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..

Monday, 25 August 2014

Politeness And Goth Part 1: Why Be Polite?

In many ways, I feel like I shouldn't have to write this, and that everyone should be polite and well-mannered anyway, but the world doesn't work like that, sadly. A lot of rudeness gets directed at us Goths by people who are prejudiced, judgemental, and ignorant of who we are, but sometimes we Goths don't act politely either. 

I know that Goth, as an offshoot of Punk, has its roots in a subculture that used profanity, rudeness and shock tactics as means of political and societal protest, but Goth was a departure from Punk, and most of us are not engaged in a countercultural protest, in fact quite a few of us, myself included, are quite keen to point that our dress and lifestyle is not an act of deliberate rebellion, that we aren't trying to be some sort of non-conformists, or acting like this for any kind of audience or attention, but rather that we are just have a different set of tastes and values than the mainstream. 

Anyway, when wider society has a negative opinion of us anyway, confirming that opinion by acting rudely does not really shock; it is far more unsettling for us to be pleasant, nice people because then that forces them to confront that their pre-conception was wrong, and depending on what sort of framework of notions about the world that this pre-conception rested on, forces them to confront to some degree the under-pinning ideas. Jillian Venters of the amazing ::Gothic Charm School:: calls this concept 'subversion by politeness' and it was reading her articles that gave me something to coalesce my own ideas about this topic. 

If you go out dressed visibly Goth, then people will, on some level, see you as representative of the subculture as a whole. If they associated Goth-looking (and most mainstream people can only do a best-guess at subcultures from appearance) people with rudeness and anti-social behaviour, then it will reflect badly on the rest of us, even those that are not involved - also, people tend to assume that all local Goths know each other (I very frequently get strangers ask me if I know someone specific because that person is also Goth... I'm pretty well connected to the local subculture, but I don't know every Goth between Fort William and Aberdeen!) and therefore if you do something that upsets people, that can have repercussions on other local Goths, or if over the internet, Goths in general. 

Being a polite can genuinely change people's perceptions of Goths, or at least the individual being polite. A while ago, before I moved to Scotland, I used to frequent a little cafe with Raven. I went there more than he did, because it was where I was living at the time, and he was still living in a different country! Anyway, we'd still go there whenever he came to visit, and I would go there in-between times for take-away hot drinks and rather yummy cakes. Initially the owner was a bit afraid of me; she saw someone who looked spooky, with a coffin-shaped hand-bag (apparently that was particularly spooky) and all the anachronistic fashion I usually wear, but then, because I was always friendly, polite and cheerful, she realised that I wasn't a scary person after all, just a spooky-looking eccentric, and neither was Raven. Raven and I made it a tradition that on the last day of his visits to me, we would go there for afternoon tea, complete with cakes, etc. and with regular custom began to build something of a rapport with the staff. I think this is part of why people like Jillian Venters of Gothic Charm School and I want to encourage good manners so much; when people assume the worst of you on sight, you have make it very obvious that the worst isn't true, and it can change people's minds about old assumptions. 

If it is likely that people assume the worst, then you have to put in a bit of extra effort into making the good parts of your personality shine through, because people's prejudices can blind them. I am not suggesting being fake, only that it is important to take into account how others around you will react, and to consider what will be the most beneficial course of action to all involved. 

11 comments:

  1. Good post, I agree with it but also feel that being part of a subculture shouldn't mean you have to represent it; you should be able to just be you. It happens though, it's part of human survival to generalise groups. Everyone should be polite though!

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    1. Everyone /should/ be polite indeed! Sadly not everyone is. I quite agree that people shouldn't inherently feel like they have to represent the subculture just because they are part of it, but because we are visibly different, and because people often generalise, it ends up that we do so anyway. People will come up to us and ask us questions about Goth as a whole, and people will interpret our actions as a reflection of the community as a whole. I wish we lived in a world where people treated each other as individuals, but I guess grouping and generalising is part of human nature.

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  2. Luckily I haven't encountered many negative reactions to my alternative style. I've had some looks from old ladies, but as we age and generations pass on eventually old ladies will recognize goth/alt/punk as just another form of dress. What I really struggle with is men that think I'm "available" or "easy" because apparently wearing goth/alt is like wearing a sign that says "come do me". And no, I'm not looking particularly skanky on these days, I get this when I'm wearing long pants and chucks and tees. I'd rather dirty looks and the occasional insult over nasty guys aggressively harassing me for dates. Even in these situations I try to be polite but that's just my nature, I'm that way with everyone. I just really wish I could be shown the same level of respect as other women get, but I always get picked out in public by these dicks.

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    1. I used to get quite frequent harassment - everything from insults to people throwing stuff at me and even threatening me, but it has been better since I moved to Scotland; I still get the occasional insult, dirty looks off older and more conservative people, and suchlike (lots of people trying to convert me to Christianity; you get get Christian Goths! I might not be one, but being a Goth is of no relation to what faith someone is and people shouldn't assume.).

      I get sexual harassment too, and I don't know whether I get more because I'm Goth, or just the same amount as other women get. I know sexual harassment is a pretty endemic problem in a lot of places, so it's hard to tell how that intersection works. I know that terms like "Gothic slut" being levelled at me would indicate that inaccurate assumptions about my subculture may be a contributing factor, but I'm honestly not sure. It's certainly something I feel like I ought to write about in future.

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  3. I couldn't agree with you more, HouseCat. For the last two years some of us have celebrated World Goth Day with a luncheon at a nearby art museum. We certainly get a lot of attention and some folks can't resist asking us what we're about. Before long, they're asking for photos and even helping us with our own photo shoot.

    The museum staff actually seem to enjoy our visits. They know that we're polite and I suspect that they actually consider us classy. Indeed, politeness goes a long way.

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    1. That's pretty much the respond we got from the staff at the Botanic Gardens in Inverness :)

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  4. It's funny, it's only when I started wearing well put together goth outfits that I noticed the reactions to my presence feel less... abrasive? It was hit or miss during my baby bat years; mostly misses. Didn't matter how nice I tried to be.

    Aside from a couple of my in-laws, I haven't had anyone else insult my choice of attire in all my adult life. Truly, a smile here and there can make the world turn quicker than a frown lol.

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    1. I sometimes wonder if its simply that younger Goths get targeted more because they are younger, rather than because they are possibly less sartorially experienced, or whether it's something about the confidence with which they carry themselves, or whether if they are less well put together they are seen as scruffy or silly as well as weird... Either way, I can be in my best outfit, as put together as I'm going to get, and still get some comment along the lines of "hey! Witch - do something /mystical/. Wooooowooowoooo!" (That was literally what I got off some drunk guys recently. I was sitting on a bench sorting some of my stuff, and they came up to me and hassled me.)

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  5. Politeness is definitely something the human race in general could do with a lot more of I'm getting better at it as I spend time with u and Raven

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