If you go to Disneyland on Sunday, May 5, and find yourself surrounded by kids of all shades of pale, looking as sinister as the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, don't be alarmed. It's just Bats Day in the Fun Park, the annual Magic Kingdom gathering of goths and their punk/metal/steampunk brethren, which has been confusing tourists since 1999.
It sounds chuckle-worthy: goths — the mostly black-clad subculture you day-dwellers unfairly characterize as gloomy gusses — at the Happiest Place on Earth. And, OK, watching them spinning in the Tea Cups is a total hoot.
But Bats Day is the one day of the year at the park when combat boots, fishnets and vinyl are as ubiquitous as Mickey Mouse ears, shorts and flip-flops. And goths go to have fun just like everyone else, eagerly taking pictures with Mickey, biting into giant turkey legs and waiting in endless lines for two-minute rides while shielding themselves from the sun. Spooking the "normies" is just an added bonus.
Noah Korda, a 41-year-old graphic and toy-packaging designer, has presided over Bats Day since its first year. He'd been running the now-defunct goth club night Absynthe in West Hollywood when he and regulars from another club in Long Beach decided to team up and make a casual trek to Disneyland.
Over the years, that meet-up with 90 people has grown into an annual three-day convention, which, though not officially sanctioned by Disneyland, attracts nearly 5,000 attendees and now includes an art show, marketplace and a costume-only "wake." (Last year's party included David J of goth godfathers Bauhaus.) Local hearse clubs even lead hearse processions to the park.
"It wasn't until the realization that I had a lot of people coming from outside California and the country that I started adding all of these events," Korda says. "It was word-of-mouth and MySpace."
He doesn't do it alone. Last month, on a fittingly chilly night, Korda, sporting a relaxed mohawk, gathered five volunteers (including his 63-year-old mother, Venida, a LAUSD teacher) at his Van Nuys apartment, which he shares with his wife, Melissa, and their young daughter. Their living room features all manner of Disney decorations and original artwork, including framed embroidery reading "Tomb Sweet Tomb," inspired by the Haunted Mansion.
"Decorations?" Korda jokingly balks. "It's a way of life! What are you talking about?"
The team is planning this year's Bats Day, the 15th anniversary, which is only weeks away. "It's a quinceañera," volunteer Victor Mead, an optician, jokes. Everyone laughs. This year, it also falls on Cinco de Mayo.
Volunteer Richard Becker, a freelance writer and editor, attended the first event, back when it was held in the hot month of August. "I'll never forget the canoe ride," Becker recalls. "I was in a T-shirt and jeans, and there were all these people in long, velvet dresses and long, black-leather trench coats, and they're, like," — he pretends to huff and puff — " 'Oh God, oh God.' "
Justin Bartle has bigger bragging rights — he made his first trip to Disneyland at just 6 weeks old. Bartle works at the park, stocking supplies (another volunteer, Richard Lau, works at the Heraldry Shoppe in the Sleeping Beauty Castle). That means he has the highly enviable perk of not only parking at Disneyland for free but also getting his friends into the park for free a whopping 16 times a year.
Korda's volunteers pitch in mostly at the vendors market, helping buyers and sellers. By the time the big day arrives, they say they're too tired to dress up. On Bats Day, he organizes scavenger hunts and group photos in front of the Haunted Mansion and Sleeping Beauty Castle, a sort of class picture, if you happened to go to school in turn-of-the-century Transylvania. "Comfort is key," he says.
But many of his followers rival the park's costumed characters when it comes to posing for tourists. Becker remembers one lady's outfit: "It was a blue, PVC full-length ball gown. She had gloves on and a matching blue, PVC parasol. Just her face was exposed. This is something only people in their 20s would think was a good idea. I was sweating to death just looking at her."
Though Disneyland's policy prohibits visitors from wearing costumes that resemble cast members, or dressing in clothes considered "obscene" or "inappropriate for a family environment," park officials don't seem to mind all the goth gear. Last year Disney's website even briefly sold T-shirts featuring Mickey Mouse's face morphed with the cover of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures album. (You know your band has reached pop culture's zenith when even Mickey Mouse is jacking your image.)
"My rule of thumb," Korda says, "is if you come to the park and you're dressed as a character who works in the park, you're not gonna get in. But I'm amazed every year. 'How did this person get in?' "
"The managers that we work with say, 'This is fun,' " Bartle says. " 'It's a good way to celebrate different cultures and people. They're all in black ... but they're nice people.' "
The obvious question for many remains: Why Disneyland? Doesn't this enthusiasm for America's biggest symbol of goofy gluttony fly in the face of goth's anti-corporate, punk ethos?
The irony isn't lost on Korda and his friends. But they maintain that they have as much, if not more, genuine love for all things Disney, especially the park, as they do for the goth lifestyle.
"I'm all about taking yourself out of your element and being transported somewhere else," Korda says. "And Disneyland has a lot to do with that. If you go there, you're in this whole other world: the art, the architecture structures, the theme of everything, the way the rides are all set up."
Mom, on the other hand, doesn't share her son's enthusiasm. "I hate Disneyland," Venida Korda says in a hushed yet mocking voice. "I can't stand the crowds. I can't stand the parents telling their kids, 'Now you have fun, I paid a lot of money to get in here.' "
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As far as Korda knows, there's no Bats Day equivalent at DisneyWorld, which is a bit of a relief. "Florida gets all these great events," Korda says. "And really, this is a California thing."