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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 Hay

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 to Bauhaus.

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 event.

"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:

10:10 a.m.: 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 themselves."

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 David Thomas

 

"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 commence rolling.

"So," I begin, "are you enjoying your day at Disneyland?"

Silence.

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 of material.

"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."

 

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Unless it is stated here on this website, it is not affiliated with Bats Day in the Fun Park®. The names Bats Day in the Fun Park, BatzDay, Goth Day, Bats Day Happy Haunts Swinging Wake, Gallery999, Bats Day Dark Park, Die Fledermausketeers Club and Bats Day; The Bats Day logo, The Bats Day Dark Park logo, The Gallery999 Logo and all related characters and elements are the ™, ® and © of Bats Day in the Fun Park, LLC. Full copyright info can be found here. The Bats Day in the Fun Park events are not affiliated with the Walt Disney Company.