My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture, and things in the broader realm of the Gothic and darkly Romantic. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

Goth is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, the expression of that in Goth rock. It looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Siouxsie, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, et al) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. The Gothic should not be limited by what is already within it; inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Goth, Definitions and Inclusivity vs. Elitism

Today I ended up in a rather involved and passionate debate over what it takes to be a Goth.

The term Goth, or any other label, exists to summarise interests in terms of describing an aesthetic, a musical genre, and participation of a subculture.  In terms of the word 'Goth' describing a level of participation in the subculture, to me  there is a sort of Goth 'triumvirate' of aspects (I know that the word triumvirate refers usually to three leading people) - a Goth is someone that is interested in Goth music, admires the Goth aesthetic (including fashion) and has the broader mindset and lifestyle. A Goth is someone who is involved in all three aspects. Some believe that the term Goth can apply to someone who is involved in only two of  the three. I know that what does and does not constitute the music, lifestyle or aesthetic is up for enough debate, let alone the level of involvement it takes to call oneself a Goth, and that each Goth probably has their own standards, but that is the definition I use. 

What I actually want to talk about is not so much where to draw the line, but how that line is used in the subculture.

It seems that in attempts to be very inclusive of people with a variety of interests, all sorts of things that are not actually Goth, and sometimes not even alternative or dark, get lumped under the term, as do other subcultures such as Steampunk and Lolita. I have no problem with being accepting of people with interests in Goth and other subcultures, people who have hybrid subcultural affiliation, and other forms of subcultural and cultural cross-polination, but for the term Goth to remain a useful description, it needs to have some sort of definition. One does not need to say, for example "oh, Gothic Lolita is Goth" or some such in order to socially accept Gothic Lolitas. All that does is muddy the waters and make it more difficult for people to communicate their actual interest - the proliferation of terms has coincided with the proliferation of hybrid subcultures, new subcultures and    , with the rise of the internet, a globally connected alternative scene where people want to communicate with and connect to people with similar interests. If the term 'Goth' becomes too broad, it stops signifying a reasonable amount of potential interests and becomes vague. 

The biggest issue, though, is the imaginary correlation between Goth-ness and acceptance, and a concept that how Goth someone is equates to how cool, or how pretty, or how interesting, or how nice they are as a person or a whole load of other equally unrelated assumptions and non-existent relationships between terms.  If you accept or reject people purely on how close they stick to a label, then you are probably a very shallow person indeed - people are a lot more than the sum of their music collection,  clothes and interests. There is nothing wrong with being a metalhead that likes Goth fashion, or a Gothic Lolita that likes Goth music, and just using terms like those to describe it should not mean a lack of acceptance by the groups involved, but sadly it seems that some people feel that unless they are 'true Goths' they can't have acceptance, and equally, there are people who would have Goth as an isolated subculture exclusively for participation in by those who are, to them, 'true Goths'. Surely we should be open-minded and accepting enough for it not to matter how Goth someone is? 

There seems to be a confusion between the exclusivity inherent in a term that describe something - as for a term to be a valid description a word does have to exclude certain things,  for example the word purple does not mean pink, red or blue, it only means purple; pink and, red and blue not being purple doesn't make those other colours any less colourful, it just makes them not purple - and a sense of exclusivity in terms of a closed club for only certain people. People should be able to freely participate in the subculture at any level they choose, from an interest in only certain aspects of it, to living as a Goth for all 24 hours of every day, all seven days of every week and all 365 (or 366) days of every year, and do so without judgement. It is far more important for people to be true to themselves than it is for them to adhere to a label. Goth is not an exclusive club or a clique; it is a descriptive term; there is no value judgement to it. It is open to participation by anybody interested, and people can participate at a variety of different levels and contribute in a variety of ways. 

Acceptance of non-Goths with an interest in the subculture should not be a case of "You're not goth enough, but I still like you" as if whether or not liking someone has ANY RELEVANCE to how much they participate in the subculture, on what level, and in what manner. Those things ARE NOT RELATED, or at least should not be. It is creating some kind of relationship between acceptance and aesthetic/musical preference/lifestyle that I see as the problem. You can like someone who does not have all the exact same interests as you do, and you can despise someone who does - there are certainly people who share a huge amount of common interests with, but whom I cannot stand (and sometimes wish I could hit over the head with a sturdy cane...).

If it was not for the term 'Goth' being used for the purposes of creating social boundaries, we'd be discussing what musical techniques define the sound in musical terms, or what artistic movements have contributed and how the visual aesthetic can be described, or some such instead of discussing elitism and exclusivity. To me, Goth is something akin to Romanticism; a creative movement, something defined by a musical and visual aesthetic and way of looking at the world, and therefore, ultimately something like Romanticism or Impressionism. Nobody argues over whether the definitions of either are elitist (or at least not anywhere I come across) because as historical movements of times past, the terms mean little in terms of social inclusion or acceptance in the present day (says someone who calls herself a latter-day Romantic) and thus people feel much freer to define them by specific aesthetic, musical, literary and philosophical styles and differences. 

It is time that elitism within Goth dissipates, and that people feel free to clear about their interests, and to admit their extra-subcultural interests, or a desire not partake in certain aspects, without people judging them as somehow lesser for not being Goth enough. Such shallowness breeds a feeling that it is somehow  not right to explore or other paths, or to admit that for example, one likes the fashion but not the music. There is nothing inherently wrong in liking Goth fashion but preferring say, folk music. It might not be Goth music, but if the person is happy listening to it, then there is no issue. There is far more of an issue when people force themselves to adhere to a certain subculture against their own preferences in order to feel accepted. 


  1. Well said! But, sadly, elitism will never disappear. I heard someone one say, "As long as there are people who want to be the gothiest of the goths there will be elitists and elitism". This is particularly true not only for Goth but for pretty much every scene. Sadly, I've experienced that today's goth scene is primarily dictated by acceptance and conformity to the scenes standards. If you're accepted by the locals you're Goth. If not, you're shunned. I don't mind there being boundaries on Goth. But, I've seen that a lot of the requirements people put on being Goth are often contradictory and primarily change according to maintaining a feeling of exclusivity. It's one of the reasons I have started to distance myself from the scene. One of the former Goth bloggers named, "Professor Gothique" talked about moving on from Goth. In which she said she felt alienated by the scene. I can totally relate. Lucy Furre, the creator of the Goths of Color website, moved on from Goth because of the same thing. When I was young I didn't understand this. But, now that I've experienced first hand what she talked about I can completely understand her reasons.

    In theory the ideal of scenes being a place to meet like minded people is a good thing that seems doable. But, when you put people in the mix (and the more people you put in the mix) it soon becomes an "in group-out group" situation that often doesn't revolve around what it originally was intended for.

    Now, I understand not all in the scene are like this. And, that people like you are doing a good work trying to change things like this. But, I've gotten really exhausted calling out elitism (which has resulted often in passive aggressive backlash and being shunned for daring to stand up against elitism) and trying to make changes in a scene that seems like it won't change.

    I read zines from punks who had similar feelings. It made me feel a little better knowing that I'm not crazy in all this. Haha. :)

    Good luck to you though! Keep up the good work. :D

    1. I am just going to keep plugging away, and repeating myself until the message starts to sink in. I try to lead by example, but I'm hardly the centre of the local scene (nor would I want there responsibility of being that one person that seems to organise all the events!) and I'm not really sure anyone looks up to me! :P

  2. Not a bad rant for you but basically as a species the human race needs to learn to accept people for who they are warts and all unfortunately the human race ain't that bright

    1. Oh, it's not a case of stupidity, more one of over-complicating the world needlessly. It is, after all, a very simple concept.

  3. Here's something that I find interesting: There is a couple who live nearby that I always look forward to seeing. She identifies as Goth and is viewed that way by everybody who knows her--and with good reason! Musically however, she's all about metal. On the other hand, I consider her husband a metalhead and I do this without giving the matter a second thought. So why do I understand her to be Goth and him a metalhead when they both love metal? Labeling gets complicated sometimes.

    All I know is, I know a Goth when I see one. That's good enough for me.

    1. Can she not be both? Or be a metalhead that loves Goth culture?

  4. I really identify with this post-- because of my music affiliations. They are by no means the definition of goth but I don't think that should mean I'm less goth than anyone else because I choose to listen to New Age and Jazz lol.

    I was about ready to post something similar but you definitely beat me to that punch, since I agree that the definition of goth is becoming a little too vague and too broad.

    1. If you want to write about something similar, go ahead; you're bound to pick up on something I haven't said, and you inherently will write about things from your own perspective.

      I listen to as much 'classical' (technically a variety of periods, but generally what is referred to as 'classical') music as I do Goth and I think it's certainly possible to like more than one genre of music! People who say you have to /only/ listen to Goth music, and no other music as well, are terribly narrow in my opinion (and I'm fairly narrow!).


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