The Intersection of Demonizing Alternative Culture and Victim-Blaming Evan Rachel Wood
The art one makes, subcultures and scenes they participate in, and even sexual kinks do not make one an abuser by default or more likely to engage in abusive behavior. In fact, these aspects can and have been used to unfairly castigate or even fetishize people.
There is much discourse about Marilyn Manson’s long history of sexual abuse in the entertainment and media worlds and his own fans.
Countless writers delved into his history better than I could, I’d highly recommend this piece by Shannon Ashley about how he basically admitted he was a serial abuser for decades and no one did anything about it. It was just swept under the red carpet. Let’s face it, CAA suddenly dropping him had more to do with covering their asses than actually doing justice to the numerous women who’ve come forward in addition to Evan Rachel Wood.
And I hate to sound cliché here, but I also just wasn’t much of a fan. I’m not just saying that now; I’m basing that on my actual context from when Marilyn Manson was this larger than life act and centrifugal point for both disaffected Gen Xers and burgeoning Millennial alt culture kids at turn of the millennium.
When I was a babybat first finding my way in the alt world at the time, I was more into classic metal like Metallica and Megadeth, crossover like Biohazard and Suicidal Tendencies, and then I wanted darker flavors like Cradle of Filth, hometown heroes Type O Negative, and Darkane. I was far more into metal and hardcore, then punk and thrash, than electronic music despite Orgy’s Candyass still having a beloved place in my album collection (and who didn’t love The Fragile?) Horrorpunk and crossover became my ultimate homes. I had a copy of Mechanical Animals when I was 14, after being introduced by a middle school classmate who thought “Beautiful People” was one of the most poignant songs ever written.
Other than that, I wasn’t deep into that particular bit of goth and alternative fan culture then. I just thought he was a guy who had some occasional good lyrics but put shock over substance. I just wasn’t that into him, and met people in the goth scene who straight up loathed him for his antics and others who were superfans.
So I’m not coming at this from a place of a disillusioned fan, or as another treatise on abuse and how we let both beloved famous artists get away with it in tandem with your average guy on the street who people are unaware is an abuser. Rather, what prompted me to write this was seeing how people are reacting to the situation. Particularly, my thoughts on this as an alternative woman who first tapped into her spooky aesthetic around the height of Marilyn Manson’s fame.
The discourse…is not good.
As per usual, one can always expect to see Cirque Du Soleil degrees of contortionism when it comes to blaming the victims for staying with abusers, going back to them, or other decisions regarding the relationship.
After all, women can never do anything right. We’re supposed to be nice and give these guys chances. If we don’t, we’re cold and spoiled, selfish bitches. Then if we do and these men turn out to be violent abusers, we “asked for it”. Once the red flags are hoisted at full mast after the smoke has cleared from the initial lovebombing, we’re then supposed to leave at JUST the right time, even though there never really is a right time. Why do women stay with and return to abusive partners? Threats of separation, or actually leaving him, will often lead to murder. But there’s a million other essays about that now, go read the one I linked.
Because OF COURSE people are using Manson’s art and overall aesthetic as a copout.
I’ve braved many a Twitter thread and article comment section that is littered with the kind of sentiment I haven’t heard in a good 20 years when I attended a high school chock full of suburban alarmists who seemed hellbent on “saving” me from the scenes that were calling my name. Like their world was any less cruel, or did me any better! To this day, I’m actually still trying to separate how much of the “Rachel is a witch, she made a table levitate on this dumb school trip” accusations were hurled at me out of blatant antisemitism versus the actual witchy aesthetic I’d later embrace. My blue-haired tattooed ass still rocking Demonias would also like a word with their parents who thought it was “just a phase”.
If you plumb the depths of YouTube, Twitter, and any given news articles’ comment sections, much of the commentariat is screeching, “How did Evan Rachel Wood not know what she was getting into? Look at the way he dresses! Look at how he acts on stage! He was into all kinds of freaky shit, of course he was going to treat her horrendously!”
I shook my head so damn hard, you could hear my neck cricks all the way in Yonkers.
Because oh boy, where do I begin with this. Subculture can be indicative of certain things, but not always. So can the art you put out in the world.
I mean, look at how beloved Woody Allen’s work is. His movies were basically required viewing in my household as my father thought it was important that we celebrated other Jews in show business, and he deeply identified with the infamous dinner scene in Annie Hall since he married a Catholic. Allen even castigated the punk scene for a hot second in Hannah and Her Sisters. You couldn’t get art any “cleaner”. But he’s committed many transgressions that abuse survivors can’t just look past, or separate the art from the artist.
Then take an actor and web personality like Armie Hammer. NEED I SAY ANYMORE.
Are there abusive people, namely abusive men, within the goth and shock rock scenes? Yes, just like there are in every music scene and subculture.
That’s because there’s abusive people everywhere. Subcultures can provide a safe space and an alternate to the dominant culture, but still repeat the same dynamics as the outside world.
Any space predominantly occupied by the socially awkward who are out of step with the rest of the world and finally have a community where they feel at home, can be themselves, look and talk how they want, and are bound by this combination of music, aesthetics, and values? Speaking from decades of experience on this, it’s a wonderful and inimitable thing. Our old haunts weren’t just places to see shows and have drinks, or buy clothes and niche media: they’re community hubs. But even if most people in a community can peacefully co-exist, there’s always going to be abusers lurking within who seem like they have good intentions but truly do not. Subcultures aren’t any less inured to this than more mainstream forms of music and fashion, or groups that form for professional, political, or religious purposes.
Moreover, I guarantee you that any room full of clean-cut music executives is bound to have more sexual abusers than your average audience at an electronic or shock rock show.
Hell, just go to your average office building full of white suburban dads and you’ll find far more men who committed some kind of nonconsensual act with a partner who was way too young compared to the kind of creepy shit I endured from older men in my early years of partaking in the punk and metal scenes. It definitely happened, but it wasn’t as rampant as it was in situations with some blatant power dynamic to exploit, like a family friend, school, or workplace.
Seeing people instantly blame Wood for sidestepping Manson’s aesthetics and sexual kinks makes me think about alt culture then and now, and how femme-presenting alt folks are perceived vs. masc-presenting.
Because the turn of the millennium was very, VERY different for the former than the latter.
Long, long ago, alternative women were really shit on for being who they are. And I mean…REALLY castigated to the point that it was hard to exist in public outside of alternative spaces.
Women today still get unsolicited comments about their appearance online and offline, but I strongly remember this creepy guy at work who was twice my age and would gush about how I was so pretty but should throw all my clothes out. Because yes, I TOTALLY base my aesthetic decisions based on what some random man over a decade older than me finds attractive.
These days, there’s more cross-culturalism. A woman like me being seen with a GQ model type wouldn’t get the weird looks it would’ve gotten in 2000 (or at least not as many). Sure, you get those right-wing guys blathering about how they don’t like colored hair, tattoos, and whatnot, but you know they totally pull it to a goth OnlyFans or three.
At 35, I find all kinds of men attractive. I date and hook up based on values, life goals, and if we click. I’ve had Twitter crushes and gone on dates with men I would’ve overlooked in the past. I still ultimately feel more comfortable with men who can name every single Type O Negative and Kill Your Idols song whether or not they also sport a similar amount of tattoos as me, but my last few dates in The Before Time were with men who my younger self never would’ve considered because the entire time, she’d be wondering, “Is he only doing this because he jerks it to Suicide Girls at home, and clearly thinks I’m into really kinky shit because of how I dress and wear my hair, and would not dare introduce me to his friends?”
It wasn’t a maturity issue or “just give him a chance”. It was “hooking up with this pierced and tatted guy I met at a Biohazard show feels safe and natural, this normie in my math class who asked me to see Weezer with him would probably hack me up in a dumpster and the newspapers would say I asked for it”.
There’s also this interesting intersection between kink and alternative culture.
The two are separate concepts. Someone can be kinky and dress “normal”, listen to Top 40 music, and seem like a completely average person you couldn’t pick out of a stock photo of a crowded city street. Whereas despite some of the imagery of sexy clothes in goth fashions, punk songs about fleeing someone’s domicile after a one-night stand, and highly sexual vibes in some electronic music? Plenty of alternative folk are totally vanilla, or even somewhere on the asexual spectrum.
Not all alternative folks are highly sexual, let alone into kink, but it’s often assumed that we are incredibly sexual by default. Even the stock image I chose for this essay proved this! I had to go through at least five pages of stock images tagged “goth” and “alternative” that were mostly modeling shoots of very scantily-clad women. Nothing wrong with that, modeling is a job like any other, and we needn’t be puerile about nudity or near-nakedness. But it proves my point that normies tend to see alternative culture as something inherently sexual, when the two are entirely separate concepts.
In my personal experience in scenes in one of the biggest cities in the world, a majority of participants I knew were in monogamous relationships or wanted one. Many people I knew in the punk and metal scenes shockingly looked down on promiscuity — at least when women did it — even if the majority were laissez-faire about it. Read: have your kink and proclivities, but don’t make anyone do what they don’t want to do. We have less control over this when people from the outside come in our spaces and it begs the question, “Are we gatekeeping, or are we trying to keep this a safe place for those on the outside who don’t want to be fetishized without their consent? This is a place for us, not the people who mocked our clothes, music, and trauma but want to join in now.”
Many also perceive the two as intertwined since a great deal of punk, goth, and cyber fashions borrow from BDSM aesthetics like vinyl, bondage clips, and zippers partly due to functionality, and also because of making a statement: it’s said that bondage pants were representative of living in bondage under cultural and political authoritarianism.
But just like how there’s posers in every music scene who care more about fashion than substance: the same is even true of kinks, according to a pro domme I follow on Twitter.
I wore skirts covered in D-rings and bondage straps when I hadn’t even had sex yet. I still wear them as an adult happily embracing my sexuality. The two are still separate concepts.
Interestingly, you’ll also see alt beauty being used as a cudgel against people even if they are not the perpetrator.
Well into my mid-twenties, I was frequently told that I “asked for” being touched and photographed without my consent because of all the hardware on my clothes or the way I wore my hair. This included both sexual and non-sexual touch in public spaces that was absofuckinglutely unwanted.
Look, forget #MeToo for a minute. This is basic shit you’re supposed to learn in kindergarten. Don’t touch people without their permission. Don’t go up to a total stranger and start touching their hair because you like the color or style, or tugging on their jewelry asking if that person will tie you up and spank you. Christ, if I had a dollar for every time this happened to me, I’d probably be making more than an actual pro domme.
But it’s not just femme-presenting alt folk who get blamed if they are harassed or sexually assaulted “because you look that way”. Alternative men and masc-presenting people get sexually assaulted as well under the assumption that they’re all sex-crazed hedonists up for anything.
While cishet men are usually the perpetrators with alternative women and thinking we’ll satisfy their Suicide Girls fantasy, it isn’t always gay or bi men who perpetrate it with masc targets. According to an elder Millennial goth man who DM’d me, straight women with seemingly more conventional aesthetics, particularly those who aren’t used to hearing “no” from straight men, will get aggressive with masc alternative folk under the assumption he’ll do the things your ex-boyfriend didn’t in bed. He’s the exact type you can’t take home to your parents, it’s this thrilling novelty, and you’re going to get blamed for whatever predicament you wind up in anyway so you may as well go for the “dangerous” guy who’s more exciting.
So regardless of gender, you’re both a perpetrator and a victim in society’s eyes if you don’t dress and act the way you’re “supposed to”. Yeah, this is why I didn’t date outside the bounds of alternative culture forever.
Evan Rachel Wood did not deserve to be abused, neither did any of the women Marilyn Manson had been with. No one deserves to endure that.
Having had men threaten me with suicide or self-harm if I didn’t talk to them or date them again, I used to wonder if it was my own particular trauma mixed with scene participation that attracted violent and unstable men like this, despite the scenes having plenty of well-adjusted men in happy relationships. IT BLEW MY MIND when I got out in the world and found out that guys who were on the football team and now lived for their marketing jobs also engaged in this exact same behavior, and suicide threats against women wasn’t just a thing seen in such a death-positive culture like ours.
But no matter who does it, it is abuse. Manipulating women to come back to you is abuse.
The way a man dresses and sexual kinks he’s into have nothing to do with it. To say that Wood is at fault because of this is not only classic victim-blaming, it’s also a massive insult to both the alternative and the kink communities that largely operate on consent and mutual respect. There’s abusers who seep in, but they’re not the majority.
I had enough of these judgmental weirdos sexualizing subcultural people against our will for decades; like hell if I wasn’t going to say something about it now that I’m seeing it being blamed once more.