So I've been thinking Goth thoughts this year's end. Not so much your
pale and bitter sort of why-not-just-die thoughts as the I-wonder-why they
think dressing in all black is gothic thoughts.
Mostly what bothers me about them is their monochromatic ideals seem to me a
rather pathetic attempt to capture a very subtle feel. They paint with
heavy brushes and sculpt with hammers. They don't really work at matching
the true atmosphere in these stories so much as reflect a sooty image of
Now I'm not much into goth myself, or even gothic writing, but I've bounced
around on the periphery of these sub-cultures a few times. Mostly they
are pretty great people. Many are either into the fashion part of it or the
bitter depression part. Mostly getting to act darker of soul than they
really feel is good medicine for them and makes for fun friends and a nice
little instant sub-culture to belong to. I don't begrudge them that.
What I find interesting is the need for many in these circles to deliberately
exclude non-goth types. Huh? These people are outcasts both in character and
often to an extent in real life. Where do get this attitude from? It hasn't
traditionally been a part of most of the outcast cliques to be
exclusionary. Mostly they will welcome anyone rejected by
the main stream.
Yes, your badge of shame is a nametag of honor in the house of the trod-upon
or buckled-under. Many of the rats in the wainscotting -- the "gays", the
"geeks", the "disaffected", the "poor", and even the "desperate rich" --
find their way together. They have their own rituals and scisms internally
but they never push anyone out. Being cast into the void was
the defining moment for them, and they wish that on no one.
A lyric from Michael Penn from many years ago:
What makes you think that
Just because you dress bright
Means that you shine?
I love that bit.
My number one complaint with them is their need to exclude others, to vilify
the cheerful and cast stones at those who dress different. There is an air
of downward-nose-looking at anyone who dares find cheer in the world. You
only get this the vibe from a few of them, except when large groups are
together, then it sometimes seems to infect the whole of them.
Now even though the Goth often deny it, they mostly sprung up from the larger
disaffected group. The "disaffected" are singularly un-sunny people.
Most come from
broken homes, have little or no money, little hope for the future and a
strong sense that the world is out to get them. Most teens go through a
period like this but for these people it is more than a life style choice it
is a life. Some respond by sinking away into violence and hatred and wind
up on the dark side of the "redneck" factions but many grab a bit of humor
or dark style and find company in each other's misery. They are the catchall
underground, with a thousand splinter groups.
I have seen times when the "punks", "gays", "goths", "geeks", and
"non-nazi skinheads" all played togther. Fun times, there were some real
personalities hidden down there, and people on the out have a real way of
finding entertainment on the cheap. Getting kicked to the curb adds a
odd zest for life that uplifts them all a little. Good/Bad movies like
Rocky Horror Picture Show and 80's teen hits like Better Off Dead
become social events.
Is "goths" the correct plural? Or is "goth" its own plural like "sheep"?
Hmm. Bad anology. I'm probably in enough trouble without the implication
that seems to make. It isn't intended, really.
I think a lot of these more exclusionary goths don't really come from that
base culture. Instead, as it has become "cooler" to be goth, we have seen
an infux from the second tier of cliques that aren't allowed to play reindeer
games with the "coolest". They have simply appropriated a rising culture,
or integrated with it.
Like any sub-group, they look for a defining
set of behaviors to identify themselves. If these behaviors are definite
enough and the group is so inclined, the patterns of their sub-group can
become a touchstone to exclude heretical non-believers.
A number of these behaviors, in other groups, come from rejection of an ideal
they perceive the main class as carrying. Thus the "butch" haircuts for many
of the "lesbians", and the effiminate behavior in some gay men. Other traits
seem to come out of nowhere like lisping in many gay cultures and punning in
the geek culture.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a fabulous rip on these patterns. It
gives a perfectly normal popular girl the main role, and makes her power
decidedly non-glamorous. Killing vampires quickly becomes tedium for her
and her brush with the dark side opens her eyes to be less exclusive. A
lovely twist on a old pattern, and much wittier than most people give it
For goths, the source of their patterns is drawn from a class of literature
called gothic. Gothic extends from the Mary Shelley Frankenstein
style to modern dark fantasy and horror. Most of it seems to concern monsters
or outcasts turning the tables on their oppresors. Most of the books are
power fantasies where being excluded directly or indirectly leads to hidden
powers, often with dark consequences for use, that the central chracter can
use to right a few wrongs done them or plead their case to be included.
Watch Carrie again sometime. Don't watch Carrie 2 though,
it is just a raw power fantasy, with a sprinkle of moral fiber just to
get it past the studio executives.
Obviously, this is tailor-made to appeal to the underclass. The goths have
simply embraced it to the point of emulating what they see as the main
character image. My real problem with them is their ignorance of the real
themes of the gothic books. They seem to have only skimmed them and in fact
I doubt most of them have really read more than one or two gothic stories.
In gothic books, the phrase is it is always darkest before the dawn.
Many goths these days seem to have lost the last three words there. The key
point in most gothic works is that the converse isn't true. It isn't
always brightest before the darkness sets it.
If you read the books -- or even just pay close attention to the movies --
you will find that the
chracters are followed on their rises and falls in and out of darkness.
Little time is spent on their dwelling in darkness, except to throw the
fight against such blackness into contrast. The key point is how they strive
for and learn to truly immerse themselves in the little bits of light they
can obtain. The characters that glory in their own darkness always fall,
those that find power in their remaining humanity are the ones who triumph.
Wearing black all the time is fine with me, being pale all the time is ok
too. Just hide a bit of color in there somewhere, pink underwear, butterfly
tattoo, a bit of jewelery that doesn't have a skull on it, etc.
When it comes right down to it, what I dislike about the entire goth movement
is that it has come to glory in the darkness. Somewhere along the way they
forgot that darkness begets darkness, but the real power is in clawing your
way into the light. They are playing the game they were supposed to learn
not to play from these stories. The people who really get what it means to
be goth see it not as a way to show the world their
dark and tortured soul but celebrate their overlooked humanity.