Dirt: Am I emo?

The edge of Seventeen. 🕊️

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It’s Emo Week at Dirt! We have Isabel Slone on a memorable magazine spread, Gaby Del Valle on being a certified Florida Emo™ and an interview with Glam Beckett, the artist behind Sad Girls Bar. So watch it burn, let it die, 'cause we are finally free tonight!!!

🎶 This newsletter could burn a hole in anyone, but it was you I was thinking of 🎶

In 2002, I opened a copy of Seventeen magazine — in all likelihood procured after begging my mother to buy it for me in the grocery store checkout line —  and landed on a two-page fashion spread titled, ‘am I emo?’ A white woman with wispy bangs leans on a similarly floppy-haired white dude. She’s decked out in a striped shirt and boot-cut jeans with argyle socks and Doc Martens;  he appears to have been recently attacked by the contents of a thrift store.

I surveyed the spread with a sense of puzzled fascination, a sickness blooming in the pit of my stomach. Looking back, I can locate this discomfort as precisely the first time I felt the overwhelming impulse to gatekeep. Seventeen’s emos looked like absolute herbs!!!

Where was the raccoon-eye makeup? Black hair dye? Snake bite piercings? Sharpie-scrawled shoes? Had the writer even heard of My Chemical Romance? I could concede that the studded belt felt accurate, but what 12-year-old is reading Ranters & Crowd Pleasers by Greil Marcus? And who the hell was The Promise Ring? (The included list of ‘Emo Pickup Lines’ like “Do you blog here often?” now reads suspiciously like the fake grunge lexicon Sub Pop receptionist Megan Jasper fed the New York Times back in 1992.)  

Gatekeeping is supposedly an elitist activity that discourages people from participating in new interests — a blog on the Student Voice Network describes it as “an extremely toxic form of online trolling.” But at 12 I preferred to believe that gatekeeping was a form of elitism that discourages people from claiming a subculture as part of their identity until they know enough about it.

Why shouldn’t I ask someone their favorite song from a band whose t-shirt they are wearing? What may seem like an unfair interrogation to one may be an attempt to form a connection over an assumed shared taste in music to another. With twenty years of hindsight available, Seventeen’s proclamations of emo style were indeed wack (the uncredited writer turned out to be veteran music journalist Mara Schwartz Kuge) but also read like an intentional send-up of the genre.

Despite the revulsion I felt reading the article, it’s entirely possible that I was the one wrong about emo, my adolescent self unable to delineate between the simultaneous existence of ‘scene’ and ‘pop-punk.’ And to anyone who would choose to argue that position, I say, gatekeep away. — By Isabel Slone

The Dirt: Who will gatekeep the gatekeepers?