A Slight Reprise of the Never-Ending Goth Debate

As some of you may remember, Snarklings, a few posts ago the Lady of the Manners took on The Never-Ending Goth Debate. There was good discussion in the comments, and the Lady of the Manners thanks you all for keeping things civil!

Of course, that post prompted a small flurry of email, and while the Lady of the Manners doesn’t want to keep circling back to the What Is Goth? topic, she does want to address two letters that asked about the boundaries and outline of goth.

From Wraith:

Salutations, Lady of the Manners! In a recent post you discussed the unending debate of “what is goth?”, as well as the issues with gatekeeping and elitism that sadly exist within the community (and in just about every community on Earth, in my experience). I appreciated reading your opinions as well as those in the comments.”¨”¨Now my question/dilemma is this: should I use the term “goth” or “gothic” to describe myself? Labels in general aren’t hugely important to me, but when people ask (and they always do) “are you goth?”, what should my answer be?

”¨”¨I’m well versed in the history and inspirations of the goth subculture. I know the bands and influences that helped shape goth-dom into what it is today, and I can certainly appreciate that. However, I’m just not very invested in old-school goth rock. Having spent a lot of time listening to every classic goth band I could track down, I can honestly say that it’s just not my cup of tea. There are songs here and there that I like, but the genre in general just isn’t for me. I’m somewhat of a quiet introvert, so the clubbing scene isn’t my thing either. I do love many newer goth/goth-influenced artists like Hannah Fury, Emilie Autumn, etc., but my primary musical tastes are in classical and opera.”¨”¨On the other hand, my tastes are textbook goth. I find beauty in the dark, eerie, and macabre. I adore gothic novels and poetry. I love to go for midnight strolls under the full moon, with my black velvet skirts swishing around me as I walk (yes, really)… My closet is stuffed to bursting with victorian, vampire, and romantigoth fashion (and has been for over a decade). These are just a sampling of my decidedly “gothic” inclinations.”¨”¨So in your opinion, what would it be most appropriate for me to term myself? “Goth”, or “gothic”?

ӬӬAll my thanks,ӬWraith

And from Morwenna:

Gracious Headmistress, I have a rather unique problem that I hope you would be able to solve, if at all possible.

”¨I consider myself a goth, as I have done for several years now, but while I appreciate the subculture’s roots in music, I don’t particularly enjoy the “typical” goth music as much as some people would like me to. That’s not exactly the problem, however.

”¨I do love gothic literature with a passion; in fact, I’m building my career in writing retellings or sequels of some older gothic novels. Still, I know many goths enjoy vampire fiction, especially classics like Dracula. While I have read Dracula and other classic vampire novels (I particularly enjoyed Carmilla), I have always found myself enjoying gothic novels that goths don’t commonly speak of, with my favorites being Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (I suppose I like mad scientists and all the corresponding tropes quite a lot). I have, unfortunately, encountered several people that my favorite pieces of gothic fiction don’t “count” as gothic, especially the latter. I do find that notion a bit silly, but it got me thinking.

ӬWhich brings me to my question: does goth have to follow certain patterns (for lack of a better word)? Is it possible to be goth in a different way then is common for most people and still be able to claim that label? I know there should be certain requirements to be considered goth, but how far can boundaries be pushed?

ӬӬYours truly,Ӭ

The Lady of the Manners’ short answer to the requirements and boundaries question is, as always, this: Are you interested in darker art, literature, music, or fashion? Do you see beauty in things that others may consider morbid or disturbing? Then you are, in some way, goth. The Lady of the Manners is well aware that there are people who disagree with her on this (oh, so vehemently disagree!), but she feels that those should be the only requirements. Goth is derived from Gothic, and Gothic is intrinsically about enjoying the uneasy and unsettling beauty of dark and shadowy things. And while the more of those interests you have are probably an indicator where you fall in terms of “gothness”, you don’t have to have all of those interests to be a goth.

Which is why the arbitrary standards that assorted people try to apply to the goth/gothic subculture make the Lady of the Manners so annoyed. Even if there were a comprehensive, universally agreed-upon list of What Is Goth, no one, absolutely no one, would be able to check off every item on it. Also, would that hypothetical list be set in stone, never to be amended, thereby excluding all new art, movies, literature, music, etc. from ever being considered goth? The very idea makes the Lady of the Manners grind her teeth (which is terrible for one’s fangs).

What should be labeled “goth” vs. what should be “gothic” is a pointless debate. Yes, the subculture coalesced around the music, but the music, the bands, and the fans all shared gothic interests and aesthetics, but trying to split those interwoven dark threads seems a waste of energy. (She says, writing yet another post about the whole thing.)

The Lady of the Manners was a little taken aback by part of Morwenna’s letter; there are people saying that stories such as Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde don’t count as gothic?! But the themes of grief, rage, and venting dark urges! Forbidden knowledge! Storm-driven laboratories and fog shrouded streets! The Lady of the Manners is firmly on your side in this discussion, Morwenna, and will raise her eyebrows at anyone who does espouse those views.

(Frankenstein not gothic. Hmmph. Honestly, some people.)

The Gothic Charm School mailbox has also been seeing a mild burst of letters from younger readers asking how to tell their parents that they’re goth, or how to explain goth to them. The Lady of the Manners is planning to soon write another post about this very topic, but the following posts are a helpful starting point:

Of Babybats Striving to Become Themselves
Of Dealing With School Dresscodes
Of Dealing With Your Parents

Not to mention there’s an entire chapter in the Gothic Charm School book about the whole question!

The Lady of the Manners is now going to retreat to her crypt with a glass of absinthe and a vintage gothic romance paperback, and probably browse for items to feature in the next Stereotype Technology post. Comments, as always, are open, and also as always, moderated, so be polite.

May the rest of December treat you well, and may 2019 be kind to us all!

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4 Responses to A Slight Reprise of the Never-Ending Goth Debate

  1. Squirrel says:

    My personal view is that you should at least know some of whom the original bands are.My view of what counts as gothic music differs greatly from others. I believe that liking orchestral classical, and opera pieces that suit the typical themes are perfectly valid. I also think listening to soundtracks from gothic movies and such count as well. I also think liking musicals that have gothic themes are okay as well. Liking dark world music works too. Like medieval stuff? There you go. My definition of what constitutes as “goth” music is very very broad. I also think things that are “goth friendly” are valid as well.

  2. Necro-mouser says:

    This actually goes well into something I’ve spoken about on youtube.

    What does one constitute as the “foundation” of goth?

    So many people turn to music as the only foundation. Let me ask you this, what was there before the music? There was literature, philosophy, aesthetics. A building cannot be supported by a single pillar. Which is what you do if you base your goth on music alone.

    If you’re still not getting it… ask yourself this, where did these bands get their inspiration from? They didn’t pull this out of their back ends. They pulled it from classic literature, philosophy, the macabre, etc.

    Goth/gothic are heavily intertwined, so much so I tend to scoff when people demand they be separated.

  3. Roman "Baron von Swankenstein" Gheesling says:

    The keyword in this discussion is Ӣsubculture.Ӣ Goth is a subculture. While there are varying academic opinions regarding what the elements of culture are, (language; the arts; social organization; customs, traditions, and rituals; values, etc), most academicians agree that in order to be a member of a culture, one must use or interact with a majority of the common elements that make up the culture. In the case of a subculture, participants are part of a parent culture, participate in the parent culture, but diverge communally from the parent culture in more than one area of the elements that define the parent culture.

    So what it boils down to is that both sides of the music/fashion argument are wrong because culture (and subculture) is not just about one thing. In short, in order to be Goth, one must utilize or interact with a majority of whatever common cultural elements that make up the Goth subculture.

  4. Nyx Shadowhawk says:

    Nice to know that Wraith and Morwenna feel the same way I do! I felt a little like I was the only one.

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