Goth without the Music? Whatever

I don’t write much about labels or who qualifies as goth. Out of more than 60 posts so far, I’ve written maybe two on the subject. I see my blog as a scrapbook or a cabinet of curiosities, so most of my posts are about what I find beautiful and interesting. I don’t worry too much whether those things are goth or merely ‘darkly inclined.’ I don’t worry whether I’m a ‘proper goth’ or merely a goth-adjacent horror geek, and I’m way too old to let other people tell me whether I’m goth enough. I’m happy enough lumping it all together and I’m mostly content to let others do the same.

the-cure-robert-smithThere’s this idea out there that being ‘goth’ is better than being ‘darkly inclined.’ As if anyone can be darkly inclined, but being truly goth is more exclusive than that. It’s ironic, because I find the ‘darkly inclined’ to be more flexible in their interests and curious about new things than the people who worry about who’s goth or not.

That said, I think it’s weird when people who like no goth music at all want to call themselves goth. A large number of goths still like goth and darkwave and such, and still use the label to find others who like the same music, being ‘goth without the music’ gets in the way of that. You can still type ‘goth’ into instagram for fashion purposes without actually calling yourself a goth, so why not leave the label for the music lovers?*

unknown pleasuresOr better yet, give the music a chance. Be curious about new things and flexible in your interests. Back in the day you either had to know an obsessive fan or shell out money for actual cassettes or CDs, but today it costs no money and just a few minutes to try out all sorts of goth music. If you can’t be bothered to do that, you’re boring and I’d rather not know you.

To be fair, I’m equally bored by ‘gother than thou’ types who peaked in the late ’80s or ’90s (or last year, or whenever) and haven’t tried anything new since. As if trying new things will ruin their eldergoth reputation or something. It doesn’t hurt to be curious about new things and flexible in your interests. You might find a new twist on an old favorite.¬†sisters of mercy

It’s all been said before and will all be said again, and this is why I don’t write about it. I mostly mention it now to encourage everyone to just be curious and try new things. (Did you get that theme? ūüėČ ) Precious few of us are interested in dark things already. I just want us all to feel free to express ourselves and find each other. Don’t just be goth, or just darkly inclined. Be interesting.

*Gothic Soul Flower had some great things to say about this on YouTube. I agree that the music makes more space for people who don’t look like Instagram perfect goth stereotypes.¬†

Fashion is a Vampire

Goth isn’t fully goth without the fashion. Fashion is what separates goths from vampire lovers and Victoriana nerds with great taste in music.¬†Clothing and makeup are often seen as shallow or silly things to care about, and alternative styles are often ridiculed as being all about “shocking people” or “just wanting attention,” but clothing and makeup are also great ways to express your creativity and find people who might share your deeper interests. Gothing up your personal style is a great way of finding out who around you might share your interests and keeping away the kind of boring, closed-minded people you’d rather not deal with.

A lot of people dial their personal style up and down according to what they’re doing (work? play? meeting new people? seeing old friends?) and who they’re with, and a lot of people are looking for their own balance between standing out and blending in. Goths are no exception, but I think goth style goes farther than that. Not to get all pretentious here, but goth fashion is also commenting on society. In my mind, at least, dressing goth says three basic things.

First, modern consumer society likes to pretend that weird and sad and painful things can and should be somehow done away with. I think (and this seems like a fairly standard goth attitude) that those things should be understood and embraced instead of swept under the rug. Dressing “like you’re going to a funeral” is a subtle but insistent reminder to the world that darkness will always be with us, no matter how much you want to pretend otherwise.

Second, goth is often a very feminine style full of rich textures and lovely jewelry and elaborate hair and makeup. But it’s very different from the soft and pliant “traditional” femininity I grew up with. It’s a very dominant and powerful sort of feminine energy. Goth fashion for men is laced with “feminine” sensual elements as well. Goth is almost the only subculture I can think of that plays up this kind of energy for all genders and I would love to see elements of it catch on with a wider range of people.

The last statement goth makes in my mind is also the most basic and general. To my mind, style should be about what an individual likes and feels good in. I feel good in black. I like skulls and blood. It shouldn’t matter whether some magazine thinks I look good in black or what some celebrity ¬†wears or doesn’t wear. I don’t care about getting attention and I’m not interested in shock value, but I’m stubborn about my right to like what I like and wear what I want to wear.

And that brings us to what frustrates me about fashion, goth fashion included. Fashion can be such a great tool for expressing yourself, saying something to the world, finding your people, having fun and feeling good. Fashion is an art, and it takes talent and time and skill to be really good at it. And yet, sometimes it’s exactly as shallow and silly and conformist as critics say it is. Goth fashion is no exception to this. Buying status brands, whether it’s Chanel or Hellbunny or whatever is hot in your circle, is a poor substitute for creativity. Glorifying a certain (tall, thin) body type doesn’t exactly celebrate individuality and self-expression. Judging people’s gothiness based on looks alone is just . . . ironic. A subculture that gets so much judgment from mainstream folks ought not be replicating that awful system. If we bring that kind of bullshit into alternative fashion, well, that ain’t much of an alternative. And that would be a shame.


Little Black Boxes: Who Gets to be a Goth?

Calling yourself goth often comes with a lot of pressure to be all goth all the time in every way, and my interests go way beyond that. I love horror and gothic lit and black clothes, I like Tones on Tail and Sisters of Mercy, I have a taxidermy bat on a shelf in my living room. I like all of that, but I also like popular science and history, The Blues Brothers, cooking, and taking my kids swimming on a hot summer day. Oh, and that “Try Everything” song from Zootopia. Makes me all optimistic.

I feel goth enough to be goth, but that’s not all I am by a long shot. Continue reading “Little Black Boxes: Who Gets to be a Goth?”