...being a treatise on what the goth subculture contains...

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philosophy music
art & mythology literature & films
style vampires

Now, the first thing to remember about goth is that it is a very diverse subculture. Therefore it's very likely that you've met people that don't fit into my take on what goth is - or, if you define yourself as a goth, that you violently disagree with me. Fine. This isn't meant to be the definition of goth, it's simply my opinion.

Philosophy - can one speak of a "goth philosophy" - an outlook that most goths share? In one way, goths are a varied lot - you find goths of all religions, political persuasions, ages, races, lifestyles, nationalities, careers etc.etc.

  • On the other hand, there are some things that goths often have in common:
  • an often morbid sense of humour
  • an appreciation of the darker side of life - that the night, with all that it stands for, can be more beautiful than the bright day
  • tolerance for diversity, and for lifestyles considered "weird" by the masses
  • often an apolitical attitude towards society: goths are seldom out to change society - they mostly want it to leave them alone

Art and mythology are areas goths often have an interest in. A lot of goths seem to like Pre-Raphaelite art - no wonder, perhaps, when you consider that the pre-Raphaelites often chose tragical and romantic settings for their paintings - like Ophelia, The Death of Chatterton and The Lady of Shalott.

The symbols of Egyptian mythology are nearly ubiquitous - ankhs and Horus eyes are extremely popular jewelry among goths. Some actually knows what the symbols mean, too ;-) I've got the impression that some sort of interest in general mythology/medieval history/fantasy-SF-literature/ occultism/paganism is, if not exactly part of goth, at least fairly common among goths (granted, this is based on a small sample, namely my friends, acquaintances and general impressions from Usenet).

Style does not a goth make - you can dress goth without defining yourself as one and vice versa. Dressing up isn't important, of course - not in the same sense as, say, solving the world's problems is important, at least - but it is part of being goth for many people, myself included. Besides, having an "uniform", so to speak, makes it easier to recognize fellow goths (if you've ever seen another goth in some out-of-the-way spot and felt like you really should go over and introduce yourself, you know what I mean ;-)

Personally I can't be bothered to spend hours every day to put on lots of make-up and traipse around in flowing velvets when I'm just going out to buy bread...but I do like dressing up in whiteface & lots of eye-liner and velvet & lace when I'm going out clubbing. In a way it's somewhat like role playing - putting on your "I'm having fun"-persona (and if I've spent hours getting ready I'm bloody well going to have fun! ;-)

The nice thing about dressing goth is that you can't really go wrong as long as you stick to black. What is considered "goth" attire varies from plain jeans & t-shirt to fetish-wear to long, flowing dresses - you can pick and choose, depending on your mood.

Music is a big part of the gothic subculture. It was as a description of bands early in the eighties that the term was first used (yes, I know that there were historic tribes called goths and architecture called gothic, but we're not talking about that here, OK?)

So what exactly is gothic music? Here again there is a lot of diversity hidden in the apparent uniform "doom & gloom" stereotype (you've gotten this point by now, haven't you? ;-) "Goth" can mean ethereal and swirly with high, floating female voices, or it can be close to metal with the typical I-don't-actually-sing-'cause-I'm-so-hard-I'm- just-growling type of vocal. The most common variety is probably still the more rock-based Sisters of Mercy with their innumerable clones (sigh...). There is also a lot of crossover with industrial, with an undefined middle ground between the two styles.

Ancient goths (those that were goth in the early eighties, that is ;-) often claim that the music was much better and more varied in the olden days (but then, everything was better then, according to them - the clubs, the parties, the people, the you think this might be because they they've grown older themselves? Nah...) They do have a point in that there are a bit too many of the aforementioned clones among the new generation of goth bands. On the other hand: it might be that only the good ones from the eighties have survived...and there are some of the new crop that are quite good - Switchblade Symphony is among my personal favourites, to name one, Faith and the Muse is another.

Literature and films: Goths read. They often read a lot. In fact, fancying oneself a poet isn't really uncommon among goths...lots and lots of extremely bad angsty teenaged poetry is (hopefully) hidden in goths' drawers... So, what do they read and watch (and where do they get their inspiration)?

The classical gothic novels were written in the 19th century, when they were very popular for a while - well-known examples are Bram Stoker's Dracula and Mary Shelleys Frankenstein. These gothic novels were characterized by haunted, remote settings, lots of storming emotions (often accompanied by storming weather), tragic, romantic, tortured characters - Sturm und Drang at its best. These themes were also taken up in some early movies - Nosferatu with Max Schreck is the classic example. Popularized horror had its heyday in movies in the fifties/sixties with the Hammer Horror series of B-movies.

Nowadays we've experienced a revival, both in literature and films. Anne Rice started the wave of vampire books, which seems to be still going strong (although I wonder how many re-workings of the Vlad-myth people are willing to buy...). Again, some of these books have made it into film, with _Interwiev with a Vampire_ being the best known. As with most popular literature, 95% of this is pure junk, with some pearls hidden among it (the advantage of the 19th century novels is that time have sorted out the good ones from the dreck...)

The vampire connection is apparently traumatic for many goths. While many find the myth fascinating, it's not considered fashionable to admit it openly these days, for various reasons:

  • goths are tired of being called vampires - they might dress like the cliched movie vampire, and be interested in the myth, but no sensible goth will claim to actually be a vampire - we know the difference between fiction and reality...
  • Vampire: the Masquerade. It's a good game - only too many people take it way too seriously. It gets a bit annoying when people insist on telling you about being a 300-year-old vampire when you're out clubbing (we're lucky enough not to have this problem in Norway, but I've gathered it is a growing problem in the UK and US).
  • In short: goth does not equal vampires and vice versa 'though there is an overlap between the two interests, a game is a game, and never claim to be a "real" vampire if you don't want people to laugh at you behind your back ;-)

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Last changed 3.may 1998