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..

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Goth, Individualism and Conformity - 5 Years Later

Eight years ago I wrote ::this:: article, then re-posted it in 2011, five years ago, on conformity in the Goth subculture - and while I still agree with the main gist of it - that just because we don't want to conform to mainstream society, it does not mean that we are against societies in general or against having our own norms - there are quite a few things upon which my perspective has changed over time, and some things I feel I should have addressed and didn't. In 2012 I wrote ::this:: both echoing these themes of conformity vs. individuality, and also specifically targeting the accusation or assumption that Goth is 'middle-class rebellion'. This article was inspired by listening to the September edition of Cemetery Confessions, which discusses in depth the seeming paradox between individuality and conformity within the subculture, and which can be listened to ::here::.

Firstly, I still think that the notion of Goths being failed non-conformists because while we sometimes vocally distance ourselves from mainstream culture, we still have norms within our own culture is a flawed notion - I've never felt that Goth has been about pure individualism, and that it has always been about a group of people with shared interests, primarily musically and in terms of an aesthetic and a mindset that is both cynical and Romantic in terms and which finds beauty and interest in darker and more morbid themes. I still think that just because we don't want to participate in mainstream pop culture and dislike any form of mindless consumerism, it doesn't mean that we disagree with the notions of cultures and sharing interests with others, in general. We often find that mainstream society devalues the things we like, and often devalues us for liking them, and that we also don't have much interest in many mainstream things, but this is just why we do something different from the mainstream. However, it is not that Goths can't like the odd bit of popular culture too! Also, some things many Goths like, such as The Addams Family or Tim Burton's better films, are part of popular culture as well as Goth culture, so there is no clear separation. 

(I've been a geek and a nerd since I was a child, and a lot of what I like were considered fringe interests 20+ years ago, but have now become mainstream - especially in terms of science fiction and fantasy franchises; it's no longer weird and uncool to like something like Star Trek, and Game of Thrones is thoroughly mainstream! I still like these things, and I'm not going to suddenly stop liking them because they gained mainstream acceptance and popularity.

Goth does not define itself as the antithesis to something; we don't exist in opposition to the mainstream, we exist alongside it, and to some degree independent of it, but we're not there to simply oppose whatever is currently popular in some sort of contrarian stab at rebelliousness. We like what we like, regardless of whether or not its popular.

Sometimes we lament when something we like is suddenly trendy, because of those who like it only because it's trendy without any deeper understanding or appreciation, but that is really railing against consumerist misappropriation rather than at popularity. Most of us agree that if something becomes popular, but people who now like it become genuinely interested in whatever it is, then that is fine - it's only when people are hopping onto the metaphorical bandwagon without any real care or consideration that we have a problem. This isn't something that just Goths face - it's a general issue, and is part of the problem with any form of cultural and artistic misappropriation; something becomes a trend, lots of people do something to be 'cool' and a few big corporations make a lot of money off someone else's work and culture, usually in a tacky and misrepresentative way, and often while whoever originally had the thing were previously denigrated for it, and may continue to be denigrated for it... It's the same mechanism, but at a variety of scales and level of severity depending on what is being misappropriated and who from.

I think it is also important to acknowledge that Goths are fully aware that they're being to a greater or lesser degree, like other Goths. We are not involved in search for pure individualism, we're looking for other people whose authentic selves are similar to our own. We pride ourselves on being our true selves, and on not being dictated to by outside forces, but we are also happy to socialise with likeminded individuals. Yes, a certain amount of cattiness and peer-pressure can occur, but one refrain I hear over and again from Goths to others interested in the subculture is that it is more important to be your truest self than it is to be as 'Goth' as possible. Also, outsiders may see a monolithic group of people all dressed in black as 'the same' but really, someone into something like Cybergoth (which I think was better termed 'gravers' and is a hybrid of electronic, industrial and Goth, not a sub-style) may have common interests with someone that is an Elizabethan-esque Romantic Goth, but their modes of personal self expression are probably going to be quite different!

Another thing that is worth addressing is that many Goths (but not all), feel like mainstream society rejected them - one common thing I find when talking to other Goths is that even before they joined the subculture, they were somehow 'different' and felt alienated, even ostracised, by their peers and mainstream culture. This could be because they were considered 'overly' academic  - "nerdy"
, interested in weird or unusual things - "geeky" or "freaky" - or maybe they were just a bit sensitive ("emo" used as a pejorative rather than as a subcultural group), or maybe there's other intersectional factors, but a lot of us feel like we've been marginalised for having a personality that isn't what mainstream society demands, and instead of bending to the will of the majority and trying to become someone more acceptable, we've met with people who like the same music as us, like the same books as us, the same aesthetics, and share a similar underlying mindset, and joined with them. Why we have become Goths rather than joining any other subculture is because our interests happened to be those of darker nature,  and our personalities those with at least a hint of morbid curiosity, and a blend of Romanticism and cynicism. As I've written about before, once we're Goth we often encounter prejudice, intolerance and plenty of negative stereotypes about us, too. Some people remain angry and bitter at the world for constantly rejecting them, others find that in meeting others like them, there is enough community and solace, and others find different ways of processing past rejection, and some people find that as they get older, the world judges them less for what music they like and what books they read, and maybe more on other criteria - what sort of car you drive, how financially successful you are, where you live, etc. 

Some people within the subculture, and in general, react to mainstream ostracisation defensively - "You can't sit with us" say the preppy high-school girls "I wouldn't want to, anyway" says the teenage babybat - but the purpose of the subculture isn't to oppose mainstream society or sneer down on the "conformists", it's to give us a haven away from it, a space where we can express ourselves to others who appreciate similar things - and while we don't expect to do that without challenge (after all, challenging ideas helps hone them, as does constructive criticism of creative endeavours, and it is unhealthy to live in an echo-chamber), there's a difference between challenge and hatred.

The things I would disagree with in my earlier blog post is just how negative my opinion was of mainstream society was - I think 8 years ago I was a lot less worldly and travelled, and most of my experiences with mainstream society had been profoundly negative, and I had been exposed primarily to its ugly side, and this had given me an overly negative opinion. I still criticise aspects of mainstream culture - primarily celebrity worship, mindless consumerist capitalism and the 'throw-away society', and the parts of society that still denigrate those outside of a narrow spectrum of 'acceptability' - but now I know that actually, quite a few people criticise those aspects of society, and from a variety of view-points.

I think I also still carried the dregs of defensiveness from when I was a teenager, trying to distance myself, defiantly and provocatively, from those who were trying to push me into being something I simply cannot be.  I don't think criticism of society in general is mere teenage rebelliousness, but I think the way I was doing it at the time was immature, and more about my personal anger towards the alienation, bullying and abuse I had experienced than a productive criticism. Even by the time I wrote the article in 2008, when I was a then an adult, I still held on to some of that bitterness - unaware that while I may have been significantly less angry at the world than I was an angsty 14 year old, I wasn't free of bitterness. I must admit I am probably still a little bitter at the world - but I recognise this, and try not to let it contaminate my being Goth. Bitterness is something I talk to my therapist about, not lash out at the world with.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Steampunks Storm The Castle!

I am sad this is a tad blurry.
Ok, technically I was being Steam-Goth that day, and we didn't really storm the castle, we just stood i front of it. Inverness Castle is currently the city courts (I did jury there in the first year after I moved up to Scotland; it felt a bit surreal sitting in a Gothic Revival courtroom in a Scottish Baronial castle to attend a trial presided over by the Sherif... ), and therefore storming it would be a really bad idea. Instead we stood in front of the large front door and used it as a back-drop for this photo-shoot because I thought the red sandstone walls would be the perfect colours to accentuate the outfit. The current castle was built to replace the original medieval castle in the Victorian era. It's built in the Scottish baronial style, and was built as a courthouse, police station and prison. 

Sean without goggles on his face. Photograph by myself. 

This is another set of photographs for my project documenting the Goth and nebulous dark alternative scene in Inverness. This is my friend Sean, and he's a Metalhead/Romantic Goth/Steampunk hybrid. The outfit (and re-painted Nerf gun) he wore that day typify that - stompy boots worn with a Romantic Goth jacket from Punk Rave, a decorative top hat from Raven SDL which could easily be either Romantic Goth or Steampunk (perhaps verging more on the side of Steampunk due to the brassiness of the buckle), steam-punk paint-job on his goggles and the repainted Nerf gun... a mixture of styles. 

Sean, looking for air-ships or something. Photograph by myself.

One thing that I find differentiates the Goth scene in the Highlands from the scene in other areas is how much overlap there is in participation by individuals here - very few people in the Goth scene here like only one alternative genre of music, and participate in only one subculture, to the point where most events are mixed, and it's all one merged scene rather than a Goth scene substantially differentiated from other subcultural groups. There are plenty of Metalheads here that aren't into Goth, but not many Goths here that aren't also into Metal, or also into Hippie stuff, or Steampunk stuff. When I've been in other cities, the Goths seemed to be very much their own group, and there were specific Goth club nights, and there was less overlap. 

You have to be wary of those air-ships - sometimes they have pirates!
Photography by myself, Sean modelling. Look at that awesome jacket!

I guess the overlap here is partly because we have fewer scene-specific events and resources - our club nights are mixed, it's the local hippie shop - FarFetched - that also sells Goth clothes (after the closure of Hot Rocks and Pyramid over 5 years ago), virtually no major bands take their tours to Inverness let alone anywhere else this far North, and the scene is mostly in their late teens and twenties, with fewer elder Goths still active in the scene here, so fewer direct ties to the scene's musical core and roots. There are elder Goth here, though, however, and hopefully I will be photographing a few for later in my project. 

Sean has impressive boots. Photograph by myself. 
Those who follow me on Facebook will know that I injured my left eye this summer - I accidentally flicked the sun-shade for the view-screen on the back of Raven's camera after being startled while on a photo-shoot (borrowing his camera), and it gave me a wee nick on my cornea that was really rather painful, but is mostly over my iris so does not permanently impede my vision. It did put a bit of a delay on my processing photos - but I did finish the shoot that day, and take a second! The next day however, my eyelids had swollen shut on my left eye and I hadn't much sleep because it hurt as if I'd rubbed chillies in my eye, and I had to go to the hospital... Anyway, there are definitely more photos in this series to be poster up. I will continue to photograph my local scene in all its variety and diversity.

I hope you enjoy this photographs. Please credit me and the model (Sean M.) if you decide to share these anywhere (eg. Tumblr) and link back to me. I've seen my photographs shared about on Tumblr before, and I don't mind it - to me, it shows people appreciate it - but I do want to be properly credited. This may only be a hobby for me, but it's still my work and I spend hours organising shoots, travelling, taking shoots and then processing the images, so I'd like to be credit for that!

The Steam-Goth outfit I wore that day is the same one I wore for a shoot for Carpe Nocturne magazine, so you will get to see that shortly too!