What fresh horror is this?

Literacity has the beginnings of a discussion of the horror genre, one of my favorite subjects (although I’m a bit picky—I’m a classic horror fan, and consider most of the recent offerings, both on screen and on the page, to be atrocity exhibitions rather than true horror), and one thing mentioned there is a taxonomy of horror stories. He argues that all are rooted in the idea of loss of control, and subdivides that into loss of control of self, the environment, and place in society…which was actually rather handy, because of the next item I discovered.

Gothic Lolitas. That’s right, twee and scary. This is one fashion movement that hasn’t hit Morris, fortunately, but then, I think Morris is still trying to lumber out of the 1970s.

Anyway, naming the horror is the first step to facing it, and thanks to my earlier discovery I was quickly able to categorize it as clearly an example of “loss of control of place in society”, subcategory “visions that no one will believe”.


  1. Azkyroth says

    I’ve never understood what’s going through the minds of people who think they’re “expressing their individuality” by defying mainstream cultural expectations in a fashion that consciously duplciates that employed by thousands of others. Especially the ones who form a hierarchy of “[subculture]er than thou” kitsch.

    Oh, and this particular manifestation looks even stupider than most.

  2. Mike Saelim says

    You’ve just heard of this now? I don’t mean to make you feel old or anything, but…

  3. Knave says

    Reminds me of the “femininists” from Ken Macleod’s book The Star Fraction…

  4. Bachalon says

    What do you mean by “classic horror?”

    Like Blackwood and Machen or more recent than that?

  5. David Marjanović says

    but then, I think Morris is still trying to lumber out of the 1970s.

    “The 70s, an epoch that was marked by brutal ugliness”
    profil magazine (Austria)

  6. David Marjanović says

    but then, I think Morris is still trying to lumber out of the 1970s.

    “The 70s, an epoch that was marked by brutal ugliness”
    profil magazine (Austria)

  7. says

    Cue Sandra Boynton picture, of five hundred identical turkeys standing in their seats at a motivational speech, chanting “I AM AN INDIVIDUAL!”

    As for loligoth, I don’t really see what makes it particularly gothic, and the lolita thing is a bit understated. But hey, Japanese fashion. Westerners are not required (or, rumor has it, even expected) to understand.

  8. says

    My sister and I bought a Gothic Lolita magazine from book store in Sydney and were entranced. Some of it (not the overly frilly stuff) is pretty cute but only seems to really work on small pretty Japanese women….

  9. David Livesay says

    I guess you could say I’m a fan of classic horror, from the days when great stories taught great lessons. My favorite is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

  10. Azkyroth says

    I’d hit it

    So would I.

    …and then back up over it, just to be safe. ;/

  11. C. Diane says

    Dude, LoliGoth isn’t new. I remember it from 2003 at the latest. Then again, I also go to anime cons, and the LoliGothBible is from Japan. QED?

    …i think EGL is pretty, but I don’t wear it. I do have a penchant for Victorian fashion, however.

  12. llewelly says

    All my literature and English teachers were convinced the ‘lesson’ of Frankenstein was ‘Don’t let freaky geeky scientists do things mankind was not meant to do.’ And I think that interpretation is why the story continues to be viewed as a classic. If it’s that simplistic, why did Shelley spend so much time on effects of Victor Frankenstein’s rejection of the monster, and the reaction of strangers to the monster’s ugliness?
    The lessons of classic horror stories, when present, are oft ambiguous, and when not, often misunderstood.

  13. Jonathan says

    If you want to read a very creepy horror story, might I suggest “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman or “Diary” by Chuck Palahniuk. Just don’t go to sleep after reading Coraline.

  14. Feral Kitten says

    I’ve known about this for years. My wife love the stuff, too. Not so much for her own fashion, which tends towards the older gothic style of the post-punk era, but as subject for art and such.

    I, however, at the age of about 11 or so, decided that fashion was evil and decided to wear nothing but plain black pants, plain black shirts and black army surplus boots for the rest of my life. So far, I’ve stuck to it pretty well, with only minimal practical considerations. …Like wearing a suit to weddings and job interviews. I always wear the boots, though.

    Oh, and I’d also totally hit that.

  15. Selma says

    I’m a classic horror fan as well. “The Beast With Five Fingers” still gives me chills. “The Monkey’s Paw”. “Village of the Damned”. Etc.

    I actually consider a lot of the so-called ‘horror’ flicks put out over the past decade or so to be pornography. Like those Freddy Kruger things – yecchhh!

    As for the outfits well, the ones in the newspaper ad are kind of cute. The ones from the book cover look hot, uncomfortable and perhaps a wee bit contrived.

  16. Ktesibios says

    I always found Frankenstein to be, well, unbearably prolix. Even the damn monster, once he learns French, acquires the same habit as all the other characters and the author- talking too @#$% much. For classic horror, give me Dracula any day.

    Stoker was pretty much of a hack, but in that one book, despite the fact that he was mining a genre (Gothic romance) and a style (the epistolary novel) that were mostly played out, he still managed to avoid screwing anything important up. It’s about as perfect a horror novel as can be constructed, IMO. It can also be read at multiple levels- besides a rattling good story, it contains some interesting political undertones relating to ethnic and class prejudice and gender roles. One can clearly see how Stoker was writing for a target audience of empire-building middle-class Englishmen and how skillfully he pressed the hot buttons of that audience. He also allowed what was probably more than he wanted of his own confusion about women, their sexuality and role in society to slip into the book.

    All of which might have something to do with the fact that Dracula has been continuously in print for over a hundred years, while his other work is largely forgotten.

    Speaking of prolix, I’ve lately been reading Varney the Vampire online. At 239 chapters, it’s pretty obvious that the author was getting paid by the word.

  17. Azkyroth says

    Speaking of prolix, I’ve lately been reading Varney the Vampire online. At 239 chapters, it’s pretty obvious that the author was getting paid by the word.

    Apparently you’ve only demonstrated correlation, not causation, so unless you can state how first person private experiences of length can be explained in terms of third person public experiences of monetary gains zoogle garba frabble guggle wibol yauk… *collapses*

  18. Dr Paisley says

    “Gothic Lolitas” sounds like a Smiths and Magnetic Fields et al cover band.

    I so look forward to seeing (if not hitting, though not ruling it out) some of that whilst at the Worldcon in Yokohama this Labor Day.

    PZ, if Kansas City wins the bid for ’09, can we hope to see you here?

  19. Graculus says

    Uh-oh, I think Feral Kitten and I are related.

    Waaaay back before black was popular, even before there were batcavers, (the 1970’s) I started wearing nothing but jeans and black stuff. When black jeans came out I was in heaven. Drove my mother nuts. Goths? Pft!

    (You never have to worry about colour co-ordination or coffee stains, either.)

  20. a philosopher says

    For horror buff academics out there, I strongly recommend Noel Carroll’s _Paradoxes of the Heart_, which has both an attempt to define the horror genre, as well as approach the question of just why we enjoy movies that make us scared (when presumably we wouldn’t like being scared in real life).

  21. emkay says

    Graculus @ #24,
    I think there has been a subculture of ‘all black’ nearly forever. We, meaning four if us in a high school rock band, wore exclusively black clothes and boots in the early 60’s, and then the look was called ‘mondo’. Out of 1500 kids in high school, only the four of us effected the style. But then the name of our band was “The Overwhelming Odds”, a fitting name which I still take some modest pride in coming up with. Am I dating myself? Oh my.

  22. Chinchillazilla says

    Man, I love horror movies. But I go for the kind that should be on MST3K. The best one is Toxic Avenger, where, in the middle of the climactic scene, it goes from night to day and back with different camera shots.

    That’s classic.

  23. Feral Kitten says

    He’s a contemporary writer, but Thomas Ligotti pwns horror.


    Unfortunately, I’m not old enough to predate the Batcave. However, my all-black “phase” started several years before before I was aware of “goth”. Once I got to high school, goth kind of found me and I did go through a fish nets and eye-liner stage. It didn’t take me too long to grow out of that, but much to my parents’ chagrin, I just went back to plain black things.

    I do still dig the music, though. In fact, I think it’s time for some Joy Division…

  24. Graculus says

    I did go through a fish nets and eye-liner stage.

    I skipped that… too much trouble.

    I’m more hard rock/industrial. With a side of jazz. In HS and college I dressed like a weird cross between a biker, Death’s hippy and a cowboy.

    Come to think of it, I still do.

  25. Feral Kitten says

    I jokingly refer to my “style” now as “business casual goth.” After high school when all I wore was black jeans and t-shirts, I discovered black slacks. I found them to be more comfortable than jeans, thus all pants became slacks. Black button down shirts followed as a natural result.

    Nothing will ever beat a good pair of boots, though. Especially now that I commute on a motorcycle. Torsion and ankles don’t mix.

  26. arachnophilia says

    one thing mentioned there is a taxonomy of horror stories. He argues that all are rooted in the idea of loss of control, and subdivides that into loss of control of self, the environment, and place in society

    zombie movies in particular are about communism. the slow, creeping, infectious “join us!” terror of the 1950’s, that deprives people of their individuality, souls, and will to do very much besides eat (brains).

    i have a friend that was all set to write a dissertation on this, before she switched to a real major.

    and gothic lolitas don’t really surprise me. i’m on deviantart. “cutesy” and “goth” gets combined there everyday by 14 year olds who just want to be noticed. we just always called them “gawths” with the “aw” in the middle.

    also, there’s the new marilyn manson video.

  27. phat says

    The Overwhelming Odds is easily one of the best band names I’ve run across, ever.

    And you dressed in all black in the 60s?

    Good stuff. What kind of music did you play?

    That just seems perfect to me.

    I hope you recorded something.


  28. says

    This should really not be that much of a problem. We expect the Japanese government to issue an offical apology for the existence of gothic lolitas ASAP.

  29. MartinC says

    It looks like even Dawkins hates them.
    The ‘Lolita’ look has been around in Japan for a long time. Mrs MartinC, who is from that country tells me that it is a fashion adopted by a particular physical type of girl – those of pretty and petit (anyone else who dressed up in this way is generally laughed at since they don’t ‘look the part’). I guess the goth aspect was a way of the mainstream youth commenting on this fashion and opening it up to parody/satire.
    I would agree with PaddyK’s view of Swedish youth too. They are pretty much regimented in style. Quite well behaved, polite and educated though, with very little crime compared to their counterparts elsewhere. Obviously they must be hiding it, the little godless freaks.

  30. says

    I love how Nabokov, who always lamented having to give up Russian for writing in English, created a character — Humbert Humbert — who struggles to communicate in American colloquial dialect (“You talk like a book, Dad“), yet together the two of them changed the vocabulary of both English and Japanese.

    In a bookstore just off Lyon’s Place Bellecour, I found a lesson book (in French) on how to draw manga. One of the lessons was devoted to the technique of drawing “lolitas”.

    Ah, Hokusai, that thou hadst been living at this hour!

  31. Luna_the_cat says

    …this shocks you…?

    Seriously, you should visit Harajuku. Then nothing will ever shock you again. Really.

  32. Bachalon says

    @21 (ktesibios): It’s a shame that Stoker ripped off Le Fanu.

    For excellent horror, there’s always Walter de la Mare, T.E.D. Klein, Robert McCammon, Donald Wandrei, Manly Wade Wellman, Kathe Koja, Peter Sotos, Dennis Cooper, Ernst Theodor Hoffman, E.F. Benson, F. Marion Crawford, M.R. James, Phyllis Cerf Wagner, Oliver Onions, Marjorie Bowen, and William Hope Hodgson.

  33. Graculus says

    we just always called them “gawths” with the “aw” in the middle.

    I call them “gothlings”

  34. CalGeorge says

    Call me Humbert Humbert, but I think they look good. At least they are making an effort, which is more than you can say for the grunge crowd.

  35. Ian says

    This is one of the areas where Wikipedia shines. If you really want to know about strange (especially Japanese) subcultures, start anywhere and follow the links. No need to worry about the lack of references, because the kids obsessed with this stuff war back and forth about its origins and when it was that Japanese Loli-[whatever]s discovered that the name derived from Nabokov’s book and had sexual/deviant sexual connotations and didn’t just mean “cute”. Of course, given that 13 is the ago of consent in Japan, I’m guessing that the idea of a paedophile is a little different in their culture.

  36. Matthew B. says

    There’s actually a fair bit of variation among the Goth-Loli costumes. I saw a couple of girls in Harajuku the other day with loads of eye liner, bright golden hair, and white doctors’ uniforms with gallons of fake blood spilled down the front.

  37. mojojojo says

    Yeah, the Japanese kids have been doing this “Lolita-chan” stuff for years. One of the creepiest variants I have seen yet is in Coyote Ragtime Show anime; especially “August” character, a robotic assassin in little-girl Victorian frills and top hat!

  38. says

    Yeah, apparently Gothic Lolitas are all the rage in Japan. See, I’m still fond of the pseudo-Victorian look, with lots of black and leather thrown in. This stuff, however, freaks me out.

    Those kids today…*shakes head*

  39. Will E. says

    When it comes to horror, I love just about all of it, from Le Fanu and Stoker to Blackwood and Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, (very) early King, Clive Barker and Kathe Koja; from Karloff and Lugosi, Vincent Price and Christopher Lee on up to ’70s Italian zombies and cannibals, Texas Chainsaw and David Cronenberg, Ginger Snaps and The Descent. You should write more on horror, PZ!

    Oh, and Gothic Lolitas are cute and all, but no match for Melinda Clark in Return of the Living Dead III

  40. says

    Thanks so much for linking to me. I’m truly honored.

    Blackwood, Barker, Gaiman, King, Hodgson, White, Machen, Ligotti, Lovecraft, Benson, James, Campbell…I’m pretty much a fan of anything from the late Gothics onward. I can’t believe we’re actually discussing weird tales on Pharyngula!

    @Bachalon: “Like Blackwood and Machen or more recent than that?” –They’re my favorites. When I talk about horror, my expertise is in that period, so that’s where I tend to stay, even though both those authors might be more aptly classified as Fantastique.

  41. says

    I have always been a fan of Lovecraft’s horror, because it’s not about loss of control, but about the realization that we never had any, that it was all a sham.

    Also, there’s a great book, pretend we’re dead but Annalee Newitz, who writes the column techsploitation.

  42. Bachalon says

    Poseidon, you hit the nail on the head there. That’s one reason I enjoy a lot of prototypical stuff: it was written before the useless genre subdivisions (and thus the conventions that come with them) had been established.

    You get early fantasy literature like Vathek, and Shagpat which bear little resemblance to what fantasy is today. You get horror like Some of Your Blood and Darker Than You Think, and sci-fi like Voyage to Arcturus and, Master of the World.

    Old horror had an almost mythic feel to it that a lot of stuff lacks today. People confuse “massive” with “epic” though both are meaningless terms. I’m sort of disgusted by a good deal of literature (though I’m never short of something to read).

  43. says

    Bachalon, I like the cut of your jib. Seems we have a great deal in common, reading-material-wise. If you’re ever interested in starting some email correspondence, my info is on my blog, and I keep in regular contact with a lot of writers and genre fans.

    Thanks for your kind comments. You’re right; Victorian and Edwardian authors understood that epic atmosphere was a thing to be delicately cultivated. And it felt genuinely mythic because writers like Dunsany were actually conceiving a full-fledged mythos instead of just “worldbuilding.” Ech.

  44. Buffybot says

    M R James, every time. Most nightmarish thing ever is in Casting the Runes. Anyone else afraid of what’s under the pillow?

    Something that bugs the hell out of me in the more classic late 19th early 20th century horror stories is the frequent equating of horror with the old pagan religions, and Pan (yeah, Pan-ic, I know). Perhaps it’s the changing times, but it just strikes me as ridiculous Christian preciousness.

  45. Bachalon says

    Poseidon, very cool. I plan on it. I don’t meet too many people who share my interests. It’s funny you should mention correspondence, as I actually bought a book from John Pelan not too long ago.

    We also musn’t Warwick Deeping’s contributions as well. I don’t know how I overlooked him and Dunsany.

  46. says

    the horror genre, one of my favorite subjects

    Really? I wouldn’t have figured you, a scientist, for a horror fan.

    Remember that XKCD comic where a scientist pulls a lever, is zotted with lightning, then reaches for the lever a second time, thinking “I wonder if it does that every time”?

    I’ve never cared for horror because inevitably the characters just try to destroy the monster (or escape the evil, or whatever), and never ask the really interesting questions: how does sunlight destroy vampires? Is it specific frequencies, and would a sun lamp do the trick? Would it be possible to X-ray the possessed girl’s neck while her head spins around 360 degrees, to see what’s happening with her vertebrae? How much of the power of holy water is psychological? Is it sufficient that the possessing demon believe it’s holy? Is it sufficient that the priest believe it? What can the undead souls from the Indian burial ground tell us about their diet and culture while they were alive?

    A lot of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories annoy me precisely because “strange” is taken to be synonymous with “scary”. How many scientists would give an arm to study the fish people of Innsmouth, or organize a diving expedition to the sunken city of R’lyeh?

    Or am I the only one who thought the government scientists in Buffy had basically the right idea, even if the execution left a lot to be desired?

  47. Kseniya says

    No, you’re not the only one. They did bite off a little more than they could chew, though I admit they would have done better without the clandestine, self-destructive “Adam” program running in the background.