It is time, Snarklings, for the Lady of the Manners to delve back into a topic that is resurrected wherever goths gather. Well, perhaps “resurrected” is the wrong term, because the Lady of the Manners is very aware that this topic has never died. Ever. This
fight discussion probably lurched forward at the very instant the subculture coalesced out of the shadows: what is goth?
:: a momentary pause while the Lady of the Manners hides her face in her hands and takes a deep breath ::
This post is prompted by the never-ending discussion that has bubbled up again across almost all of the social media places the Lady of the Manners frequents, and is also creeping across the places she doesn’t. So, it’s time for the Airing of Opinions and Holding Forth, with a side of research. To start, here’s how someone on Tumblr asked about this whole thing:
Sorry if this has been asked already but I see a lot of people […] gatekeeping and saying that goth is and only ever was a style of music but… Is it not, specifically, what the music was *about*? Like not just the sound it has but also the feelings and stories behind the lyrics? To me it’s like saying the enlightenment era was just a style of art and not the thoughts it was trying to provoke. ¯\_(ãƒ„)_/ ¯
In the Lady of the Manners’ opinion, goth is, and always was, about more than a style of music. The “gothic” label was originally applied by the music press to the formative bands because despite a having a range of different musical styles, those bands were exploring the ideas, stories, and art that were historically considered gothic.
Then the Lady of the Manners dug out a stack of her reference books about the subculture. Here, have some quotes! (But if you’re interested in the history and antecedents of goth, all of these books are good ones.)
“A discordant bricolage of hyperromantic elements, goth drew inspiration from its glam, punk, and new wave subcultural antecedents. But it also culled freely from Gothic literary-historical traditions; from vampire cults, horror flicks, and B-movie camp […] and from a historical canon of the gothic avant-garde. […] it is worth noting that the goth tendency to embrace gothic literature and art has made the subculture more dialectically engaged with the past than is typical of most “youth” cultures, providing yet another source of exceptional vitality.”
From The Dark Reign of Gothic Rock by Dave Thompson, about the dawning of the gothic music scene:
“[…] an examination of what transpired when one specific tentacle of the post-Punk British rock octopus stopped flailing around in the wastes above its head and burrowed instead into its blackest cave, there to contemplate ”¦ whatever.
Some of its thoughts were indeed of a distinctly Gothic bent. Mrs. Radcliffe, Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelley, Alice Cooper and Sir Francis Dashwood, Gothic archetypes one and all, each plays their part in the pantomime.”
And finally, from the man who was there at the start of it all, the man who is the historian of the subculture, Mick Mercer, in his Gothic Rock Black Book:
“Goth onstage cries, howls, and growls. Goth offstage goes quietly insane and wraps itself in drunken worship, pagan worship, and the loins of psychologically damaged French philosophers.”
But the key statement from Mr. Mercer’s excellent book is this:
“It takes a lot of explaining, but very little understanding, to see that Goth is an invisible substance at the heart of empathic but essentially differing forms of music — Goth in reality being its audience —”
The Lady of the Manners has seen a lot of comments that essentially state that music is the only marker for being a goth. If you’re interested in other dark artforms, fashion, history, and so on, you are gothIC, but not a goth. These sorts of statements make the Lady of the Manners pause in her rereading of Dracula and dismissively wave a black lace handkerchief. There is no One True Goth Sound, there never has been (except for a possible fondness for minor keys, and even that’s not a constant). The common black silk thread between the Original Goth Bands is that they all drew lyrical influences from fiction, art, and ideas around the romantic allure of the dark, morbid, and horrific. For that matter, none of those Original Goth Bands were (or are) comfortable with being called goth or gothic. The perennial joke about the sure way to identify a goth band is if they say they’re not goth has survived this long for a reason, Snarklings.
In addition, one of the markers of the scene since the beginning was a dark, morbid, and romantic aesthetic and fashion. That was how goths recognized each other! Back In The Day it was expected that if you were a goth, you dressed in a gothic style. If someone went to a show or a club and wasn’t recognizably dressed goth, they were regarded with disdain. (The Lady of the Manners is fervently glad that this attitude has been slowly dwindling over the years.)
Gatekeeping has not kept goth alive or undead, because telling people they’re not whatever enough to be part of a community dooms that community to being a fossil trapped in amber, a historical relic. (With whatever being the aspect that the person doing the gatekeeping is most invested in. In the Lady of the Manners’ experience, gatekeepers are usually divided into two types: Music Is Everything or You Have To Dress The Part.)
People who seek shelter under the inky umbrella of goth have to start somewhere, and NO ONE comes to this subculture knowing everything about it. Yes, people should learn about the outline of goth, and no, not everything can or should be defined as goth. But those outlines are not a rigid template, and expecting people to rattle off a list of all the bands on the original Gothic Rock and Gothic Rock 2 CDs is more than a little ridiculous.
Finally: the song that is widely recognized as codifying the goth subculture, the song that is the musical touchstone, is about an actor in a stylized B&W movie that is an adaptation of one of the classics of gothic literature. The Lady of the Manners is talking, of course, about “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”.
And now in the hopes of interesting discussion, the comments are open! The Lady of the Manners is going to keep an even closer eye on them than usual, as this is a topic that can bring out less-than-civil conversationalists, but she is very interested in seeing what sort of discussion happens. Feel free to disagree with the Lady of the Manners or other posters, but keep it polite.