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. 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.

The Gothic subculture 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, and 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 (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice 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. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Goth Is Not A 'Hipster' Subculture

I guess this was inevitable with how 'hipster' has become the quirky edge of the mainstream, and how elements of the Goth and Punk aesthetics have been taken up again as visual short-hand for "rebellious" or "edgy", but there are now people who seem to be treating Goth itself as if it is some form of hipsterism. I guess it is because those who appropriate Goth aesthetics and those who are actually Goth are not very visually distinct, combined with how there's an overlap between teenagers using Goth as a means to rebel and be "different" and unique and slightly older hipsters using all sorts of other things for the same ends. 

Aside: I'm not going to say that "Nu-Goth" or "Pastel Goth" are inherently 'hipster', because those things are aesthetics, and many of the people participating in those aesthetics do have a solid grasp on the actual Goth subculture, and are hybridising it rather than just co-opting Goth for a trend. 

Hipsters are apparently people who skim elements from other cultures, who as it was eloquently said on the PBS Ideas Chanel video on Youtube about hipsters, "hipsters enjoy things ironically, and not effusively" that they,"adopt the styles and affects of many cultures, cultures that aren't "theirs", that they don't actually belong to".  Hipsters are inherently appropriative; they seek the cultural capital of other groups, the "authenticity" as a means to make themselves seem more unique, quirky, individual, etc. Hipsters seem to try to buy individuality.

I think this is one of the reasons there has been such a huge outcry over cultural appropriation recently - it is even more infuriating to have people using the trappings of your culture for such purposes if you are part of a minority living in America, Australia, parts of Europe, etc. and have been on the receiving end of discrimination and prejudice because of that culture (or subculture), some of that institutionalised, and now that sort of appropriative outlook has become much more mainstream, whereas 5 to 10 years ago, trends (from what I saw, at least) were a lot more of what Hipsters would call mainstream, and using elements from 'Ethnic' things was seen as a bit "hippie" and weird. 

The Goth aesthetic might have its roots in plenty of pre-existing things (like all art movements) but instead of divorcing meaning, it is primarily built around meaning; ripped fishnets may look nice, but they also connect back to the Punk scene and the early days of Goth and Deathrock, pentagrams are often worn by either practising Pagans or at least people who know of both what they represent in terms of modern-day Neo-Pagan and occult circles and their historical significance, and a lot of avid corset-wearers can tell you more than you thought there was to know about corset history, tight-lacing, boning types, and for the uninitiated, the difference between an under-bust and a waspie... 

Each facet of the Goth aesthetic has behind it a string of connections and interconnections that we, for the most part, understand and care about. It is what ties our aesthetic to the air of morbid curiosity and appreciation for the darker things in life. We don't just look a bit like vampires, a lot of us are very well versed on vampire lore and fiction (for the most part though, WE DON'T THINK WE'RE REALLY VAMPIRES) and there's a reason why raven and bat skulls are more popular than other animal skulls, etc. There's a strong connection to the context, symbolism, inspiration and, for lack of a better term "art history" of our cultural capital. Part of what makes our subculture the way it is that most of us have an interest in that subcultural "art history"; most of us are actively interested in learning about what is behind what we wear, the music, the books, etc. 

I'm not going to say that Goth is not pretentious, as Goth, especially Romantic Goth is inherently a bit pretentious - we KNOW there is a discord between dressing like a vampiric European noble, acting anachronistically and living in the modern world. Some of that is escapism, some of that is a gilded view of the past based in a yearning for a world where doing the old-fashioned things we like in our context is a bit more acceptable, but a lot of that is genuine appreciation and enjoyment of the things we do. It might be pretentious, but at least it is an honest representation of ourselves and our passions; we're aware of those pretensions and take them with humour. 

5 comments:

  1. It's interesting to see how goth and hipster collide (to be honest, a lot of the more interesting takes on goth by hipsters/fashion inspire me), but you have definitely hit the nail on the head with regards to the trend/lifestyle dichotomy; goths tend to foster a lot of meaning behind things and build a culture around fashion that doesn't change, whereas hipsters borrow aspects they like to create a look as a whole.

    I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with taking inspiration from other cultures/subcultures, but I absolutely despise cultural appropriation - it's a disgusting thing, and completely ignores the history and cultural significance of items from oppressed groups (which I suppose you could argue goth is, but it would be distasteful to compare the relatively privileged gothic subculture to the historically marginalized and currently very much disadvantaged groups such as Native Americans).

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    1. The main good thing about taking inspiration from many sources is that a lot of original combinations arise. The bad thing is when it becomes blatant copying and cultural appropriation.

      I think there are are parallels between what happens to subcultures and ethnic minorities, but that the main difference is sheer scale and history. Goths as a subculture have never been subjected to slavery or genocide, there has never been such a pervasive and vast scale of oppression, and I think it is definitely distasteful to /equate/ them, because of the vast differences in scale of suffering. I only know of one person in the UK murdered for being Goth, and a lot more people who were murdered for the colour of their skin or their religion. We do face or share of prejudice - we do run the risk of getting bullied at school, beaten up by strangers, fired from our jobs and being ostracised by our families for being part of our subculture. Sometimes institutionalised prejudice, - I remember reading a submission to Gothic Charm School from a young lady in a psychiatric ward where her medical team were trying to separate her from everything Goth, and many anecdotes of what happened to Goths in High Schools across America after the Columbine shooting, and of councils across the UK trying to deal with the percieved blight of Goths congregating in their towns - but I can only think of Russia as a place where we have been possibly legislated against.

      I don't think Goths are inherently privileged - I think that a lot of Goths come from white, middle-class, educated backgrounds, and have privilege from that, but there's a lot of Goths who come from less privileged backgrounds, or who while they might be white or middle-class, or both, still suffer from homophobia, transphobia or ableism. As a group, whether or not Goths have any privilege is hugely contextual, and experience is going to vary radically based on what sort of community you live in, even within the same city. To be fair, experiences vary vastly within any group, too.

      An interesting - and in many ways a very sad - fact is that there may actually now be more Goths in the world than there are Native Americans raised within their culture.

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  3. Hmm...Perhaps the word hipster has slightly different meanings in our respective countries, but I have to say that I don't entirely agree with you; even though your post is well thought out.

    My small city is sort of a haven for many alternative types of people in a geographic region that is not generally known for celebrating diversity. There are people here that are influenced by Rastafarian as well as Native American culture and Eastern Spiritual traditions. We have hippies, a few leftovers from what was once a thriving punk scene, metalheads and an active goth scene.

    The folks who incorporate Native American or Rastafarian styles into their appearance are often very much in tune with what their ornaments or style of dress represent. For them, it's not just a borrowing from a culture they were not born into. It's part and parcel with who they are.

    Are these people hipsters? I suppose that depends upon how you define the term, but I would certainly define them as such. They seem to live outside the mainstream just as much as we do. And even though they're not goth, there is a certain acknowledgement and respectful interaction that passes between us when walking down the street or meeting unexpectedly. It's a friendly recognition that the other person dares to be different, even when not of the same subculture.

    Then again, I've heard other local goths talk about hipsters as though they're just mainstream people trying to be cool. So, I'm willing to entertain the possibility that you and I might define the term hipster in entirely different ways.

    As always, I enjoyed your post. You always manage to get us thinking.

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    1. I think there's probably a different definition going on, as I don't think just "borrows from, or is interested in, other cultures" is the definition of a hipster, more the attitude of borrowing things to be cool, as part of a transient trend, etc. Hippies tend to incorporate stuff from other cultures, but they tend to (sometimes rather inaccurately) understand the meaning and context behind it. Hippies tend to want to genuinely see thrings from many different cultural perspectives, whereas hipsters just want to look worldly.

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