Friday, 13 July 2012

Siouxsie Sioux and the 'Goth' label

I wasn't sure what topic to blog about today, so I decided that the best course of action would probably be to go back to basics; big hair, a whole lotta eye make-up, and enough girl power to make that brat Emily Strange go cower in a corner... I'm talking, of course, about Siouxsie Sioux. I was originally intending to write a sort of bio post-slash-omg what an inspiration she is post, but as I began to write it I thought about this:

For a woman who remains an icon and an inspiration to so many Goth girls, Siouxsie herself has always remained ambivalent, at best, about the subculture. This used to seem slightly off to me, coming as it did from someone who described their earliest memory as "lying on the kitchen floor pretending to be dead," but now I think about it further it reminds me of Goths from the 70s and 80s who no longer use the term because they prefer not to be associated with modern mutations and interpretations of Goth and dark culture (and people who use words like 'ooky-spooky'. Ahem.).

A lot of older Goths get very defensive about us younger ones faffing and flailing about in the subculture nowadays. Many people get annoyed about this behaviour and it's easy to dismiss it as elitism - well, in some cases it might well be exactly that. But tea etiquette, synthesizers, Monster High dolls and many of the other things currently embraced by a large number of those who consider themselves part of dark culture were not even close to being related to the Goth scene 'back in the day'.

I used to get pretty offended by older Goths who didn't want to accept Cruxshadows fans (for example) as 'real Goths'. But getting on my soap box and insisting to these people that they should let the subculture GROW and CHANGE, dammit, is not only kind of rude (especially since we then turn around and complain at the hipster Goths and the pastel Goths for appropriating the 'Goth' term and doing their own thing with it... oh, the hypocrisy *facepalm*), but pretty pointless.

Essentially, a lot of things that are dark, or creepy, or morbid, or, yeah, spooky, are not Goth, because they in no way are associated with the original roots of the Goth subculture. (As mentioned before, this is not a 'Goth' blog, despite the URL; for an explanation see here and/or here.) I'm sure that quite a few of us dark culture 'newbies' are fairly aware of what is and isn't specifically Goth, and some of us would be happier to use a more appropriate term to describe our more far-reaching collection of interests, if and when one should evolve.

In fact, Siouxsie herself said, "So of course I found that Goth tag very limiting, and rightly so, so I didn't go along with it. Why would I go along with having two arms and a leg cut off?" I love this quote because, as much as I adore many aspects of Goth culture, I am not a 'real Goth'. It's nice to be reminded that, even though some older Goths are not inclined to be accepting towards the newer generations taking inspiration and influence from their subculture without ticking every box of what a proper Goth should be, acceptance is not actually necessary to enjoy the elements of 'genuine' Goth culture - the fashion, or the music - which are of interest.

In other words, if you find the rigidities of the strict definition of Goth culture limiting, there is no reason why you have to use the Goth label for your interests and style. As a form of social shorthand it may stick (no matter what I may listen to or whether or not I backcomb my hair, my preference for black clothing does lead to me being referred to as 'that Goth girl') but that doesn't mean it actually defines the majority of your interests accurately.
On the other hand, if you are a true blue Proper Goth, that doesn't mean you're doing something wrong if that's what works for you. Don't get me wrong - the simple and basic definition of Goth (e.g., how it was in the 80s) does not feel limiting at all to a lot of people; that doesn't mean they need to 'think outside the box' or 'be more open-minded', it means they are who they are and they like what they like, just like anybody else.

For further thoughts on the subject, there is a wonderful post on Domesticated ("The new influences do not dilute the subculture, they prevent ideological inbreeding - imagine Goth like a group of wild animal; if it stayed within its own gene-pool it would become inbred and sickly rather than reinforced, but if it mingles and breeds with compatible groups, it grows stronger."), or for a variety of views I found a *gulp* 'So what is Goth?' thread, here ("I've always wondered what those of us who do like horror, spooky things, dark fashion, surrounding ourselves with trappings of the dead, but who do not listen to goth music should call ourselves. Such a term does not exist, as far as we know. In fact, the closest thing that fits is, indeed, "goth", but we're missing the music component. Any (serious) suggestions as to what we could call ourselves, then? If all that separates us is a musical genre, is there really that big of a difference after all?" "Do you really need to be called anything? If someone asks if you are a goth, say no. If they ask what you are, you are a human being. Or a Toaster, or a microbe. The "label" isn't vastly important as such, it simply makes things easier for other people when they wonder "what" you are.")


Eric said...

If you take the time to deny that you're goth, then that means you ARE goth!


Amy Asphodel said...

There is no escape... ;-D

Anonymous said...

i have never known any elitist goth types, everyone i know who identified as goth used the term quite generally. So i was quite surprised when i started to get into the subculture online. That said i do love Siouxsie Sioux. Great music <3

Lady Bethezda @ Bethezdas Preoccupations said...

great post and I love Eric's comment above. LOL. So true.

Shannon Rutherford said...

I've been following your blog for a while, now that I have a blogger account I finally get to leave you a comment :D
I agree with your post. Though people always mistake me for a goth because I wear combats or corsets and I'm always wrapped in black fabric I would never call myself a goth, because by "goth" I mean 80s goth, like, as you properly mentioned, Siouxsie Sioux. I wear too much frilly and lacey stuff to be put in her same subculture XD
I'd almost forgotten: you have a very nice blog, I really like your outfits and the contents are always very interesting. ;) It's definitely one of my favourites!

CherryPie Suicide said...

I came across this Tumblr post, I believe on Darling Violetta's blog:

I don't think True Goth can really be limited to the 80's youth subculture, because that was just a way to bring together a group of people that were interested in the many things dark and romantic that existed and piqued certain interest long before youth cultures actually began forming.

Anyways, if you haven't read it already, that Tumblr post makes a whooooole shitload of sense more than what is truly Goff and what isn't :3

Mrs. Katie said...

I love Siouxsie! When I was 12 I wanted to BE her. My mom wouldn't let me wear Siouxsie makeup, so I sneaked eyeliner to school and put it on in the bathroom, attempting to make myself look like her -- eyeliner on the eyes, lips, eyebrows.... I'm sure I was a sight. The fact that she sees the goth label as limiting makes her even more awesome, because she's right.

EpagomenalMotif said...

"If you take the time to deny that you're goth, then that means you ARE goth!"

this was a good post, gothguide

Anonymous said...


As an older "goth" I started to stop calling myself goth because today's subculture just doesn't describe what I knew as goth. I feel alienated from it instead of embraced by it, and therefore started to move away from it as a whole. The nail in the coffin was at a recent show -- I looked around and thought, "Gee, these aren't my people. This is goth?" Deep down inside I will always be an old goth, but these days I just classify myself as a punk rocker with a spooky bent.

I actually stopped posting on my blog Le Professeur Gothique for exactly this reason (see my recent posts for more information), and moved over to a new venture called The Dancing Maenad ( Goth music, like punk rock music, will always be at my core. However, getting rid of the label "GOTH" has given me more freedom to truly become more whole. I do what I want ... hell, I even wore a pink polka dot retro camp shirt yesterday!

Change is good and inevitable, forgetting one's roots, or that there are actually roots to a subculture, isn't good.

Thanks for posting this!

Mira said...

I don't really see the point in being apologetic about using the goth label, since it's always been so nebulous. Sure, some use it who have no idea about its roots or what it means, but since what counts as goth rock is so hard to define, I don't see the point in not allowing young people who know and appreciate tradgoth as well as Cruxshadows to use the label. The label itself was invented to describe the fans, not the music, anyway.

PonPon said...

I'm not an "old goth" but I've always felt that goth started as a rebellious thing,with an "I'll do whatever I want, I don't care what others think" attitude. Going against the idea that everyone is/should be happy all the time. Why does it matter so much what is and isn't goth? We're so worried about fitting into our own subculture, have we lost the "who cares about what others think" attitude?

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I also find this helpful and cleverly intelligent to read. :)

Darling Violetta said...

Very good post as usual Amy! Except for one thing. Synthesizers were widely used in 80's goth music. Listen to Xymox's "A Day". That song is one big WALL of synth.

"but now I think about it further it reminds me of Goths from the 70s and 80s who no longer use the term because they prefer not to be associated with modern mutations and interpretations of Goth and dark culture (and people who use words like 'ooky-spooky'. Ahem.)"

I've seen that happen in every subculture. There were a lot of Hip Hop kids from the original scene that left once gangster rap and southern rap was on the rise. When you compare Westside Connection and Dungeon Family to Afrika Bambaata I can definitely see why. I heard one old schooler say he couldn't relate to modern rap because it's too angry. Actually early Hip Hop kids looked a lot like punks (shocking compared to their fashions now). Check out the movie "Breakin'" and you'll see what I mean. Even compare early punk bands like the Ramones to stuff like Madball, Napalm Death, or even Witchunt and you'll be surprised at how different they are. Also consider the time in punk where men like Adam Ant and Dave Vanian could wear loads of makeup on stage. I don't think today's punk scene (especially the hardcore scene) would be as accepting of something like that. Not to mention, I don't think the "lacy-elegant vampire-aesthetic" would fit with the heavy sounds of crust, tough guy hardcore, or grindcore. It's one of the reasons Davey Havok from AFI decided to veer the band's sound away from strictly Angry Samoans sounding hardcore punk. He says he tried wearing Rozz Williams-esque makeup on stage back in the days of their early albums. But, he said it didn't fit (and he probably got some flack for it since even Henry Rollins said he got flack from other punks for simply growing his hair long).

Change in inevitable. The good part is that these scenes will always be around for the next generation to relate to and enjoy. And maybe some kid will find some meaningful music, experiences, and friendships because of it. The downside is that you and I may get to the point where we can't relate to it anymore. Well, that is just one possibility considering people like Jillian Venters and Queenie of Pocket Full of Posiez who are just as delighted by Bauhaus as they are by Monster High Dolls, Cruxshadows, and Emilie Autumn. Either way, it's all GOOD, since it's all about what makes someone happy. :)

Darling Violetta said...

You should watch TheAlternativeDrug's video on Youtube titled, "Why Be Alternative?". She shares a lot of the same sentiments you put here. She's SO lovely! :)

App'y said...

Oh dear, just when I was about to start a series of posts about Gothic Plants

akumaxkami said...

Hmm, an alternative label to Goth?

I've taken to calling myself a "Darkling". It makes me sound like some evil minion to the Lord and Lady of all things spooky but cute.

I still do like a lot of traditionally "Goth" music and such, but since that's not all that defines me, I also find the term a bit limiting.

Amy Asphodel said...

akumaxkami - do you know, I like that a lot :-)

Nyx Shadowhawk said...

I've struggled with this, too. I have never liked music in the supposed "gothic" genre (or any rock/punk/metal music, with the possible exception of symphonic metal). I prefer music by artists such as Nox Arcana and Adrian von Ziegler. I appreciate dark aesthetics. Some people will not consider me goth because I don't like the music; others will consider me a romantigoth or something similar. I don't care what people call me. I personally call myself a Shadow!

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