Gothic subculture, a darker offshoot of post-punk born in the late ’70s, has come a long way. When the music of Bauhaus and Siouxsie & the Banshees emerged out of the UK back then, they cut ominous figures in black, conjuring wicked imagery and a sultry gloom that spoke to disenfranchised youth in a new, less aggressive, but maybe more transgressive way. Centralized in a UK club called [The Bat Cave](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batcave_(club), the community grew like a fishnet-swathed fungus in England, then in the U.S. and around the world. Four decades later, “goth” has not only permeated the mainstream in a myriad of ways, it has influenced it immeasurably.
Maybe no single day illustrates how goth has evolved and gained, if not acceptance, at least acknowledgement (by both those who identify and those who don’t) more than “Bats Day in the Fun Park”. Also referred to as “Goth day at Disneyland,” the unofficial but very well organized gathering has been taking over the Happiest Place on Earth for 17 years now and has grown from just under a hundred local friends to what is estimated to have been about 6,000 attendees from all around the world this past May. Bats Day itself has grown too, with three days of events including a Friday Night Ball, a Saturday evening Black Market shopping event and finally, the big day, which features meet-ups and photo shoots at various Disneyland landmarks and rides, many taking place under Anaheim’s inappropriately bright blue skies and unyielding sunshine.
Being Goth at Disneyland requires a special kind of fortitude: the strength to endure the seemingly endless lines, the gawking grandmas (some visiting from less open-minded parts of the country) and tactless kids asking about one’s piercings or purple hair. It’s a test many would rather not take — and yet legions do, so I decided to join them. I donned a black sundress, bright red lipstick and some skull-shaped hair clips, and headed out to flap my bat wings for the very first time.
12:00PM: MEET THE PALE RIDERS
As a Southern California native who always hated the beach, loved The Addams Family and Elvira, and gravitated towards ominous music (my favorite song as a kid was “Sympathy for the Devil”) it was kind of a no-brainer that I’d have a Goth moment around junior high. What began as a crush on guyliner bands like Duran Duran and Depeche Mode, became a decades-long dalliance with LA’s death rock scene, checking out bands like Christian Death, 45 Grave, and Specimen at seminal downtown nightclub The Scream, which led to covering darker-themed metal bands as a journalist. Ozzfest and its ilk was my beat as a music reporter for The L.A. Times. Though my style has changed over the years, black has remained a color staple in my closet and I still prefer my skin on the paler side.
As I stand in line at Disneyland’s entrance I see more committed Bats Day attendees, some in corsets, others in sky-high “stacks” (thick rubber-soled boots that make the “creepers” of the ’80s look like flats), and plenty of buckles, spikes, lace, velvet, crosses, pentagrams, fangs, colored contact lenses, tattoos, bright hair, heavy makeup, bat and coffin imagery, and surprisingly (or not) references to a certain famous mouse. Disney makes pretty much every take on Mouse ears you can imagine and there’s even a Bats Day-perfect, Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas version.
As I ponder the strength of my SPF, and that of the mime-white gal in front of me, I notice a Disney employee stop and give a stern lecture to two 20-something gals pushing a coffin-shaped stroller with a cross between a hairy Eddie Munster doll and a possessed horror movie baby prop inside. He tells the girls they will not be able to bring devil doll into the park: “It could scare children.” They argue, but eventually acquiesce. It’s the only problem I’ll see Bats Day-ers have with Disney officials the entire day.
Bats Day creator, Noah Korda, is very aware of the possible problems his creepster contingent may face, and the event’s website warns what might get attendees denied entry. He tells his crews to leave spikes and obvious “costumes” at home. There are strict rules about dressing like Disney characters, but Punk and Goth looks are more subjective.
Korda, like me, is old enough to remember when Disneyland was really strict, actively discriminating against punk fashion. In the late ’80s, I went to the park with a friend who was not allowed in thanks to his foot-high mohawk. I’d say about 90 percent of the looks seen on Sunday would have been denied entry 20 years ago.
2:00 PM: IT TAKES ALL KINDS
There are several unofficial “Days” at Disneyland, meaning that Walt Disney and co. are aware of them and even help the organizers when it comes to logistics of managing their crowds, but they don’t officially sanction them. “Gay Day” is the biggest, followed by “Dapper Day” and then Bats Day. There’s a Rockabilly Day and a Pinup Girl day and a Lolita Day, too.
For all of these groups, the centerpiece gathering is the photo opp. This is a set time when everyone clusters in front of the famed Sleeping Beauty Castle that serves as the dramatic entry way into Fantasyland. Of course, it’s the warmest and brightest point in the afternoon, and the sea of pasty faces and Technicolor tresses seems to pop in a surreal way when framed by the castle’s blue steeples and keeps, done up extra sparkly for Disneyland recent 60th anniversary celebrations.
As the embellished crowd swells, a mass of black garb and parasols (most by Hilary’s Closet, a top Goth/fetish designer based in LA), tourists in Bermuda shorts and flip-flops start to congregate on the opposite side, snapping away like they’ve stumbled upon a free freak-show, which they kind of have. Disney employees start to block off the walkway between them so that the official photo can be shot. Korda addresses the crowd, noting that he couldn’t have ever imagined the event would grow this wildy large when he started. He’s holding his snoozing four-year-old daughter is in his arms as he says this. She is not the only child here for Bats Day. In fact, there are strollers (with real babies, not demon babies, wearing black onesies or dresses printed with tiny skulls) everywhere.
“The term ‘goth’ has been so over-used it’s lost its meaning,” John Giovanazzi, creator of the longest-running goth-industrial club in the country, Das Bunker, told me recently. “You’ve got this new ‘health goth’ trend which is really just a co-opting of the culture to make something trendy. And there is no one music that is ‘goth’ these days. There’s EBM, there’s cyber-goth, there’s even goth-rap.”
Meandering around the garish, enormous group as they bake in the sun post-photo shoot, the differences are pretty obvious. The “cyber-goth” look (featuring goggles and plastic dreadlock-like extensions) has a small presence, while the more traditional Victorian-looks dominate. T-shirts tout everyone from The Misfits to Marilyn Manson to Joy Division, and yeah, we’re guessing some of these were purchased in the mall at Hot Topic.
5:00PM: JUST ONE OF THE GANGS
It’s easy to have a love-hate feeling toward Disneyland. Admission price is currently a hundred bucks and the place is often so crowded that gets you on about four-to-five rides in a day, if you’re lucky. After the photo shoot, a large group head over to the Jungle Cruise, a tradition that’s been going on for the past several years, and makes for another imposing photo opp: witchy women and sinister fellows backdropped by a river bed of hippos and monkeys. I stick around and chat with two intriguing older women outside of the Tomorrowland section of the park. These ladies are known as the “Bubble Twins” amidst the hardcore Disney message board crowd and they’re famous for giving away bubbles to kids and families, hand-painting each bottle with Disney characters. They hand me a grim reaper one and my daughter a mermaid one. They tell me some refer to them as “fairy goth-mothers.” I suddenly realize Disneyland has many secrets to be discovered, an underground network that only the hardcore regulars know about. This is even more obvious when I note biker-like jackets and vests everywhere, emblazoned with Hell Angels-like crests. These are the infamous “Disneyland Gangs” I’d heard about and it seems they all came out for Bats Day.
8:00 PM: DEVILISH DISNEY
They may not endorse Bats Day (or any fan day) officially, Disney definitely knows how to court a sub-culture. As I leave the final photo opp, at the Haunted Mansion, naturally, I see tons of Jack Skellington and Sally merch, plus “Villains” stuff (a line devoted solely to Disney film’s baddies). There’s bat-shaped ice cube trays and wine-stoppers and Mansion mugs and glassware too. Older ghouls don’t seem to dig the marketing aspect even if they love the products, but for younger ones, it’s all they know.
Somebody very high on the corporate ladder figured out a while ago that shutting out the weirdos like they used to was bad business. If legions of little girls want to don tiaras and Cinderella dresses, that’s great. But some of them might want to rock Maleficent horns, too.
Lina Lecaro is an LA-based music, nightlife and pop culture journalist, photographer and radio host/DJ. Best known for her regular work in LA Weekly, she also freelances for Paper, Los Angeles, LA Times, LAist, Thrillist and many more. She wrote the book, Los Angeles’ Best Dive Bars: Drinking and Diving in the City of Angels and is currently finishing her second, a rock n’ roll-themed self-help guide called Nevermind The Rules.