The Evolution of the Goth Subculture, Trends and Origins

Mikhail Pushkin

Mikhail Pushkin

Whether one is personally familiar with Gothic subculture, has studied it academically or has a vague notion of it derived from mass media, one point stands: the subculture is too broad and diverse to fit within a specific definition.

Dark make-up, corsets, vampires, crosses, mysticism, bizarre costumes, pale face with bleeding black mascara and teenage angst together with depressive melancholic music and even drugs are among the possible common stereotypes related to the subculture. Yet both stereotypes and the subculture itself (at least much of its fashion and coordination into a coherent group) are largely created by the media and replicated by its mainstream audience, with a closer look revealing a much more diverse and complex truly global and intercultural subculture.

Even overlooking historical connection going back to Romantic Movement of eighteenth-century (Clark, 1978, p. 28) (Masse, 1990, p. 679), Gothic subculture has undergone tremendous expansion since its origins in the early eighties postpunk scene.

Whether internally, through consumerism, art and literature or mass media influence, the subculture has grown to include, generate, or partially merge with such diverse elements as Vampire and Victorian fashion, Cyber and Industrial style, Metal and Punk influences, Martial and Neofolk trends, Steampunk and Dark Cabaret variations, even Western Goth style as well as the more mainstream, commercialized and more teenage Emo and New Metal/Alternative relatives.

It has also gone global, reaching the Far East, getting transformed into a range of “Gothic Lolita” fashions and lifestyles, to then reimport these newly acquired elements into European and American scenes.

While some earlier researchers were providing a very stereotyped, simplistic, almost comical description of the subculture:

Dress and Appearance: All black including hair, Doc Marten shoes or boots, black stockings, short skirts, big coats, white make-up, dyed or weirdly cut hair, heaps of eyeliner, rings and upside-down cross around their necks. Key activities and behaviour: Against the church, slouch around, smoking pot and raging out, generally just talk together, criticise other people, keep to themselves, seances, meditating, loud concerts, visit graveyards at night, shopping at flea markets. Relationships with adults: Rebellious, avoid and hate adults, do not get along at all, usually do not live with parents, adults dislike them.”

(Denholm, Horniblow, & Smalley, 1992, p. 23)

Later studies in a postmodern fashion denied it any internal coherence, passing the subculture for another media invention:

The media have not just described the Gothics, they have been instrumental in their creation as a coherent social group. Thus, it can be argued, in cases like this, the media feeds on its own inventions, as it continues to identify, catalogue and explain each new youth subcultures. Thus, some young people, who just happen to share a nebulous cluster of musical and fashion tastes, have been transformed into a subculture: Gothics.

(Tait, 1999, p. 8)

Contemporary studies, while acknowledging aesthetic and consumerist elements having a strong formative role within the subculture, also raise its relevance to the role of women by highlighting its liberating quality from the angle of gender.

In referencing (Pitts, 2000), (Goulding & Saren, 2006, p. 212) note, “from a feminist poststructuralist view, bodies and subjects are shaped within a context that privileges heterosexuality, binary gender roles and certain forms of self”, one of the ways to alter this patriarchal order is in creating social spaces where gender roles and models can be realised without constraints of traditional society.

Goth offers such a space. It could be argued that it comes close to a “gendered paradise that is radically different from the existing social order (Kacen, 2000, p. 345) where participants feel free to express their ‘real’ and ‘desired’ gendered selves unfettered from prejudice and ridicule.

(Goulding & Saren, 2006, p. 213)

The selected definitions signify both advantages and problems in dealing with the subculture: stereotyped, diverse to the point of all-inclusive, underground and mainstream, inspired by Gothic art and literature stereotyping female, yet gender reconstructive and primarily based on feminine aesthetics and female gender.

Claims that the real male cannot be embodied at all, that embodiment is a form of feminisation. In a study of male icons (Valentino, Elvis etc.,) Garber shows how fetishised images of masculinity bear within them traces of the feminised — man transvestite and thus point towards their own constitutive instability and displacement.

(Goulding & Saren, 2006, p. 212)

In order to fully explore this notion, we would have to analyse male representatives of the subculture.

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