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WHAT IS GOTH???

The original version of this rant was unfortunately lost, due to my zip disk failing utterly. Here I am trying to recreate my rant, as recent annoyances have touched off the nerves again, so I will do my best at reconstructing what WAS a very good rant.

There are a multitude of websites and people out there that will try to tell you precisely what Goth is. It's a style of dress. No, it's a lifestyle. No, it's style of music. All the arguments are preciously wrapped in so many shades of black and then aimed mercilessly at those who dare defy the unmoving laws of GOTH.

I, for one, no longer care to call myself GOTH, I haven't for a long time- although this website may make you think different, and I really have had it with the rampant egoism, label worship, and snobbery that exists in the Gothic subculture. What I intend to give you here is my viewpoint from both the inside and outside of the subculture, and as well as giving some reasons why Goth seems to be what it is.


In my studies of history, music, and theatre, I have come across some interesting things that shed a lot of light on what can be considered GOTH. Icons that many goths adore, such as ankhs, crosses, and pentacles all have very ancient pasts, but yet they are not Goth. Gothic architecture surfaced in the middle ages, with its high vaulted ceilings, gargoyles, and elaborate carvings, all with religious purpose. This too, is only a piece of what GOTH is.

I learned in theatre history about MELODRAMA - a movement that came along at earliest in the late 1700's and grew in popularity up through the mid 1800's at least. This style of theatre was built on spectacle. Staged effects like thunder and lightning were possible, and stage lighting was beginning to be used to create a mood. Subject matter of plays during this period encompassed the supernatural, extreme emotions, romance, intrigue, murder, the macabre, and dark secrets. Actors of the period would, to our current audiences anyway, essentially overact their parts, making every word, facial expression, and gesture more grandiose than real humans actually feeling the same things. Melodrama is defined as such: "a drama with sensational action, extravagant emotions, stereotyped characters, etc. "

This style was popular in literature - as we have evidence from poets such as Poe, Byron, and Shelley. It is here in this time period that the actual attitude of Goth stems. The moodiness, love of macabre imagery, mythology, and extravagance are all core elements in what Goth is today.

Fast forward to the late 70's early 80's when Punk was still around, and bands like Siouxsie, the Cure, Bauhaus, The Birthday Party, Virgin Prunes, etc etc etc were in existence. Here we see the birth of Goth music, which if one examines it, retains post punk aftershocks and combines mournful guitars with unearthly/creepy vocals. Here is where we also see the style of dress evolving, coming somewhat from punk and somewhat from New Romantic - depending on who you were at the time. Goth as a labeled subculture did not exist until this time, when all the other influences were finally brought together.

So here we are now in a new century, over 20 years later, and although GOTH has grown bigger than its britches, the stereotype still lingers.We all know or have seen some form of the stereotype. Waify white people with long black hair, black clothes, black boots (preferably pointed), pale faces with dark makeup, silver antiquated jewelry, anguished or vacant expressions, over developed senses of ennui, wandering graveyards with or without fangs, at night.

This stereotype, while it does exist in some forms, causes a severe problem - as all stereotypes do. There are many who believe that this stereotype IS what GOTH is now, and that's what REAL goth is - and truly they would even argue some of the above mentioned details. Since no one has bothered to write a be-all-end-all GOTH primer(because no one's ego will agree with the next person's), this utterly ridiculous behaviour causes no end to squabbling, snobbery and elitism. As times and music and lifestyles have changed, so has the face of Goth. No one can say anymore that it's only about the music, because some candle burning velveteen doll will announce that it is a lifestyle.

There are "goths" in age ranging from their 40's to their teens now, and more people of varying ages means more creativity of interpretation is bound to happen. No label stays stagnant for 20 years. And yet many participants treat Goth as a sort of DOGMA, something the Christian Church is very good at. Dogma? In a subculture? Yes, as asinine as it is. Many goths function as if there is some kind of unspoken law that thou shalt wear only clothing bought at exclusive and stupidly expensive shops, thou shalt be seen at all times looking ones best, else the minions laugh at you.

The funny thing is anymore, it's not just the crusty old hang-abouts who are still on their high horse pointing out who's GOTH and who isn't - the young-ins are getting just as bad and what's worse is they aren't even aware of half the history behind many symbols that GOTH likes to tout. So there's this whole stupid argument about What's GOTH and lots of finger pointing accompanied by god like voices saying YOU ARE NOT GOTH. NO ONE is Goth by various other people's standards if you listen to enough people, or at the very least, GOTH enough.

The Gothic movement for a time, and it still does to a certain extent, attract people who were on the fringe of things elsewhere. The geeks, nerds, dorks, outcasts were drawn to goth and many felt comfortable there. How odd that a subculture which still likes to think itself big on being different and artistic and accepting others has become just another high school lunch table full of jocks and cheerleaders all wearing black and scowling.Whether or not anyone wants to believe it, this persistent worship of the elusive stereotype Gothic ideal has produced a dress code, and those who do not conform are ridiculed mercilessly. The law now is to conform to non-conformity.

This is why the label of GOTH is failing. This is why ANY label fails, because nature abhors a vacuum. There is always bound to be room for interpretation, because some people are going to come into the subculture and reject some parts that don't fit them, while donning others that do. This is why no one can simply be called a GOTH anymore. Goth has splintered off into many different factions: perky goth, cyber goth, BDSM goth, baby goth, vampire goth, pagan goth, romantic goth, etc blah blah blah the variations just keep on going. With so many different versions of Goth, how can anyone ever hope to keep a reign on what Goth is considered to be? There is no mass consensus and there won't be as long as people continue to join. Goth as a label is falliable. People are falliable. It's stupid to try to uphold an ideal which few if any can attain, and one that not everyone cares to remold themselves into.

So there's this faction of "REAL GOTHS" - you've seen them. They're in the clubs, in the coffeehouses, at the shops, and they automatically KNOW they are better than you. Because you aren't goth. You're a poseur. You don't listen to THEIR music, or wear clothing from the RIGHT label, or hang out with GOTHY people. Well boo-fuckin-hoo. What I have witnessed, both from inside and out is that the people who are pretentious enough to dictate what you are are not so much GOTH as they are attention whores and on a power trip. It's no different than any other clique situation, although it thinks it can hide. There's a hoard of pretty painted faces with a lot of ugliness behind them - and jealousy, and narrowmindedness. It must be awfully hard being a newcomer in the "GOTH scene", as most people who find themselves interested in it know next to nothing of the bands, aren't in possession of all the clothes, and aren't in need of a knife sharpened ego. The newcomers aren't asking to be torn down, they are trying to feel out Goth for themselves to see if it's a shoe that will fit. I can only imagine how many are chased away by cold stares and offhanded comments. Really, it's no better even if you're already IN the subculture, because you get an even more personalized version of the shit.

There is no room for elitism, pretention, and inflated egos in Goth. These elements were only recently associated with the stereotype of Goth because of the reigning attitude problems. The real problem with the perpetrators is they are taking the whole thing WAY TOO SERIOUSLY. They are so entrenched in an image - which is thusly just that - a fucking image, that they can't see beyond the tips of their own boots. I know that there are plenty of goths out there who know how to laugh at themselves and their subculture in its many facets - just check out how many goth humor webpages there are. However, no matter how much levity is injected, there's always a few who don't think it's a laughing matter, as if not taking GOTH seriously is some kind of religious blasphemy. The people who continue to judge others on the basis of image and can't even laugh at their own flaws (oooh, they have FLAWS?!! OH MY GOD!!!) are the ones who really need to just pull the ankh out of their asses and face the fact that they have some issues with THEMSELVES.

Another issue I'd like to address is Goths of color. I have "goth" friends who are every variation from black to hispanic, native american, asian, filipino, etc. And often, I hear from them, as from elsewhere, that they too are getting the evil eye from the elitist Goth police. Here again, we find the stereotype at work. Ok, fine. So the archetypal image of goth is a waify white girl or guy. So fucking what?! Are we going to be racist bastards as well and exclude people based on color of skin and not just clothing? Good god people. If Goth really is turning into the secret society it pretends to be, then I want no part of it. Because of the internet, more and more people have gotten into the genre of Goth. That includes african americans, and no, they don't all listen only to R and B. Do all goths listen to the same music?! I find that the goths of color I have known and listened to to be some of the most original, creative goths around, and have better ideas to inject some freshness into the scene than all the rotting caucasian tarts sighing the night away in their designer corsets.

Whatever anyone tells you, Goth is most certainly NOT an exclusive club. It is NOT a movement full of people steeped in death and depression. It is also much too large for a lofty and ill defined ideal that few people truly care to imitate anymore.

I, myself, cannot call myself GOTH anymore. I fit into that label like an elephant fits into a muffin tin. Sure, I wear an awful lot of black, own more velvet than any human should, have colors of hair that are illegal in most other countries, and collect skulls and candles. But I also enjoy sunlight, the beach, wearing pink, playing parcheesi, wearing pig slippers, and various other pasttimes that would get my goth card revoked(if I hadn't already burned it). I may not be Goth, but it can still be part of what I am. I don't feel like trying to wedge myself into a subculture that is content on eating its own. That's an utter waste of my time.

So if you are still reading this article, wondering when the hell I'm going to tell you what GOTH is, well stop. I'm not going to. I can't. I'm not an expert. If you really care that much, then do your research. Don't just go to websites that show you how to dress and do your hair, read poetry. Listen to music. Read books, see artwork. Don't blindly follow because all the other black sheep are doing it. Figure out why you are attracted to goth, and what parts of it work for you. It will either be a part of you, or it won't. There's no forcing it.

And as for the elitist bastards who find no end to the pleasure of making you feel like shit - ignore them. Let them play their petty little games and pretend like they own the copyright to GOTH. Anyone who tries to tell you who or what you are is full of shit. Only you know that.