asked, it’s really hard to explain “What is Goth?” or “What is the Gothic
scene all about?”, it’s so hard to put into words that most of the time you
end up looking like an idiot. Quite a lot of the time you will find Goths
arguing amongst themselves (I have done this on many a time) about “What Goth
is all about?”. Well, the below article is generally agreed to be the most
concise explanation that we have come across. So please take time to read:
Definition Gothic – of or pertaining to a literary style of fiction prevalent
in the late 18th and early 19th centuries which emphasized the grotesque,
mysterious, and desolate [i.e. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the works of
Edgar Allen Poe]. This is the relevant dictionary definition.
what does gothic mean in regards to the group of people?
where it gets confusing. There are things that many Gothics like that are
not gothic (Industrial or Classical music). There are things that are gothic
that many Gothics dislike (vampires, interest in death). There are things
that some people think are gothic that are not gothic (bands like Marilyn
Manson and Nine Inch Nails), and there are things that do not call themselves
gothic even if they are considered gothic by most people (bands like Sisters
of Mercy and Dead Can Dance). However, there's no Grand Gothic Judge to decree
what is truly Goth and what is not, although there are plenty of people who
claim to be it. It's an ambiguous label with many people using it that don't
understand what it means. The people who do understand it often have many
of the Movement
date of origin is usually placed in 1979. That was the year that the song
"Bela Lugosi's Dead" by Bauhaus was released. It was originally intended to
be tongue-in-cheek; however, many young fans took it as the inspiration for
the budding gothic subculture. The song had a certain mystery and eeriness
that listeners quickly latched onto.
first generation of the gothic movement emerged mostly in the UK in the late
seventies and early eighties as a splinter from the punk movement. Punk music
was breathing its last breath as this gloomy, introspective mutation gained
momentum. Bands like The Damned, Bauhaus, and Siouxsie and the Banshees characterize
the first generation. They were called Gothic later on, but most didn't consider
a great deal of uncertainty as to who coined the term "gothic" and how it
got attached to this dark music. I believe it was the British music press
that made the label stick. In the early eighties, the gothic movement thrived
with bands like the Sisters of Mercy at the forefront, but by the mid to late
eighties, it was waning. In the late eighties and early nineties, a new, second
generation of gothic bands emerged to breathe new life into the scene.
would include The Shroud, Rosetta Stone, and London After Midnight, for example.
They were the first to characteristically call themselves Gothic. This is
when the US Goth movement grew significantly and Gothic became recognized
as a distinct subculture.
this time period, gothic music and culture grew and splintered, diversified,
and branched out into various subsets, pushing the boundaries of what had
previously been considered gothic. Recently, widespread mainstream interest
in the gothic subculture is apparent. Many gothic cultural quirks have filtered
into mainstream culture, such as an interest in the supernatural and dark
a dark leaning becomes prevalent towards the end of a century. As the gothic
movement progressed into the late nineties, we possibly witnessed the emergence
of a distinct third generation.
second generation ages into their mid to late 30's, they become progressively
less interested in participating in the gothic social scene. A "new breed"
emerged to shape the future of Gothic.
third generation contains an explosion in the number of people referring to
themselves as gothic. Many of the younger generation have learned about gothic
culture because of the present widespread commercial availability. For example,
national chain stores like Hot Topic have made Goth accessible for kids at
a younger age than ever before.
the huge commercial popularity of “shock rock” act Marilyn Manson, the spotlight
has been thrown onto this subculture. Many older Goths wish to make clear
that Marilyn Manson plays heavy metal music. They might state that he is the
Alice Cooper of the 90's, using extreme shock tactics and marketing genius
to outrage conservative forces, appeal to rebellious youth, and in the process
becoming very rich.
Goths claim that the younger over-ardent followers of Manson are not in fact
authentic Goths – the term often used for them is "spooky kids", "mini-goths"
the explotion of "Goth Metal" and "Emo", many Goths cringe
at the possibility of this crossover or deny its validity. The sound of what
would be called Goth Metal is certainly different from what is now recognized
as gothic music, but the same can be said for various other forms, such as
Techno Goth and Industrial Goth.
and second generation Goths look suspiciously upon the new generation, doubting
their authenticity and disliking the exposure they give to a subculture which
would prefer to remain underground. The new generation is not well received
by their elders, but time may prove otherwise. It would be difficult to predict
what the future holds for the Gothic movement.
30 years, it continues to change, grow, and adapt, making it the longest surviving
youth subculture in existence.
of the popular gothic style traits and miscellaneous things Goths tend to
black (Less common is white clothing and any dark colors such as navy blue
or deep red.)
(In general, Goths view paleness as much more aesthetically pleasing than
being tan, whether or not they have a reason why.)
hair (Black, very light bleached blonde, red, or purple are fairly common.)
and white makeup -- white foundation, black lipstick, black eyeliner
and fetish fashion -- leather, PVC, latex, rubber, vinyl and bondage gear,
shirts -- a few ruffles around the cuff, the collar, and the front (They're
sometimes called pirate's shirts and are usually white.)
and crushed velvet
capes or cloaks
tights or shirts
length gloves, either satin or latex, shorter length gloves as well, usually
and white horizontal striped tights like the Wicked Witch of the West
shoes, buckle boots, high heels, combat boots or Doc Martens
band T-shirts, having band stickers on your car, notebook etc.
short A-line haircut , or ratted out, hair-sprayed, chaotic hair, sometimes
leather jacket -- often with designs painted on it, black trench coat, black
vinyl jacket, or velvet jacket
box (It’s something like a cross between a small purse and a lunchbox, usually
black with silver hinges and a briefcase-like handle. They are usually decorated
with band stickers and what not.)
(The majority of Goths are dabblers in the creative arts in some form, whether
it's photography, music, painting, writing, or drawing etc. )
humanities in general (Many have an interest in literature and history, philosophy
"going to coffee" -- getting together to drink coffee and socialize at a diner
or coffee shop
lights -- the miniature kind strung all around the bedroom
webs, spiders -- spider web design on tights, shirt, jewelry
skeletons -- in jewelry, on tights or clothing · graveyards -- especially
to take pictures or have picnics
(There are a few people who own actual coffins; usually they're used as a
coffee table. Most times, you might find a coffin shaped box -- the cross
between a lunch box and purse -- or jewelry holder.) · other such spooky things
(You get the idea.)
symbols, Christian symbols, Pagan symbols -- cross, ankh, pentacle etc.
culture is a multifaceted entity with several different aspects; there are
at least three major ones that compose the subculture. One is being involved
in the gothic social scene -- especially frequenting clubs and knowing others
involved in the scene. To outsiders, gothic is almost always evaluated and
judged by what is known of the visible social scene.
social scene ideally facilitates the exchange of ideas and draws individuals
of like mind and interests together. In reality, the scene is most often a
social group similar to other social groups and cliques in structure and function,
i.e. it provides a sense of belonging, contains unspoken social hierarchies,
establishes norms of social behavior, etc. It must be noted that gaining acceptance
in the social scene is not necessarily an interest of everyone involved in
gothic culture. It often becomes progressively less important to individuals
as they grow older through their 20's and 30's.
essential aspect is having a gothic personality. In short, this includes individualism,
an interest in the darker side of life and the supernatural, focus on beauty
and dark aesthetics, art, emotion, creativity, intellectualism, mystery, and
drama. Almost everyone in the subculture would probably agree that possessing
the gothic personality is ultimately what makes someone gothic.
last is a passion for gothic music. The subculture is a musically based and
driven one; the music is what holds the social scene together. As the music
changes, the direction of the scene changes. Music is most often the reason
cited for continued involvement in gothic culture over the years.
three aspects of gothic culture are interdependent in many ways; they are
intertwined to make up the whole picture. However, each of the three does
not possess the same amount of importance to different individuals; some people
may only be involved in one or two of those three aspects. Further examination
Gothic Social Scene
and sex are the fastest way for someone to initially become accepted in the
gothic social scene, but obviously not the only way. They are the fastest
methods because they allow a person to meet and create quick superficial connections
to others. Not everyone takes that route in meeting people when they first
become involved in a scene.
follows is an observation of the general criteria that the gothic social scene
will use to evaluate whether someone should be considered Gothic. Categories
two, three and four are the biggest test of "true Gothness."
Frequenting where Goths are -- Regularly visiting places where Gothics
are is the easiest and most superficial way to become accepted. This includes
gothic clubs, coffee shops, cool thrift stores, fetish stores, independent
music stores, etc. If there are no specific gothic music nights at a club,
someone may visit fetish or industrial themed nights. These go hand in hand
with Goth. However, frequenting places Goths are may give someone exposure
to the culture, but not acceptance.
Dressing a certain way -- In order to identify him or herself as Gothic
to other Gothics, a person would do this through dress. At first, one's appearance
is an identifying factor. It initiates the belief within the group that this
person should be considered one of them. However, it often takes further investigation
to decide whether or not this person should actually be considered gothic.
The way a person dresses alone does not automatically make a Gothic. For some
people, the image of being Gothic is shed as easily as taking off those gothic
Having the "gothic mentality" -- This category indicates what a person
is like inside. Several of the following questions will help to get an indication
of whether someone is "Goth on the inside." These are questions that come
to mind, whether consciously realized or not, when evaluating if someone is
gothic: Is this something you are doing in order to look cool or to gain acceptance,
or is it who you are? Are you willing to stand up for yourself in the face
of normal society, daring to be different despite ridicule, harassment and
prejudice? Are you getting into Goth because you're following a trend? What
is your depth of knowledge of gothic music and culture? What are your similar
values or traits that you should be accepted for -- i.e. are you pensive,
artistic, gloomy, moody, or dreary? Are you fascinated with the mysterious,
the supernatural, and the beautiful?
Listening to certain music -- This includes such things as: the amount
of time someone has liked a band, how underground the band is and that person's
passion for it -- how much he/she knows about the band, how many CD's he/she
has. It also relates to what a person wears (band T-shirts or stickers). The
music plays different roles to different people. Some people enjoy Gothic
only for its social or aesthetic aspects and never seek to listen to more
than the most popular and well-known of Goth bands. True dedication to gothic
culture is often displayed in one's span of music knowledge. This category
also includes familiarity with other media, such as movies and books, etc.
However, these count to a lesser extent and do not qualify alone.
Knowing certain people -- Unfortunately, this often seems to be the biggest
factor in whether or not someone is considered gothic by the social scene.
If a person is accepted by the most infamous members of the social group,
that is often automatic grounds for being considered Goth no matter the length
of time in the scene, how extreme that person looks, or musical preference.
Perhaps the assumption is that their standards for someone being Goth are
fairly strict because they have suffered the most persecution, prejudice and
ridicule to be a part of it. These standards in no way mean that infamous
Goths will not accept another as a friend if they are not gothic. The standards
only apply to accepting someone as a Gothic. People who have been around the
longest in the scene tend to be the most infamous and/or most respected. It
is because they have proven consistently over time that it is not a phase,
but part of who they are.
of Relevant Music
is a considerable amount of flexibility when classifying a band as one thing
or another. Different people can put the same music into different classifications.
A band might change their sound or style from album to album with a variety
of labels put on their various works. There's a good amount of crossover of
music types as well, such as Gothic Industrial, when the same music falls
into more than one category at the same time. There are many more divisions
of music that could be listed, but here is a brief, general guide. This is
in no way the official or definitive way to classify this music.
The relevant classification of old school punk died in the 70's. Punk as a
subculture survived. From punk music, two children emerged -- first Industrial
music in 1976, then Gothic music in 1979. Not as closely related to punk musically,
perhaps a nephew, comes New Wave (Modern music) in the 1980's. Punk was characterized
by bands like the Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols and Circle Jerks with irreverent,
anarchic, and anti-establishment themes. Punk is most influential to the gothic
rock division of gothic music, with bands such as The Cure (1978) and Siouxsie
and the Banshees (1976) first lumped musically into a post-punk category.
Wave: New Wave became popular in the early eighties. It is also sometimes
called modern music. New Wave as a term originally was used to describe just
that, a new wave of bands that were creating music different from everything
being made at the time. It was an all-encompassing term for all types of different
and freaky music and its listeners, including the New Romantics (Adam Ant
and Duran Duran), death rock (the Cult), post-punk (Police), modern (Talking
Heads), etc. Right now what we think of as New Wave is much more specific
to a certain underground look and feel of the 80's. It is the first pop music
form to use synthesizers and keyboards on a regular basis. There is also a
certain glamour and camp to the band members. Modern music is also used to
describe (often British) bands such as Depeche Mode, The Smiths, and The Cure.
They have a good amount of popularity and longevity, yet are still a little
"odd" musically. People who are into this type of music are called mods or
wavers. In the eighties, wavers were the most visible form of alternative
music and culture -- they were strange, but not quite bizarre yet. What we
now call gothic was a fairly small group of people. Goth was not yet used
as a term, and they were generally lumped together with all other underground
groups as wavers or freaks. In the late eighties and early nineties, Gothic
gained a lot of visibility with the emergence of the second generation. Mods
became somewhat retro in their love of eighties music, fashion, and British
A record label called Industrial Records coined the term in 1976. Bands like
Throbbing Gristle were the Industrial pioneers. As a subculture however, industrial
is much younger, probably only becoming identifiable in the 1990's. Its adherents
are called rivetheads. Industrial music has its own subdivisions. There is
the more guitar oriented industrial rock music, of KMFDM and Ministry for
example, the more electronic dance music called EBM (Electronic Body Music)
of bands such as Front 242 and Front Line Assembly, and the more experimental
electronic soundscape type of music from bands like Coil and Download. Industrial
music often uses electronics, synthesizers, noise, unconventional items (especially
used as percussion instruments), samples from movies or political speeches,
loops, and distorted vocals. The sound is often fast, loud and aggressive.
Industrial music and culture tends to be overwhelmingly male-dominated. Rivetheads
are usually not quite as bizarre-looking as Gothics in general. The relative
newness of the subculture also helps make them less noticeable than Goths.
There is hugely significant amount of crossover between Gothic and Industrial
music and these bands are often called Gothic Industrial or Industrial Gothic.
rock/death punk/death rock: This is what gothic music began as, a darker
form of punk rock music with a tendency toward misanthropy, the macabre, mystery
and desolation. It grew into a distinct entity from the punk movement in the
late 70's. Originally what we now call Gothic music was called death rock
and its listeners death rockers, especially in the UK. It wasn't until the
mid to late eighties that it was called Gothic. Gothic rock is characterized
by the music of Christian Death, The Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus, for example.
It usually contains the hard guitars typical of rock music, but with a more
apocalyptic flair, a darker sound and feel, and a certain theatricality of
the band. Gothic music in its narrowest definition only consists of this music
type. Note that gothic rock is quite different from heavy metal and death
A fairly new term that refers to a branch of gothic music that is more introspective,
moody, emotional, and artistic -- less rock and roll oriented. There is some
uncertainty as to whether darkwave music is a subdivision of Gothic or a separate
sister category in itself like Industrial. Darkwave originally was used to
designate a more dark electronic sound, however it wasn't until the distribution
service called darkwave was born that the term had a widely noticeable usage.
Darkwave encompasses the subsets of ethereal music (angelic, otherworldly,
usually with high female vocals and a soft sound, often using acoustic guitar,
violin, flute, piano and/or electronics) and darkambient music (minimalist,
layer upon layer of sound, experimental, often dark electronic, little or
no vocals). The term is usually used today to refer to bands featured in the
Goth a Bad Influence?
majority of teenagers who become involved in Gothic move on to something else
within a few years. Most find it appealing initially as a form of rebellion
and as a way to gain social belonging. A teenager will basically try on the
gothic identity to see if it fits. For most, Goth is a phase. Some do stay
involved because the identity fits; they have found a group of people with
similar interests and ideals. Those likely to become interested in Goth and
remain involved in it will usually possess most of the following characteristics
and traits beforehand: individualistic, reflective, artistic, introspective,
emotionally focused and driven, sensitive, non-violent, moody. They are likely
to have a distaste for authority, possess above average intelligence, and
be social misfits.
are elements of Gothic that can be destructive to those who let it be. Teenagers
are faced with the same basic decisions regarding drugs, drinking, smoking
and sex as they would in any other youth social group. It is always an individual's
choice to experiment with whatever potentially destructive forces gothic culture
might expose him or her to. If a person is easily led and susceptible to the
influence of peers, then it is possible for that person to be led into the
destructive side of Goth. If a person is self-assured and has made solid decisions
regarding sex, drugs, drinking, etc., before becoming involved in Goth, they
are less likely to become influenced by any negative aspects of the culture.
Parents and adults in authority who set reasonable limits and keep communication
lines open help any child, gothic or not, resist any negative or destructive
that the most common issues causing concern among adults when it comes to
Gothic teenagers are drugs, Satanism and depression. Further investigation
of these issues follows.
use is found in the gothic scene, just as in any teenage group. However, it
is by no means required. My studies show that those most commonly used are
alcohol, LSD, and tobacco. Drug use by Goths often stems from two types of
people. The first is the hedonistic, rebellious, destructive type of people.
They would do drugs regardless of their association with Goth. Second are
those who do not believe drugs should be illegal. They believe that personal
responsibility in the area of drug experimentation is the key to keeping a
drug's harmful effects in check. The roots of drug use are often connected
to two things: curiosity and a lack of respect for authority.
is no set belief system for Gothics, although most of them have a leaning
towards being agnostic and/or having certain beliefs and views of a particular
religion (especially Christianity) but not following any set rules or any
organized forms of that religion. Religion has nothing to do with one's "Gothness,"
and one's religious beliefs don't affect one's being a member of the gothic
community. One will find represented in Goth: Christians (Mormon, Catholic,
Baptist, etc.), atheists, Jews, agnostics, Satanists, pagans, and so forth.
While there's an incredibly wide variety of religious beliefs and views, most
Goths don't follow any sort of organized religion, and their personal spiritual
beliefs are of a private nature.
are often accused of being Satanists because of their bizarre or dark appearances.
There are some Satanists who are also Goth, but Satanists can be found in
any group of people. They are not exclusively Gothics. Satanism and the occult
itself are extremely complex belief systems with as many differences in interpretation
and types as Christianity. This is an area that people have the most confusion
and misinformation regarding. Satanism as a documented religion, such as Anton
LeVay's Church of Satan, is almost nothing like what most people's conception
of Satanism is. Satanists are a very small percentage of Goths, and Goths
are an extremely small percentage of Satanists.
the FBI National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime published a 50+
page report by Kenneth Lanning, Supervisory Special Agent, entitled Satanic,
Occult, Ritualistic Crime: A Law Enforcement Perspective. Excerpts from this
study may help clarify some misunderstanding:
fact is that far more crime and child abuse has been committed by zealots
in the name of God, Jesus, and Mohammed than has ever been committed in the
name of Satan. Many people don't like this statement, but few can argue with
it... After all the hype and hysteria is put aside, the realization sets in
that most satanic/occult activity involves the commission of NO crimes, and
that which does, usually involves the commission of relatively minor crimes…
It is easy to blame involvement in satanism and the occult for behaviors that
have complex motivations. A teenager's excessive involvement in satanism and
the occult is usually a symptom of a problem and not the cause of a problem.
Blaming satanism for a teenagers' vandalism, theft, suicide or even act of
murder is like blaming a criminal's offenses on his tattoos: both are often
signs of the same rebelliousness and lack of self-esteem that contribute to
the commission of crimes.
teenagers involved in fantasy role-playing games, heavy metal music, or satanism
and the occult are going through a stage of adolescent development and commit
no significant crimes. The teenagers who have more serious problems are usually
those from dysfunctional families or those who have poor communications within
their families. Those troubled teenagers turn to satanism and the occult to
overcome a sense of alienation, to obtain power, or to justify their antisocial
behaviour. For these teenagers, it is the symbolism, not the spirituality,
that is important. It is either the psychopathic or the oddball, loner teenager
who is most likely to get into serious trouble. Extreme involvement in the
occult is a symptom of a problem, not the cause. This is not to deny, however,
that satanism and the occult are negative influences for a troubled teenager.
But to hysterically warn teenagers to avoid this 'mysterious, powerful, and
dangerous' thing called satanism will drive some teenagers right into it.
Some rebellious teenagers will do whatever will most shock and outrage society
in order to flaunt their rejection of adult norms..."
hard to say categorically if Goths are more depressed than anyone else. In
everyday society, depression and sadness are seen as an abnormality, something
that must be suppressed or fixed. Adolescence is a time of depression for
many; yet, young people feel pressure from family, friends or teachers to
be the "perfect" child and not show when something is wrong. They may feel
incredible pain, but don't want to be looked down on for it as if they are
abnormal. Some people find Gothic culture to be one group of people that says,
"We know you are depressed, it's okay. We don't think any less of you for
it. Here's your chance to be depressed, to not push those feelings down anymore.
We'll accept you all the more for it."
believe that Goths in general are necessarily more depressed than any other
group, depression comes to be a feeling that Goth personifies. These days
people feel so alienated from each other that everyone has broken off into
small groups, latched onto something very specific (race, music, an idea),
and formed a culture surrounding it. People belong to these subcultures in
order to feel as if they own something, are a part of something. Subcultures
take an idea and exaggerate it, focus on it to the point where they typify
it. This exaggeration of the beauty of sadness in Gothic culture leads people
to think that Goths are more depressed than other groups. I doubt that they
are in a significant way, but it is possible. It's also possible that this
is just the impression people get about Gothic because it is an exaggeration.
Goth doesn't necessarily make one sad, but I do believe that people can easily
become trapped in their own expectations from themselves and absorb the energy
of their appearance and those they surround themselves with. If people constantly
surround themselves with the depressing aspects of Goth, it becomes hard to
see the fun, creative, inspiring part of it. People can start taking the image
and stereotype of being depressed and being Gothic too seriously. They find
themselves living up to an image and don't allow balance in their lives. They
close themselves off to thoughts or clothes or activities that don't fit this
image. That's when being Goth can lead to people creating more depression
for themselves. However, it depends on what they were like beforehand and
how they perceive Goth.
bottom line is that being Goth does not necessarily mean being depressed.
While Goths are capable of feeling extreme sadness, they are also capable
of experiencing great joy. To some, Goth only says that sadness, like happiness,
has its own majestic beauty and must be embraced as a valid emotion, not pushed
down as an abnormality.
people might assume because they find the Gothic subculture bizarre, that
there is something evil or unhealthy about it. There certainly are some things
that raise many people's eyebrows. However, within Goth there is a very vibrant
tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. It is not all gloom and tragedy; most Goths
try not to take themselves too seriously. They have fun with the spooky, campy
aspects, and they're able to laugh at themselves. Though gothic culture is
unusual, it is not something that should be feared or derided.
Goths say that Gothic represents acceptance of the inevitability of death
and the existence of the darker side of life. That does not mean that Goths
possess an obsession with either one. Goth is recognizing the balance of dark
and light, life and death, without turning away, denying, or living in fear
of the things some people find disturbing. To say that gothic culture's interest
in the dark side of life means that Goths are evil would be similar to saying
that daytime is good while nighttime is evil. There is no issue of good and
evil when it comes to day and night; they are merely different. Gothic is
the same way. It is simply a different way of perceiving and acting on the
world than most people are used to. That doesn't make it wrong, bad or evil,
only time involvement in Gothic culture could become a cause for concern is
if a person does not maintain balance in their lives. Excessive fixation on
anything is unhealthy. There are Goths who choose to wallow in misery, brood
over death, cut themselves, obsess about vampires, take things to extremes.
Those are the extremists however, not the average Goth. Teenagers who are
mentally or emotionally unstable or have serious problems should receive help.
These problems are most likely caused by a larger issue such as low self-esteem
or a poor family situation. It is essential to realize that anyone’s dangerous
involvement with drugs, depression or self-destruction requires help. However,
it is the harmful behavior that should be focused on, not the appearance,
musical taste, or social affiliation of the youth in question.
by Alicia Porter, Jan 1999
Amended slightly to stay up
to date, by Gothtec.