What is Gothic? To first answer this question, one must first acknowledge the existence of a Gothic subculture.
So what is the Gothic subculture exactly?
A subculture is “a group of people with beliefs, attitudes, customs, and other forms of behavior differing from those of the dominant society, while at the same time being related to it” (Microsoft Encarta 99 Encyclopedia). During the second half of the 20th century, the world witnessed many subcultures and youth movements, starting with the hippies in the 70’s, the punk subculture in the 80’s, and the continuously developing gothic subculture which originally started in the 80’s (A Goth Primer: Goth as counter-culture). Although it is still not very popular or widespread, the gothic subculture is the deepest and most complex of the 3 subcultures, and is the only one that was, and still is, expanding and developing in the 90’s and the beginning of the 21st century.
Gothic movement, like most other youth movements, originally came from music. Goth started out as a sub-classification of the rebellious and defiant punk-rock music. But gothic music had a dark, gloomy, mysterious, eerie mood. The earliest gothic bands, or the “godfathers” of gothic music were “Bauhaus” and “Siouxsie and the Banshees”. Teenagers and youths started liking their new type of music, and the gothic subculture emerged, complete with its own art, music, fashion, and attitude. The movement first became established in the Batcave, a nightclub in London, in the early 1980’s. The movement then became popular in Germany and Scandinavia. It later spread to the U.S. in the 90’s.
“The date of origin of the gothic movement is usually placed in 1979. That was the year that the song “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus was released. It was originally intended to be tongue-in-cheek; however, many young fans took it as the inspiration for the budding gothic subculture. The song had a certain mystery and eeriness that listeners quickly latched onto. The first generation of the gothic movement emerged mostly in the UK in the late seventies and early eighties as a splinter from the punk movement. Punk music was breathing its last breath as this gloomy, introspective mutation gained momentum.…
In the late eighties and early nineties, a new, second generation of gothic bands emerged to breathe new life into the scene.…This is when the US Goth movement grew significantly and Gothic became recognized as a distinct subculture…” (Alternative Press, November 1994)
There are many definitions as to what “Gothic” really means and where it came from. The term “Gothic” has many origins. Historically, the Visigoths were German barbarian tribes that participated in overthrowing the Roman Empire. In the Middle Ages, “large ominous cathedrals” were built in “Ogive style” (having same basic features repeated over and over again), and were considered “unrefined and tasteless”. This style of architecture was called gothic. The term “Gothic” is also related with the literature of the Victorian age, which was somehow grotesque, mysterious, desolate, and introspective… just like gothic music.
Superficially, Goth is about music, literature, art and clothes (looks). Nowadays, one can say that “Gothic” is a “way of life”, with gothic music as the base or inspiration. This is because “Gothic” also refers to a way of thinking or mentality. To sum it all, this way of thinking “unashamedly celebrates the dark recesses of the human psyche (dark sensuality, sweeping sadness, forbidden love, the beauty of enduring pain)” (A Goth Primer: What is Goth?). It involves the appreciation and love of the darkness and living with it.
Goths are usually interesting individuals. They are “creative individuals”, and many are intellectuals or artists in some way. So how can we spot a Goth? Goth stereotypes all look the same; they always wear black clothes, have black hair, black nails, white face makeup, black eye-makeup, and black lipstick (Study of Gothic Subculture – Fashion). Most wear black in order to identify themselves as Gothic. Others might say; “we wear black cause black is how we feel on the inside”. Besides black, their clothing is mostly dark saturated colors… sometimes leather, vinyl or velvet (navy blue or dark crimson). Many Goths also seem to like medieval and Victorian clothes, and opera-style capes or cloaks, and fishnet tights or shirts for girls. Most Goths also wear a lot of accessories like silver jewelry, spikes with leather jackets and bracelets, pendants (ankh, Eye of Ra, cross, pentagram), chains, piercings and tattoos. As for their hair, it might be ratted out, sprayed, chaotic, and sometimes dyed black or light blond. Many Goths also seem to look pale, and the girls use a lot of black and white makeup (Study of Gothic Subculture – Fashion). Nevertheless, some people can still be Gothic and not look like one. These people don’t necessarily dress in black, but have a “gothic mentality” – gothic from the inside.
The other common trait that Goths share is the kind of music they listen to. Moreover, traits differ according to the individual because “Goth” means different things to each follower. Most Goths tend to like art and humanities in general (literature and history, philosophy…). They might also have a fascination for the supernatural (death, religion, myths, vampires, fairies…), dark aesthetics (skulls in jewelry, gargoyle statues…), and interests in medieval, Victorian and Edwardian history (Edgar Allen Poe). Many Goths like romantic books and movies (candles too); others seem to be interested in computers and the Internet. Some are shy and retiring, and seem to avoid parties and other social activities, others are always depressed or have passed through a time of depression. Goths might also be “broody”, dramatic, sensual, and “given to excessive romanticism” (www.sfgoth.com/primer/). Some Goths also have some eccentric traits. Because of their interest in Vampires, some extremist Goths enjoy blood letting and blood drinking. They might do it out of curiosity and experimentation. Others seem to have an appeal for graveyards. They probably believe a cemetery is a peaceful, quiet place, which “lends itself to introspection and reflection on what life is about and what is important” (www.gothics.org/subculture/). Many Goths usually hang out in cafés, bookstores, libraries, laboratories, cemeteries, music stores, the Internet, and gothic nightclubs.
The media have sometimes mistakenly associated Goth with extreme violence and hatred, accusing the Gothic subculture whenever a crime involving a person wearing black is committed. Not all wearers of black are Gothic! Generally, Goths are peaceful, non-violent, pacifistic, passive, and tolerant.
But why do people become gothic? People do not “become” gothic; they are labeled gothic. Look around, take a walk in the streets, listen to the news… Life is cruel, ugly, meaningless and depressing: war, death, poverty, hunger, sickness, greed, envy, violence, evil… People might try to do something to change it, but just like their predecessors, they will fail. There is no way out of this mess we have created, so why bother trying to change the world. Just live with it, and make the best of what you’ve got. That’s what the gothic subculture tries to do. The gothic lifestyle helps people survive hard or sad times. It’s a way to express feelings and intercept sadness and overcome the tragedies that happen in life. Whatever the reason, be it for recreation or anguish, people are still entering the gothic scene, and the gothic subculture is still expanding and spreading, making it the longest lasting subculture yet.
Now you know the answer to the question “What is Gothic?”.
For more info about the Gothic subculture and what is Gothic, visit http://www.gothicsubculture.com