The Gothic Subculture Versus Merchant’s Abstraction

Eveliina Myllymaa

Eveliina Myllymaa

The origin of the word Goth is connected to the Roman Empire but has little or nothing to do with the subculture. Goths were a Germanic tribe who helped in the defeat of the Roman Empire. In contrast, the gothic novel of the eighteenth-century is a pioneer of the modern understanding of the term gothic by being a genre related to the mood of horror, morbidity and darkness. It has also established a lot of the iconography of horror literature and cinema, such as graveyards, vampires and melodramatic plots. Goth subculture itself started as a less aggressive but more extravagant offshoot of post-punk music genre in the late 1970s in the United Kingdom.

The term Gothic, in relation to music, was first used by the band manager of Joy Division, Anthony Howard Wilson when he described the band as “Gothic compared with the pop mainstream” in 1979. Joy Division was one of the pioneers of Gothic music alongside such names as Bauhaus, Siouxsie and The Banshees and The Cure. Joy Division was short-lived because their vocalist Ian Kevin Curtis soon committed suicide, but left a permanent mark and their name as the founders of gothic music. As the scene started out as a music genre, it still remains the core and true essence of the subculture, as opposed to many people using the term in relation to the way they dress or the parties they attend, the true spirit of the subculture lies in its music.

Gothic rock evolved out of post-punk during the late 1970s. At the beginning of the 1980s, one band jokingly labelled the newly emerging movement “gothic” and so it changed from a label for a few bands to a label for a movement. In general, punk was an aggressive rock when gothic bands were more introverted and personal, with elements that refer to gothic novel. The opening of the legendary The Batcave Club, a venue for rockers with a darker twist in London, helped the Gothic rock scene finally turn into a subculture. A variety of music used to be played and there were no classifications in the patrons. As most of the bands were part of a greater new wave of post-punk generation, it was common for many of them to deny their connection to the term Goth. Only in recent years has it become a fashion for bands to actually brand themselves Goth before anyone else does.

The subculture began out of the dissatisfied youth hailing from the middle class as a way for them to create their own culture dissimilar from the society that was ruled by materialism and elitism. Goth, as a subculture, is not prejudiced against different sexualities, races, religion or age and for this reason, can easily be compared to the likes of hippy movements. It is commonly known that Goths stand out from the street scene in their dark attire but a study by the University of Sussex states that parents should not be worried if their teenage children suddenly start dressing accordingly. On the contrary, they should rejoice since according to the study, which examined the Goth scene across Europe, “bourgeois” Goths are middle class to the core — a very refined, sensitive group, keen on old literature and not big on anti-social behaviour.

In the mid-1980s most post-punk bands faded and punk had disappeared, so during this time most gothic bands either broke up or came to the resolution of changing their style. The punk clothing and hairstyles mellowed, and the original idea of society’s rejects stayed as the cornerstone of the subculture. As happens with each subculture, Goth has expounded too but sometimes changed results in rebellion. Today Goth style is in many ways an anti-fashion statement but that has not stopped it becoming trendy among popular culture and mainstream, even in Hollywood. On the contrary, Goth can be easily used as a statement against society or its values by taking some of the concepts of a gothic novel and using them as props. As different is always considered dangerous and media has such a big effect on the decisions of society, things like Satanism and ungodly activities may be associated with the term Goth. One genre of music often associated with the Goth subculture is Gothic metal, which combines medieval Gothic music with heavy metal. In the United Kingdom, of equal importance has been the gradual rise of cyber Goth which combines electronic sounds and beats with concepts related to the gothic novel.

Slowly but surely there has seemed to be an influx of electronic music that came in under the guise of industrial. These bands have grown in popularity — especially among the youngsters with energy to expand, with the aid of ever-increasing technology, it is easy for anyone to be a one-man “band” with pre-programmed sounds. Because the concept of Goth and especially Gothic music has broadened over the years, much of what is associated with the term has changed to make some aspects of the subculture too close to mainstream for some. A lot of the dress codes within the culture are determined by the type of gothic music listened to, when aesthetics guide the culture. Many clubs have changed their form completely by leaving the word “Goth” out of their flyers. This is a result of two subcultures becoming too different to co-exist in the same environment. Being a Goth today is widely considered a phase which many will grow out of but controversially has proven to be one of the long-running subcultures still existing. In this article, it is found that even though Goths may have different perceptions of the term and what involves around it, or different ideas on entrepreneurship and different views on business life, the versatility of Goth has to be taken into consideration.

On one hand, to be able to sell products to a certain subculture or to even attract customers from that subculture, the entrepreneur has to know what the culture is about and follow it on some level. Goth, in particular, has its roots in the gothic novel, had its peak and its mellow years but has kept its strength, consistency and style. It started with music and still sticks to it but soon turned into a movement which now involves changes due to the environment, media and modernisation of society. It was found through the interviews that most of the founders of Gothic stores in Finland do not consider themselves as Goths whereas most of the British entrepreneurs absolutely do. This, itself, proves that the Finnish entrepreneurs do not run Gothic businesses and are not focused on selling to Goths but rather to everyone who on some level is alternative or follows underground fashion. The British, on the other hand, run Gothic businesses, see themselves as Goth and focus on their Gothic customers but always remember their alternative customer also, who make up a considerable amount of their clientele.

On the other hand, if the company is more focused on alternative lifestyle rather than just one subculture, then the understanding of alternative lifestyle needs to be on a wider scale. Additionally, several subcultures and underground fashions fall into the category of alternative and therefore a wider range of customers can be reached with the similar style of products. The entrepreneurs, who said in the questionnaires that they are not Goth themselves, consider their company an alternative style company and most of their clientele is seen as an alternative, only some could point out a Goth here or there. The rest saw themselves as Goth and selling products to members of that subculture, hardly recognising one or two customers from the mainstream in their clientele.

Companies and their customers can easily be named generally alternative but if this is done then the true essence of Goth should be remembered. The meaning of Goth is not so big to alternative companies when the Gothic style of clothing applies to all kinds of different alternative lifestyles also besides Goth, hence the focus of alternative clothing stores is not solely on customers of the Goth subculture. The main focus of the interviewed Gothic entrepreneurs is mostly on the idea of alternative clothing rather than simply Goth. When using the term alternative lifestyle, it is easy to get a wider audience and know just a little about everything, when one is actually in the scene itself like the British entrepreneurs tend to be, the companies can actually target their customers better and focus on them hundred percent.

Underground fashion, rather than popular culture or mainstream, is often favoured by the representatives of a subculture. Mainstream is even considered negative by some since the concept of Goth subculture has started to incline more toward it in the recent years and popular culture and media are showing more interest towards the subculture.

When the clientele of a company is generally alternative but leaning more towards mainstream rather than underground, many of the customers still may very well be Goth. This is because some Goths today are not against the fact that the subculture inclines towards mainstream and some Goths are teenagers, likely to be Goth for a while and then change their mind and style to something else. On top of this, Gothic subculture itself can easily be blended into the general notion of alternative lifestyle when one is Goth they are automatically alternative at least from the point of view of popular culture. Thus, some of the interviewed entrepreneurs commented that they wish to keep their store underground enough to stay away from the mainstream but alternative enough to attract customers of all subcultures. Although, this is inevitable when alternative lifestyle consists of so many different concepts that even the representatives from popular culture fit into it.

Additionally, this can apply to many different types of companies, but it is important to note that when a specific subculture is the target group of a company, hardly anyone from the popular culture will mix in with the clientele. The main reason for this is diverse of products, it is easier to please customers of alternative lifestyle when something here or there is bound to catch one’s eye but when selling to a subculture the products are almost always very specific to that one scene. In general, underground fashion is more accessible to the mainstream as the style of any specific subculture often tends to be a distant concept to the popular culture.

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