A factionalized emo group is tested by a new age of alt kids.
Located in Nebraska, the Cult of Unbelievers inspires a dwindling punk pop, self-proclaimed emo fanbase with a simple message: we’ll carry on. Members are clad in Hot Topic band merchandise with striped long-sleeves and chipped black nails. It’s a union, the group says, of the past and present — a marriage of old bands and the all-familiar abyss of angst and uncertainty felt through puberty. Despite grumbles of how 2008 Fall Out Boy was so much better than the shit they put out now, all was fine for the members. Now, however, the Cult of Unbelievers faces a new challenge: TikTok e-boys.
Sean Thimblepaw, who concedes that isn’t his last name but rather his “Warrior Cats” roleplay nom de plume, first invites us into his world of Central Nebraska — a world he believes is best suited for his group’s survival.
“What makes us thrive is our need to feel both self-conscious and unique,” he says, absentmindedly twirling his “I <3 BOOBIES” wristband. “Really, the Cult of Unbelievers works best in Nebraska because we stand out the most here. We’re shocking, especially since the rest of the population are either cursed corn husks awaken by the full moon, ormen who perpetually have a smear of oil on their nose from working on their engines.” Still, the Cult’s glamor and allure fades. What was seen as weird before is now a personality trait for teenage boys on TikTok. With sparkling chains, dead-eyed stares and a need to feel recognized for being different, e-boys have been mingling with the Cult of Unbelievers. “First thing these boys always notice is our many factions,” grumbles Thimblepaw, a huskiness to his voice that suggests he does not talk for long periods of time. “Obviously, ‘emo’ is not a cookie-cutter thing. It’s an umbrella term.” The most prominent factions are the Ferals and the Rancids. Thimblepaw participates in a less popular, but devoted group, Sad Kitty Purr Purr Purr, where they listen to My Chemical Romance guitarist Frank Iero’s solo projects and regularly practice a breathy meow. The Ferals’ base is a “Sugar We’re Going Down”-inspired wood-paneled basement, decorated with deer taxidermy and a lingering odor that can only be described with the word “moist.” Their favorite activity is spending about 13 hours every day just standing in the middle of a desolate wheat field, staring yearningly into an old locket they found forgotten in the wood chips of a jungle gym a couple years ago. They stand deathly still except for the fact that they constantly murmur cryptic poems about, like, the concept of matrimony. If engaged in conversation, their eyes do not leave the field, a swoop of the wheat in the Nebraskan breeze, achill a ripe paradox of ephemeral and something everlasting: does it, too, rise only with the fall, or does it find its own meager way in the summer? Absurd metaphors and misunderstood big vocabulary words are modelled off Panic! at the Disco’s 2008 album, “Pretty. Odd.” It helps them come to terms with the band’s 2009 split— it’s been 10 years, sure, but you can definitely still feel the difference the writing. Then, huddled together under one flickering street light are the Rancids. “Only look at them through the corner of your eye,” Thimblepaw warns as he tucks his hands in the paws of his faux fur cat hat. The slow death of the lamppost is the closest thing to a rave in Nebraska. The group has gelled hair carefully coiffed into geometric shapes. Most of the group poses with their necks craned upward, like they’re looking toward a camera that no longer is there. The lamppost and its surrounding area hold the gritty, perilous quality of the American Frontier: it’s the land of the lawless. Here are the fans of Blood on the Dance Floor and Jeffree Star’s music career. Here they stand, eyes blinded by tufts of hair. Here are the Cookie Monster hats that kid named Vincent in fourth grade would wear. Don’t linger too long, and don’t think about the song “Pretty Rave Girl.” So, where do e-boys fit into this mess? Messily, apparently. The e-boys first documented arrival is fall 2018. The teenage boys, prior to entrance, named themselves some shit like Milo or Luca, cursed because it is unique enough to be alluring but nonetheless limited to the cramped imagination of a sixteen-year-old. Their fashion was taken from K-Pop, and the only talent they bring to the table is the ability to bite their thin lips and lip sync to indie music. “It’s fucking chaos,” Thimblepaw says. “Noah No. 8 has asked me where to get my nail polish. And I’m like, hello, Noah No. 8, maybe you should have put your name on the list because nail polish rations are getting low, and I hate going to Walmart. Also, kitty boys — mrow — like me aren’t allowed to drive.”
Morale is lower than ever, but since My Chemical Romance announced their revival, there is a more positive, bubbling mood to the Cult of Unbelievers. The Rancids moved hair from their left eye and made direct eye contact with Joel No. 4. The Ferals mentioned something positive about Brendon Urie’s collaboration with Taylor Swift.
And kitty boys like Sean Thimblepaw are licking their faux fur paws, lounging with their milk-filled bellies in the sunlight. For now, even with Jeremy No. 13 whipping his pants chain around and pretending to hit people with it, there’s a sense of peace.