Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Myth: Goths are obsessed with being 'individual' but they all look the same

It is perfectly true that to a large proportion of the Goth population, individuality is important. There are, of course, plenty of alterna-teens and babygoths who set themselves apart from the mainstream because it's what all their friends are doing, but most Goths and other alternatives, if pressed, would tell you that they prefer to identify with a culture that allows them freedom of expression, creativity in both thought and fashion, and celebrates the odd little quirks (an obsession with reading, a preference for dark or morbid art) that those in mainstream society would turn up their noses at.

Within most alternative subcultures, whilst there may be basic guidelines for dress and music (usually to give visual signifiers to other members of the scene that you are 'one of them', and to give the group common ground), it is usually highly encouraged to think outside the box, fashion-wise; taking the basic, obvious style signifiers of your chosen scene and creating from it something new, inventive and daring.

However these basic similarities in dress (e.g. black clothing) and shared music tastes have often led 'outsiders' to think that Goths, who both infamously and stereotypically like to consider themselves non-conformists, really all look the same.

The fact is that the Goth subculture is built on shared tastes and interests. It would be extremely difficult to form a cohesive community from a bunch of people who had little to nothing in common. A subculture cannot form from nothing. So, of course, if you are attracted to the Goth subculture it's obvious that you're likely to have some interests in common with a whole lot of other Goths, whether it be an appreciation of what has become well known as 'Goth style', a fondness for melancholy music in a minor key or a strongly held curiosity about Victorian funeral customs.

When Goths talk about being 'individualists' or 'non-conformists', they probably aren't trying to convince you that each and every black-clad person is a unique dark snowflake who is soooo more original than the next stompy-boot-wearing, clove-smoking kid holding an Anne Rice novel. I would hope that most of us are self-aware enough to realise that choosing to become part of a subculture with a strong sense of shared visual aesthetics and an associated genre of music - essentially, working from the same basic template as every other Goth - means you can't really claim to be one hundred per cent original.

Goths don't generally dress in black and congregate together to show how different they are than everybody else. Rather, they may do so to celebrate the things they have in common with other members of the group.

When Goths refer to themselves as non-conformists, it's quite likely that, rather than trying to earnestly show that they are sooo unique despite belonging to a large group of people with essentially the same interests, they are instead referencing how different the worldview and values within that group can be from those commonly held by mainstream society.

To give a few examples:
  • Followers of mainstream fashion like to follow trends and be seen wearing styles or garments that are currently popular. Goths prefer to source things that are rare, vintage or custom-made and with strong emphasis on personal preferences rather than following the whims of the fashion industry or what is currently 'acceptable'.
  • In mainstream society, pasttimes such as reading, sewing and writing are often considered 'nerdy'. Amongst Goths, such things are not only the norm but are celebrated and encouraged.
  • Goths have a tendency to enjoy and actively seek out things which are considered odd, dark, disturbing or even taboo amongst mainstream society; funereal clothing, the occult, melancholic music and even fetishes are all things which are openly explored and discussed in Goth subculture.
Yes, Goths do generally hold a particular fashion aesthetic in common, but Goth is a creative movement, and its members pride themselves on being inventive and artistic with regards to both what they do (for example writing, art or music) and how they dress. To an outsider, Goths may simply look like 'people in black clothes', but there are hundreds of variations upon the basic style 'guidelines' for budding Goths, with each enthusiast giving their look a personal twist, often with staggering care and attention to detail.

A reader here recently described the music as the 'backbone' of Goth culture (and added, very accurately, "Mindset & interests are a given, as why would anyone not interested in goth be drawn to it?"). Whilst the myriad arguments on what music is and isn't Goth, etc., might give some the impression that there is a 'to be a non-conformist you must listen to exactly the same music we do' attitude within the community, I'd like to refer to my above point that a subculture cannot form around nothing. Goth music is a 'rallying point' and shared interest for those in the community, less obvious than the fashion style and therefore less easily co-opted by mainstreamers jumping on the latest black-tinged bandwagon.

An oft-quoted definition of Goths is that they seek beauty in dark places or where others would shun it. This is, by and large, the main basis on which Goths declare their community to be non-conformist - their worldview chooses to explore and embrace the dark and the unknown, which the majority of mainstream society would write off as simply 'weird'. Thereby they set themselves apart from mainstream society and its values, and celebrate instead the interests and aesthetics they have in common with those who share the same outlook.

Being a Goth means - to a certain extent - unity, with those who proudly share a similar outlook and common tastes; and non-conformity, through choosing to reject the popular or prevailing tastes and values of a society that prefers not to explore what it does not understand.


Phoenix said...

Great post, brilliantly written!

Amy Asphodel said...

Why, thank you *takes a bow* :-D

Abigail said...

I can totally agree with Phoenix!

Anonymous said...

Brava! Brava! My dear, this is a fabulous and well-written description! HUZZAH!

Anonymous said...

I'm proud of you writing this article. It is very true that Goth is creative and individualistic and is a value of importance to the scene. If we weren't creative then, how would we evolve and create something unique and new to the scene? I also like the points stating the differences of Goth and the Mainstream.
Just well written, deep and informative. I also highly recommend this to read. A+

Anonymous said...

The problem lies when goth "evolves" too much; it's becoming something so different than what it was for those of us who were around 25+ years ago. Again, why continue calling it goth? Why not dig into that creativity and call it by another name?

Kirsten said...

i love this post, and think a lot of people could benefit from reading it :)

akumaxkami said...

"Again, why continue calling it goth? Why not dig into that creativity and call it by another name?"

Why do we still refer to Rock music when the current incarnation is nothing like the Rock music of the 50s and 60s? Why do we still call computers by that term when that's rarely what we actually use them for? ^_~

Words tend to stay the same. It's the definition that changes.

Nightwind said...

Very good article Amy--and well written! I agree with you 100 percent.

Anonymous said...

First of all, rock is not a subculture in the same way as goth. Rock was part of mainstream culture in the 60s & 70s. Also, what defined rock then, still defines rock now. Second, while there was an alternative scene back then, they were referred to as "experimental", as in they *separated* from the previously established genre.

As for computers, that is comparing apples to shoes; there is no correlation.

Also, definitions don't change. An apple is an apple, a hat is a hat, etc. You can call an apple a balloon, but that doesn't make it not inherently an apple, unless you get everyone else to call it a balloon; in other words, a definition must be universal.

Nightwind said...

Hmm...I think I'm going to respectfully disagree with you Anonymous. You stated that what defined rock music back in the 60s and 70s still defines rock music now. To an extent that's true, but rock music has really evolved in various directions since its inception.

A comparison of the rock n' roll of the 50s to the rock of the 60s shows that the music changed considerably. Now compare Jimi Hendrix or the Doors to the Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie and the Banshees or London After Midnight. The latter Goth bands show just how much rock music has changed, but there is one constant; all are still identifiable as some form of rock.

I feel the same way about Goth. It will always be identifiable as a subculture due to certain constants, but like all things in this world, it's going to evolve. The alternative to evolution is stagnation, which in my opinion, would bring a quick end to the subculture.

Anyway, that's just my opinion on the matter.

Anonymous said...

The issue has nothing to do with evolution; in fact, rock music can be traced, at least in part, all the way back to traditional Irish folk music. The point I want to make is that *new* things evolve out of something already established.

I saw a documentary about 6 or 7 years ago that set out to prove every living creature evolved from the same lobster-like creature, but how many millions of *different* species do we have now? Yes, some species have some things in common, and there is some crossover, but an elephant is still not a dog, nor is a parrot a cat.

Nocturne said...

Oh wow, Amy! Beautiful job typing this entry! You helped me realize a part of myself. While reading the part about exploring and embracing darker things (for me it's Nocturnal Witchcraft, collecting coffin shaped boxes, plush bats, etc.) and dark art (for me it's Black Metal album artwork, photos of spirits in cemeteries at Night, etc.) and disapproving of mainstream society's views I realized that I've been this way for a long time.
I also felt as if I was insane because of how others reacted to the way I am, naturally. When I read this I realized that I'm not insane-I'm me!
I feel as if the "am I really going through a phase???" weight has been lifted from my shoulders! Thankyou Amy!

Anonymous said...

Because, there's no point.
As much as it has evolved, as different as it is from 25+ years ago, it is STILL goth.

That's like changing the name if a country or band because it's not the same country or band anymore, but at the same time it still is.

EVERYTHING is CONSTANTLY evolving. If we were to give it a new name, we'd have to come up with another one all over again in the next 4 years

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