This is a question that has been bothering me for quite a while. I don’t just mean the black trenchcoat, black fingernail polish, black clothes, and corpse paint. What exactly does it mean to be goth?
The original Goths were, according to dictionary.com, “a Germanic people who invaded the Roman Empire in the early centuries of the Christian era”.
The word Gothic as pertaining to architecture (medieval Gothic) means “an architectural style prevalent in western Europe from the 12th through the 15th century and characterized by pointed arches, rib vaulting, and a developing emphasis on verticality and the impression of height”.
Gothic literature-- and I think we’re getting a little bit closer to what you want here-- is “a style of fiction that emphasizes the grotesque, mysterious, and desolate”. If I remember correctly the brief skimming-over given to it by my English prof, the Gothic romance is characterised by the heroine having some rather nasty things happen to her-- usually imprisonment and rape by either a mysterious and handsome or mysterious and grotesque man. Gothic literature got going around the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century.
An acquaintance of mine who calls herself a goth described it as embracing and experiencing the sad and dark aspects of life, whereas most people ignore that and go for the happy sunny stuff. I’m not going to speculate on the psychological appeal of it other than to say that if someone is feeling particularly down or depressed or gloomy, it might make them feel better to wear black and brood about it a little. And I think especially among teenage goths, there’s a rebellion aspect to it-- people tell you to keep your chin up and be happy even if you feel sad, so you do precisely the opposite and be as sad and dreary as you feel.
So basically, it’s a glorfied way of saying “willfully depressed?”
LOL! Maybe - or perhaps we modify the literature definition provided for by Indefatigable as:
“a state of mind that emphasizes the grotesque, mysterious, and desolate”.
Or something like that.
On another MB, some people defined Goth as: People with the ability to see beauty in dark things.
I thought that was a little…broad to say the least.
I like Brian’s definition.
Ashtar: I’m thinking along the lines deliberately exploring a depressed or angry state of mind. If you did it long enough that the original cause of the depression was not an issue anymore (that is, if the original cause was external, and not something relating to natural brain chemistry), you might get stuck in the rut, which is when you’d turn into a tiresome stereotype.
It’s worth noting that adult goths (adults being people who are out of the range of adolescence-induced mood swings and conformity-encouraging environments like highschool and college) don’t seem to do it so much as a long-term lifestyle as an occasional game or fashion statement. “I feel dark and mysterious today-- let’s wear black lace and go howl at the moon when it gets dark.”
I’ll say. I think Dennis Haysbert is a fine looking guy, and I’m no Goth.
“The desire to get mommy to notice you.”
Buddhist monks wear orange robes, which is their burial robe. That seems to me to be the ultimate Goth. Embracing death as the balance of life. Celebrating both death and life.
Well, necessarily broad. It’s like anything else – ask a hundred goths what it means to be goth, and you’ll get a hundred different answers. And actually, that’s a really good, succinct answer, if you’re looking for a simple, “in general” response.
“Willful depression” is rather silly though. Most goths I know are normally happy people. Many of us simply don’t feel that things that are generally considered dark or grotesque are in and of themselves bad things. (We also tend to be night owls. )
For myself at least, and a few others I know, a big part of it is sensuality – in the sense of becoming fully involved in your five senses, which may or may not coincide with sexuality. Hence the elaborate clothing (vision and touch), music (hearing), and dance (vision and the kinaesthetic [sp?] sense). Normal life tends to impose this detachment from the body and senses, so it’s nice to make time to give yourself over to them every once in a while.
There are also several different “branches” of goth, so the answer will change depending on that two. Cyberpunk, Victorian, fetish, etc. are all looking to get somewhat different things out of the subculture. There really is no one answer here.
Perhaps this is just my impression of them, but it always seems that those who are goths feel like they are outcasts. Would you say this is true Kaio?
No. Some do. Perhaps as we get older we grow out of that, but from what I can tell from the folk I hang with at the club, most of them are quite happy with who they are and don’t worry overmuch what others think. For some people it may start out from feeling like an outcast and needing to belong somewhere, but again, that can happen with any sub-culture, so I don’t think it’s particular to goth-ness.
Perhaps what you’re seeing is that a lot of us like being “different” from what the mainstream sees as normal? It’s a more comfortable fit for us to be outside the mainstream (e.g. I personally find hanging out in sports bars guzzling beer boring as hell), but that’s less a case of being “cast out” of the mainstream than willingly removing ourselves from it.
(Pardon if any of this isn’t making sense. I woke up with a cold so am feeling kinda loopy. bleh.)
The problem I have with this explanation is that if a person doesn’t want to belong to the mainstream because they don’t want to be a follower, then doesn’t joining a small subculture kind of defeat the purpose since they are merely following another, smaller group?
Well sure, except I didn’t mention anything about leading or following in my reply.
It’s not about following or not. It’s about finding a bunch of people with common interests. I think you’re confusing the teenage rebellion goth stage (which, admittedly, is often someone’s first entree into the scene) with people who are there because they want to be, as opposed to wanting to rebell against what other people expect/want for them.
Am I making sense?
Kaio: that makes sense. I think that’s what I was trying to say about the difference between adult and teen goths.
But then, what’s the difference between ‘following’ and ‘finding people with common interests and dressing like them’?
I’m not saying this as a condemnation of subcultures that are identified with a particular fashion sense, but I do think that people (like the kiddie goths) often don’t realise when they’re following and when they’re being individuals. If you feel that you have no place in the mainstream, you find people with whom you feel you do have a place. Refusing to be part of the mainstream doesn’t automatically mean you’re not part of any group-- you’ll probably find a group you like, and become part of it. Even if it’s not the most popular or populous group, it’s a group. People just like to have a place to belong, even if they won’t admit it.
Otherwise, you wouldn’t have subcultures-- you’d just have a lot of uncategorizable miscellaneous eclectic eccentrics.
I think that’s also why things like astrology and silly personality quizzes (of the what-breed-of-dog-are-you or which-superhero-are-you type) are so popular-- people do like to be told what they are, a little bit. It’s fascinating for people to think of themselves as part of a group or a category, and think about what that means, even if they don’t really take it seriously.
Having said all that, there’s something to be said for a person who isn’t afraid to go against what’s popular, and be different from the norm in a world that encourages sameness. It’s just easier to do when you have a lot of other people who want to be the same kind of different that you are.
Kaio, sorry if I was putting words in your mouth. That wasn’t my intent. Perhaps you could tell me what you believe it is to be a goth?
Heh. Kind of a chicken-and-egg question. Do you hang out with these folks because you have the same taste in clothes, or do you have the same taste in clothes because you hang out? Probably a little of both.
NP, I know you weren’t. Just pointing out the mistake in your logic train.
Speaking strictly for myself, the Gothic subculture is about a lot of different things to me. One big thing, as I said, is the sensuality, and to a somewhat lesser extent, the sexuality. When I go out to the goth club it affords me the opportunity to indulge in these two things when often I would have no other opportunities to do so. It’s about being able to dress up and show yourself off a bit, being able to dance like a whore wearing very little and knowing that the people there will still respect my personal space. So I can express my sensual/sexual side and not have to worry that some dumbass will assume (incorrectly) that it’s a bid to get someone in my pants. In fact, in the past 3+ years, I’ve had only one gothboy get drunk and inappropriately grabby. Same can’t be said for the yuppies (mainstreamers) I’ve run into. Occassionally we’ll get some invading yuppies, and I’ll have problems with one of their boys about half the time that happens. When I used to go to more mainstream clubs (very VERY brief period in my life, believe me) I could just about count on someone grabbing me about 80% of the times I went out.
That said, there’s also an element of getting to be somewhat “naughty”, by the way I dress, by flirting, with the whole bondage/fetish association, stuff like that. Pushing boundaries, I guess, mainly my own. Gives me a thrill. And I’ll admit to deriving a certain pleasure from freaking out the yuppies (especially the aforementioned invading ones). There’s also a certain spiritualness to it, about appreciating and embracing the dark and invisible and intangible things. Darkness isn’t something to be afraid of, here, it’s just the other side of light.
We have a few unspoken rules. Don’t invade another’s space unless you’ve been invited (or can’t help it, e.g. if the club is really crowded). No beer-shuffle: don’t dance with a drink in your hand. Don’t hog the dance floor or be constantly colliding with other dancers. If you want my attention, ask for it, if I say no, accept it gracefully. Don’t dance to look good, dance to feel good (and yes, you can tell by watchin 'em. Those who dance to look good end up looking silly, generally).
I’m not sure I’m explaining this well, since it’s about such intangible things. We may sound spooky, but we’re actually a very friendly lot.
Other amusing correlations I’ve observed:[ul]
[li]there’s a lot of crossover between the goth subculture, and among those who practice pagan faiths and/or bondage/fetish (although I don’t think that’s too surprising)[/li]
[li]about 99.9% of the goths I know are either computer geeks, artists, or both[/li]
[li]I swear I had more but apparently the nap hasn’t helped my aforementioned loopiness at all. grumble[/li][/ul]
I hope that was helpful. Might be easier if you had specific questions you could ask me.
Kaio, like you said, if you ask a hundred different Goths you will get a hundred different answers. To me, being Goth is about seeing beauty in everything, not just what the mainstream has come to define as such btu even in the darker things that have been branded evil or taboo. I have a tendency to see things as they are, not as the world tells me to see them and perhaps that is what one poster referred to as “willfully depressed” because quite frankly, there are some aspects of human nature that downright depress me.
As another way things take on many different facest, I don’t club. I used to , and found that I simply did not enjoy it and that it wasn’t my thing. I’m an artist, a musician, and a poet, and I’ve found these are the ways I release, these are the ways I express myself. I like to create beautiful things, elegant things, sometimes with a touch of the dark or morbid, sometimes not.
Like Kaio said too, specific questions may be easier to answer than something so broad, especially when you have so many different forms of expression.
Hmm…specific questions. Well, how about we start with the dark clothes. What’s up with the all black clothing all the time? Also, what’s the deal with the black fingernail polish and the corpse paint?
I would have to say goths are social outcasts, clamering togeather under a lable that they happen to like more than, geek, weirdo, or freak.