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..

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.

2 comments:

  1. Like you, I have always disagreed with celebrity worship, mindless consumerism, etc. I know many people who feel the same--and they are not goth.

    As a child my favorite author was Edgar Allan Poe. Now that I am a fiction writer and author, I readily admit that he had a great impact upon me, and is to this day, my biggest literary inspiration.

    I was already outside the mainstream when I discovered goth. It was the music that first grabbed me. I loved the darker feel of it and the eeriness it projects. I already enjoyed dark music, but it hadn't necessarily been linked to any particular genre or or subculture. At some point, I realized that goth music fit quite well as a background to Mr. Poe's fiction as well as my own darker thoughts and desires. The same goes for some sub-genres of metal also.

    Back in May of this year, some friends who live in a neighboring county stopped by for a visit. I had previously given them a copy of the book I published. The lady had read it and commented to me that she never knew that I was so romantic.

    So let's see here. I like dark music, Gothic literature, am quite romantic (at least in my literature), and find the dark aesthetic both attractive and compelling. What else can I conclude then, other than the fact that I must be a goth?

    I don't believe this changes me all that much. Most of my associates are not Goth, but I get along with them well and respect them for their opinions and integrity. I'm not one who believes that we in the subculture are somehow part of a superior community. We simply express ourselves as we are.

    I am not a conformist and everyone (including in the goth community) recognizes me for having his own style. But I do feel quite good about visibly expressing my association with a culture of people who have tastes similar to my own.

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    1. I was outside the mainstream before I was Goth - I was a nerdy, geeky tomboy. I was more into Tolkien and baggy trousers than celebrities and mini-skirts... Now, that would be pretty normal, but it wasn't 15 years ago!

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