A new subculture – called Emo – has swept the Arab world lately and brought its hype to the Kingdom as well, though it only seems to affect teenagers. In fact, seeing “Emo people” in schools, universities and within malls these days is a normal occurrence. Living in a separate world from most people, these teenagers have their own Web sites and Facebook groups where they learn more about the subculture and make Emo friends from a variety of different nationalities and social backgrounds.
Unlike the youthful rebellion of yesteryear, “Emo people” are much more difficult to define. Emo refers to a way of life which represents isolation and depression; Emo teenagers express their emotions through unusual - and in extreme cases, disturbing - means via the slogan: “Emotion is power, so do not be ashamed of it.”
So what is this entire subculture of which adults know little about? Straightened black hair, accentuated with a long fringe that is swept to one side and tight jeans as well as dressing head-to-toe in black are the symbols of being Emo. Inherently, it involves being almost painfully shy and sensitive and is associated with depression, self-harm, and in very extreme cases, suicide. The subculture has dug its claws into the Kingdom’s youth and has given many teenagers an outlet for expression. Some followers even injure themselves and claim that this makes them feel better. Saudi Gazette spoke to a number of such young people. “I am en Emo; I believe that nobody understands me, even my family and friends,” said Malak Suliman, a 17-year-old girl in Jeddah. “I have also tried to commit suicide a number of times, but found that I couldn’t.”
Should we be worried? Like all youthful subcultures, however, Emo seems more like a desperate plea for attention than anything else. For most teenagers, being Emo involves dressing up in the style and loudly proclaiming that they are an “Emo kid.” For others, there is appreciation for the style, but not for subculture itself. “I like to dress up Emo-style, particularly the hair style, but not the odd acts Emo kids do,” stated Sahar Abdullah, a 19-year-old girl.
Like it or not, however, the subculture does have an increasing number of ardent followers who seem to take self-harm and suicidal thoughts in their stride. Rahaf Nabeel is a 15-year-old girl who isn’t Emo herself but knows a lot of such girls at school. “There was a girl in my class who used to be sad and an introvert. She used to injure herself with a sewing needle,” she said. “Most girls, however, just claim to be Emo, while they are ignorant of what being Emo involves.” According to a number of sources, the subculture was created in the 1980s when a US punk rock band called Rites of Spring started performing. What made its music different to other bands was that it wrote songs that consisted of emotional, deeply personal and impassioned words and rhythms. This emotional punk music became known as “Emo”, short for “Emotional”.
Nesreen Bukhary, a family and educational consultant at the Guidelines (Ershadat) Center in Jeddah told Saudi Gazette that there are many factors that make Emo so appealing to teenagers. “Low self-esteem, the feeling of not being accepted and a lack of family care and love are the main reasons,” she stated. “Depression also plays an important role, while most teenagers like to imitate what they see in movies.”
That’s not to say that parents and teachers shouldn’t be worried about it. Bukhary stressed that the strange behavior of Emo teenagers, such as self-harming with knives and razors, is a cause for concern since it is both highly dangerous and may signal potential for committing suicide.
She advises parents to discuss such issues with their children and teach them how to express their emotions in more mainstream ways. “Teenagers should share their feelings with parents, and never suppress sadness or anger,” she added. “And if a mother, in particular, notices that her son or daughter is emulating the Emo style, she should seek professional help.” – SG