Is Goth PolItical?
Outsiders and those who have longed to live out their adolescent years often look at teenagers who form subcultures with curiosity, and perhaps, disdain. The sullen youths clad in that unmistakable garb of baggy black clothing- grouped like a herd of morbid sheep has become recognizable to wider society, however the prevalence of goth’s aesthetic in mainstream culture has not necessarily served to propagate its ethos. Conventional media has been notorious for adopting aesthetics from various subcultures in order to cater to the masses. Goth as an aesthetic has made an impact culturally with characters inspired by the gothic subculture such as Nancy Downs from The Craft and goth even becoming “trendy” fashion every once in a while. However, considering the extent to which the word “goth” has been skewed it can make the average consumer wonder, is there substance beyond the gothic aesthetic? Is the gothic subculture truly a fully formed counterculture with its own ideals and views?
Fascination with the occult, the supernatural, and death has not always been an exclusive aesthetic associated with the goth subculture. The existence of bands such as The Misfits, The Cramps, and T.S.O.L all serve to prove that point. The initial emergence of the gothic aesthetic can be pinpointed in literature which countless artists have drawn inspiration from. Most notably, fans of The Damned have often imitated frontman Dave Vanian’s vampiric wardrobe of white ruffled shirts, leather, and velvet. Beginning in the 1980s, the punk revolution spearheaded a reevaluation of how to keep the momentum going with a revised ideology. During this period of post-punk, a new strategy spawned to come to terms with the corruption of the government and the elitism rife within politics as a whole. The emergence of bands like Blood and Roses, Brigandange, and Sex Gang Children all demonstrate the change of attitude from focusing on social work and trying to change the system to focusing on changing yourself and navigating the darkness and light of the world. That is to say with the development of goth as a subculture, individuals who defied social norms such as gender and sexuality were able to find a haven where freewill and freedom of expression was accepted by a community of like-minded individuals with similar interests. While goth never really had a set ideology that all individuals agreed upon, the idea of gender and sexuality is inherently political. The Goth subculture has historically shared spaces with the LGBT community, embracing androgyny and typically “feminine” aesthetics. Members of Specimen, Corpus Delicti, Bauhaus, and London After Midnight all serve as an example of defiance of gender norms by wearing eyeliner, fishnets, and backcombing their hair. There has also been a history of politically charged songs by gothic bands such as Killing an Arab by The Cure, Sexism’s sick (part I & II) by Lost Cherrees, Candidate by Joy Division, anxiety by 1919, Baghdad by scarlet's remains, and This Corrosion by the Sisters of Mercy serve as some examples. It’s fair to say that goth tackles a societal problem but the distinction between goth and comparable subcultures comes to light when realizing that goth is more individually focused. Those who are part of the subculture all have a love and passion for the music that is primarily filled with themes of romanticism, melancholy, and a sense of hopelessness as a reaction to the state of the world.
Although a space where the acceptance of individuals from different walks of life can come together with their love for music and darkly-inclined aesthetic seems ideal, it can be alienating in the sense that differences aren’t discussed. I’ve heard the phrase “I don’t see colour” used as a crutch to draw attention away from the fact that representation of goths of colour is very minimal compared to the amount of white goths represented. I’ve seen fashion brands promoted and worn by goths sell apparel with “Goth is White” as well as white centric make-up lines defended despite the racist past of the person behind it. The responses I’ve seen as a reaction to these occurrences are frankly underwhelming, and hasn’t helped much with the fact that many goths of colour continue to receive backlash because “goth is for white people” or how the materialism has misled many interested in the subculture to care more about the look rather than promoting the music and keeping the subculture’s ideals alive. Sometimes it’s not even just individuals, it’s influential bands and magazines. In the 90s, the gothic magazine propaganda used fascist symbolism in some instances. While it could be argued that they were used for provocation similar to how punks used them in the late 70s, it’s still in bad taste, deeply disturbing, disrespectful, and dangerous regardless of the political persuasions behind them and the intent with which they were used. The band Death in June are known nazis and the controversial deathrock pioneer, Rozz Williams was known for his use of nazi imagery and of the n word in Romeo’s distress.The fact that an artist has made good music, doesn’t excuse their actions and negate the well-warranted criticism advanced towards them. By ignoring these issues, goth is tolerating bigoted individuals and continues creating a space where marginalized groups outside of their gothic identity don’t feel welcomed or heard. Goth may be an alternative culture but it’s not equivalent to being ostracized from society because of the colour of your skin, the language you speak, or your legal status. Many in the scene are picked on for wearing dog-collars or dyed hair, but for people of colour in the scene and women, such bullying is combined with abhorrent racism and sexism- but the appearance for which they are discriminated against isn’t a fashion choice, it is a fact of life.
I think identifying as goth, at least for me, and perhaps for others who aren’t white, has created an experience of alienation from their culture because people in your community will tell you that you’re whitewashed or that being a part of a subculture is a white people thing. As a subculture, it’s important to locally promote goth brands, bands, and creators of colour. We also have an individual duty to combat complacency, to speak out when you hear racist remarks. Because racists and fascists definitely don’t belong in the goth subculture, but there must also be substance behind statements which denounce those ideologies- not mere posturing. It’s important to show up for people of colour because as we know, goth started as a space for anyone outside of the norm, those who love the music and embrace the aesthetic, and as such it should open to anyone, most definitely including goths of colour who have too often been excluded despite their notable contributions to the goth subculture.