying. Like the insincere smile of an aging
bank teller, Disneyland represents a contradiction with no discernible
upside: It's hokey and archaic yet gaudy and corporate. It's
all kitsch sunshine and crass consumerism, and any self-respecting
cynic would despise its very existence.
Unless, of course, said cynic listens
Don't let anyone tell you the Age of
Irony is over. It's alive and well in California, and here's
proof: Goth kids love Disneyland. On the final Sunday of every
August, droves of goth-tacular witches and warlocks drive to
Anaheim and enter the foreboding inner sanctum of Mickey's Toontown.
Welcome to Bats Day in the Fun Park, the annual SoCal collision
of goth culture and family fun.
"L.A. goth is very different from
goth everywhere else in America," explains Bats Day coordinator and
Disney superfan Noah Korda, the diminutive 31-year-old who spearheads
the pilgrimage. "I mean, it's cold everywhere else. In places like
Chicago, it's gloomy. But goths in California are mostly happy people.
I was just the kind of person who was always interested in creepy
crap. For me, this has never been about being sad or alienated."
Bats Day began in 1998. At the
time, it was just an excuse to be weird: A few regulars from Hollywood
goth clubs like Helter Skelter and Perversion decided to drop acid
and walk around Disneyland on a summer afternoon. The following year
it was officially dubbed "Bats Day," and it has grown ever since.
When the sun was at its zenith on August 25 of this year, more than
500 black-cloaked iconoclasts were tromping around Mickey's playland.
It is not, however, a Disney-sanctioned
"We don't contact the park," says
Korda. "And they probably wouldn't care, but just in case, I don't
want to give them a chance to come up with a reason to shut it down.
But it's got to be pretty obvious that this is going on."
At times during Bats Day, it was
impossible to swing a dead cat in Disneyland without hitting a goth
(of course, if you had swung a dead cat around Disneyland, a few of
these kids probably would have found that pretty awesome).
Here's a Dionysian diary from
the Day of the Disney Dead:
The sun is already pouring off the powder-blue California sky
as I meander through the gates of Disneyland, assaulted on all
sides by small children shrieking for merchandise and ice cream.
At the point of entry, I see a sign that reads here you leave
today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.
I take ten steps into this world and immediately see a man selling
overpriced Kodak disposable cameras. Yesterday and tomorrow
aren't quite as charming or futuristic as one might anticipate.
My suspicion was that 10 a.m. would be
too early for goth-hunting, but there are already dozens of
specimens congregating near some poor sap in a Goofy suit, and
a few of them are pushing baby carriages and donning mouse ears.
I begin chatting with a 40-year-old goth legal secretary named
Crickett Hoffman. I ask her to explain the paradox of supposedly
gloomy humans frolicking in the happiest place on earth.
"Goths tend to be kids at heart," says
Hoffman. "When you're young, you think the goth movement is
about depression and alienation. But if goths were really that
depressed, there would be no goth movement. They'd all kill
10:54 a.m.: Several goths
are gawking at a woman portraying Ariel, the chesty little redheaded
mermaid from that movie about the little mermaid, which I think
was called The Little Mermaid. Although there are no goths at
a nearby headgear outlet called Hatmosphere, I spot several
of them wearing newly purchased Captain Hook pirate hats. This
prompts me to consider beginning work on a nonfiction book titled
Sir Francis Drake: The First Goth?
"This pleasure palace
is nothing more than a sarcophagus of shame": Nick Tsaruas and
"March 2004 - Bats
Day in the Fun Park has learned to the loss of David Thomas.
We are deeply saddened by this and send our greatest sympathies
to his family"
11:07 a.m.: My first error: I see a goateed
guy wearing a skull T-shirt, accompanied by a black-haired girlfriend
with more tattoos than Tupac and a complexion the color of cocaine.
I ask him how many years he has participated in Bats Day in
the Fun Park, but it turns out he has no idea what I'm talking
about. "We just came here for the hell of it," says 27-year-old
Brandon Stratton. "I had no idea any of this was going on."
Stratton and I then have a brief conversation about Tim Burton
movies while his girlfriend stares at me silently, probably
fantasizing about how I would look swinging from a gallows.
NOON: The entire goth army convenes
at Sleeping Beauty Castle for the first of three group photos, all
taken by Noah Korda. While we wait for Korda to organize the sinister
posse, I strike up a conversation with Scott McElhaney, a 6'2" 40-year-old
who vaguely resembles Marilyn Manson and has an interesting back story:
After spending 21 years in the Navy, he has taken a job with a defense
contractor, building and testing military infrared sensors. This is
an admittedly ungothlike move, but McElhaney says goth-dom was never
his bag to begin with.
"I don't think I'm really goth,"
he says. "I'm more of a hearse person. But hearse people are certainly
sympathetic to the goth sensibilities." It seems that McElhaney is
a member of "Phantom Coaches," a subsection of humanity united in
their love of cars that tote corpses (McElhaney drives a 1970 hearse
with a Cadillac chassis but concedes that the ultimate ride is the
'59 Superior driven by Bud Cort in Harold and Maude). However, there
is more to Phantom Coaches than just cars--the group also enjoys celebrating
Halloween, hanging out in cemeteries, and listening to "gothabilly"
music, which is sort of a synthesis of the Stray Cats and Siouxsie
& the Banshees.
The highlight of our mass photograph
in front of the castle is the appearance of Snow White's nemesis,
the Evil Queen, an Ÿber-wicked woman roundly cheered by hundreds of
goth minions who evidently see her as some kind of role model. These
guys certainly dig the black-hearted bitches. Moments later, an actress
portraying the virginal Snow White tries to get into the picture,
and everyone boos her into submission.
"Mommy, why does
Prince Charming have fangs?" Seth Moonchilde
"Aha! Blow me, Snow White--this
is my time!": the group hails the Evil Queen
12:36 p.m.: "Disney came up with
a wonderful idea, and a bunch of other people came in and perverted
it," Krystle Becknauld tells me, finally expressing the kind of goth
sentiment I had expected to hear. She is particularly venomous toward
"Disney's California Adventure," the modernized, upscale park that
lies just south of the original Disneyland. "That other park destroyed
this area. Now they have Ferris wheels and cotton candy. Walt Disney
never wanted that shit."
Becknauld is a snarky, blonde
18-year-old poised to enter her freshman year at Cal State Long Beach.
She walks the park with three males wearing floor-length black leather
trench coats. I tell them they are insane, as it is at least 80 degrees
and I am sweating through my T-shirt. "Well, of course you are," one
responds. "The sun is beating down on your raw, exposed flesh."
1:01 p.m.: One of the misconceptions
about this culture is that goths are lonely. At Disneyland at least,
the opposite seems to be true: Many of these demi-spooks appear to
be in successful, mutually necromantic relationships. I ask a group
of three happy goth couples to describe the perfect mate, and they
all say it's the person that they're currently with. I then ask them
to pick the celebrity they'd most like to have sex with. The guys
choose Rose McGowan, the girls Peter Murphy.
1:43 p.m.: What do you feed a
hungry goth? Apparently, Monte Cristo sandwiches from a restaurant
called the Blue Bayou in New Orleans Square. A party of five goths
waits for a table in the Blue Bayou's lobby, and I mention that Disney's
mainstream parkgoers appear oddly unalarmed by the number of people
bumping around in capes and hooded death robes. However, these goths
feel differently about the level of tolerance.
"I was just in one of the stores,"
says 28-year-old chemist Jennifer Nogle, "and all the normals were
asking the staff questions like 'What's with these people? Are they
part of some weird religion?' Get real."
Nogle's reference to "normals"--goth
slang for nongoths--raises an interesting point: People are constantly
asking goth kids what makes someone goth. However, an equally valid
question is: What makes someone a normal?
"They are not us," Nogle says
with focused conviction. "They wear polo shirts."
2:50 p.m.: As a single rider on
the Indiana Jones Adventure, I am seated next to...a cute goth teenager!
I strike up some winning banter while we wait for the train car to
"So," I begin, "are you enjoying
your day at Disneyland?"
I try again, this time from a
different angle. "So, do you think Marilyn Manson will survive the
departure of Twiggy Ramirez? Because I thought that 'Disposable Teens'
song was tremendous."
More silence. I am running out
"So," I ask, "do you think Harrison
Ford is goth?"
"Why do you keep talking to me?"
she finally says, and suddenly, the ride begins. Now it's too loud
to talk, animated rats are falling from the ceiling of a cave, and
I remember that The Last Crusade was totally ridiculous.
3:46 p.m.: Things to do in Disneyland
if you're goth: 1) carry a Cure lunch box as a purse 2) make devil
horns whenever photographed 3) insist you're "not really goth"
4:00 p.m.: The second mass photograph
of the day. This one is taken at Tomorrowland, which is how people
at Disney during the 1950s saw the future, which means the future
now resembles the early 1970s, which means their future is our past,
which means Tomorrowland is kind of like Star Wars.
While Noah Korda snaps a photo
of the growing mass of black storm troopers, I ask a pentagram-tattooed
woman named Linda Knowles whether she felt ostracized by the 1999
Columbine school shootings, an event wrongly blamed on the goth subculture.
To my surprise, she felt even more ostracized after September 11.
"I was in a grocery store in Laguna [California] right after September
11, and I was wearing a T-shirt from Salem, Massachusetts, because
my husband and I had just been there for vacation," Knowles says.
"And this woman points to me and says, 'You're one of those witches!
Osama bin Laden was a fall guy. It was the witches who blew up the
Twin Towers!' So, obviously, there is still some prejudice against
the goth lifestyle."