The Gothic Subculture
The Gothic Subculture
by Brandon Seerup
I have experienced a lot of cultures in my yet short life and have found interest mostly in the different parts of cultures. When researching what to write about for a Culture essay I have decided to take a bit of a different approach. Looking into something more “close to home” for this assignment I wanted to take a bit deeper look at a sub-culture that I have had some experience viewing and sometimes participating in. The Gothic “Scene” is one of the most misunderstood and, a lot of times, shunned groups in America. First impressions always stick like glue in the mind, but I have interviewed an individual who has lived a great part of their life with this group and I believe probably has one of the most insightful perspectives that may shed some light on this “dark” world. These are some subjects I’ve gone over with this person.
What draws people to the Gothic culture?
I think a lot of what drives people to join the Gothic scene as it is a culture where “outcasts” seem acceptable. Another reason I believe that people are driven to the scene is way to express themselves while living in an oppressive environment whether it be family, school, religion, friends, or all of the above, a sort of rebellion you may say.
What is your experience in the Gothic culture?
I am an have always been eccentric and artistic yet painfully shy person all of which made me fitting in anywhere very hard for me I never felt accepted by anyone or any group. I wasn’t raised LDS although I have lived here my entire life, which really didn’t help the “fitting in” part, but I was ok with that I have always been at home with myself and with who I am. I also went to a religious private school throughout junior high and high school where conformity was expected, and grew up in an middle upper class family where normality was an expectation. So I guess you can say a perfect storm was already building. So when I graduated high school and was told (even though I was accepted to many) I could not attend art school I had to go to a real college I began seeking a different outlet to express my frustrations. It didn’t take long before I went to a club where a lot of the Goths of Salt Lake go. I fell instantly in love. I loved the eccentricity of the people, the music, the acceptance, and in general the whole atmosphere. So from there I dyed my hair black and red which of course did not make my family happy but for once I was coming out of my shell I was finally being able to throw off the shackles of normal society and especially the ones that being a resident non-member of the LDS church brings. I had finally found a home somewhere I belonged. I began dressing in eccentric clothing, doing wilder crazier colors and things to my hair, wearing showy makeup. I was letting everything I felt inside out finally and it felt amazing.
As I got more and more into the Gothic scene I made more and more friends I was no longer shy people paid attention to me people knew my name, it was intoxicating for me, especially going from shy repressed girl to a who the hell cares I’m me and this is who it is take it or leave it.
I fell deeper and deeper in love with the music the culture the people. Oh the people, the people from all over and all with similar stories of being out casted or labeled geek, nerd, freak, fat, etc. People who could relate to me and I could relate to them, people who I accepted as who they were and they with me. What was especially appealing to me was how liberal everyone was, which I was definitely not accustomed to.
I tried college several times always failing not because I couldn’t do it but because I was doing it for the wrong reasons, so after my third attempt I decided not to go back and just work. I got my own place and the partying and bars and the friends never seemed to stop I was hooked. I had no plans for the future it was all in the now, as my friends used to say I always “flew by the seat of pants.” I didn’t care about money or a future.
I was involved in the scene for a better part of my young life, and I have never regretted any single moment of it, I would never be where or who I am today if I didn’t choose that road. I wouldn’t have experienced or seen the things that have made me grow soo much as a person. I am still involved in the Gothic culture but in my own way. I realized I don’t need to dress a certain way I don’t need to label myself or even go to bars anymore. I guess in some ways as it pains me to say I’ve grown up I’m in now in college getting my associates of applied science for multimedia/ graphic design, I have goals and life plans, I have a future. I realized I don’t need to be a part of a group to celebrate who I am or what I believe, I just need faith and love of me to be me.
I still dress in all black but less in your face clothing and am slowly getting more comfortable wearing color, after 6 years of black hair I changed it to a funky color but one that more suited my new self. I still love wearing bright colored makeup but its much more toned down and I still love the music. All in my own way though, and to my own standards.
After this revelation and going back a couple of times to the old bars I used to frequent or talk to old friends I’ve realized how different and how far we are apart from each other and though it saddens me it still instills hope that my future doesn’t rely on them anymore, I don’t need to impress them anymore, that all I need is me and self-confidence.
What kinds of individuals are part of this culture?
As I have previously said there are a number or people who make up this culture and in fact there are many subcultures that they are divided into. From steampunk to Lolita to Baby Doll to Rivet Heads to Victorians, Fetishists and I could go on and on yet everyone co-mingles together into what society has labeled Goth.
When I first got into the scene I thought the people where amazing. They were liberal, fun, most came from lower class families, but most of all everyone shared that common bond of not being accepted for who they really are.
The people involved in the Goth scene do their own thing, bands that would never even touch foot in Utah that were constantly played and loved by all were invited and would perform, they have fetish nights every last Saturday of the month at the club where people who have never experienced fetishism can, and those who have can participate and enjoy with each Saturday featuring a different theme. My favorite next to the concerts was their very own festival every year called the Dark Arts festival where everyone (even non goth) is encourage to show their art whether it be clothing, photos, paintings, etc. They have bands, fashion shows, vendors and it’s truly an experience to be had.
When I got out of the scene and started seeing things a little differently, I found some of the people mostly the people I knew the best to be as I call it “stuck in never never land” lost boys and girls who in a way never want grow up. Most don’t or can’t hold a job. Go to the bar every night and really only care what you can do for them not what can they do to help a friend or vice versa. A lot of these people have false senses of security one is even now classified as a gang by the Utah State Police even though I know from personal experience they are nothing but an adult club house. Most of the people are from lower class single parent homes and have had some run ins’ with the law. They are usually not even high school graduates and a good portion of them have had children at a very young age that the males (some mind you) have no want or care to be in their child/children’s life or the women (some once again mind you) have don’t the same thing. To me the people that I now see are people who have no future, because they have no choice because of their consistent bad choices whether it be with the law, with bad references, or no degree, but I find so disheartening is that these people are perfectly alright with that, they are perfectly happy doing what they are doing even when some of them are in their late 20’s to early 50’s. But that is how they choose to live. As long as they are happy and where they want to be that’s all that matters in the end really.
What makes the general populous uncomfortable about this culture?
I believe what makes the general public especially here in Utah uncomfortable with this culture is it’s like many different cultures in America, they don’t understand it so it scares them, and instead of trying to get to know the culture to gain knowledge and understanding they rather slap uninformed labels that they been told by Movies, Books, Churches, that Goths are evil, devil worshipping freaks, suicidal maniacs with a fascination for blood or drinking blood, or practice black magic that curses people which honestly couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Most of the people in the Goth scene are agnostic or pagean (believing in Mother Nature and treasuring her gifts). In all my years in the scene I have met 1 out of the many gothics in Utah that supposedly did worship the devil. A lot of them are also atheist, and some believe it or not are LDS and even devote Catholics who go to church every Sunday.
Then there are some people like me who have a plethora of beliefs and are highly spiritual but in their own ways.
When it comes to the Goth scene thinking suicide is admirable or cutting themselves for fun is cool or drinking blood happens is completely glamorized by movies and books. This sort of behavior has never been condoned by the Goth scene and in fact sadly a good amount of people involved in the culture including me suffer from some kind of mental illness, have been suicidal, or have cut themselves. The Goth culture looks highly down upon those who make fun of anyone who has had these conditions because a lot of them know what its like and have great understanding and comfort for those who suffer from it. In no way do they promote it or expect it and in a way it’s quite disgusting for anyone of any culture to label someone who can’t help their brain chemistry as wrong or evil.
I still remember one experience I had walking down the sidewalk with a friend and a mother with her child where coming toward us as they got closer I see the mother cover her child’s eyes and cross the street. When she was safely on the other side she told us we were evil and should pray for forgiveness. I still am disgusted at the ignorance and intolerance of that woman. Not only was she offensive and ignorant she was teaching her child the same thing, that people who are different are wrong, are evil, and in essence going to hell. What’s even more astonishing is that this would not be the last time that someone has pulled their child away from me or my friends or even have crossed the street or given me or my friends wide births in stores just to avoid us.
In all honesty I don’t think this is just a Goth issue its and issue with many cultures in Utah and throughout America and it only continues in a vicious cycle from parent to child to treat people differently or offensively because people are simply put scared of unknown beliefs and differences that may conflict or go against their own.
Should anyone that finds this culture interesting feel free to “join the crowd”?
This is a hard question to answer as I have seen both sides of the culture some of the Goths are really great people work as lawyers, for newspapers, fashion designers, photographers, and people with respectable jobs and use the culture as an outlet they are amazing people with amazing talent people who truly understand what Goth is. Then there are those who are the lost boys and girls who may take advantage of someone. Those who take the labels the world has placed on them and instead of proving them wrong embrace them embellish them and therefore only increase ignorance of this at times beautiful mysterious culture.
I would say honestly if you are drawn to it try it, experience it. I life not lived is not worth living the worst thing that could happen is that you walk away a little hurt but with a lot of understanding and knowledge that you can now inform the misinformed on.
Is there any type of hierarchy in this culture?
I always honestly found this quite funny, but yes there is a hierarchy, but I never really followed it, and the upper hierarchy always kind of melded together. But it was almost like a test when you first really get into the culture you learn the nick names of the stages and soon you can recognize the stage a person is at just by quickly looking at them. Even today I catch myself putting people I see into the stages whether I’m at the bar or at the mall.
What are these stages? Can you explain them?
Well there is baby bat which is completely new person to the scene, they still have their natural hair color, no piercings, no tattoos, may have a black shirt with jeans on or may dress like how they think Goths dress as they have seen on TV. Most Goth’s will eye these people and then take bets on whether they will be back or not. That’s the true test, but they won’t talk to them.
Then there are Scene Kids, they will have on the complete “hot topic collection”, they have no clue about the music, they don’t care about the culture, they are only there because it’s the cool thing to do. They will have dyed black hair. They may have “vampire fangs”, a lip ring or nose ring, maybe an eyebrow piercing to seem like they are “hard core”. Most Goth’s will not give these people the time of day.
Next on the hierarchy is Spooky Kid, this is so named after Marilyn Manson. These people will have made alterations to their clothing making it their own, they have survived the baby bat stage have skipped over the scene kid stage and are experimenting more with their looks like hair, tattoos, and piercings once again making it their own. They are beginning to know more and more of the bands and their names and may recognize a song or two. The Goths will pay more attention to these people they take them more seriously they see that they are not here to make their parents mad, because it’s cool, or to make fun of them that these people may actually take the culture seriously. The Goths may even say a few words to them.
Goth or Gothic is the third from the top tier of the hierarchy this group along with the other three are the ones that begin to meld together they have known each other and usually hang out. It’s what baby bats and spooky kids strive to get into good graces with so they can move on to the upper tiers. These people have established their style this is usually where the other subcultures that stem from Goth come into play they start to choose which one fits them more maybe just Goth or maybe Lolita or even Rivet Head attire, this is a lot of times dependent on the music they favor. These people not only know the bands, songs, and lyrics but the type of genre they fall under like EBM (European Body Movement) Dark Wave, Industrial, Gothic, Death Metal, Electronica, etc.
Elder Goths are the people who aren’t so concerned with their appearance or representing who they are, unless it’s a special occasion. They are comfortable with their standing they are usually people who have been in the culture for years and years. They know everyone and have special pull with the DJ’s, bouncers, and bar tenders. They really only mingle with the Goths and have very little to no interest in the other groups. To them this is their life their identity. They are the ones that everyone knows their names but have never met them. They are like the “mafia bosses” of the Goth world.
Geriatric Goth only a few words on this. They have been in the scene way past their prime, and are still trying to relive the glory days and have pretty much everyone in the lower tiers under their thumbs (at least they think they do).
The main tier everyone strives to be in is of course either Goth or Elder Goth in this culture. Like I said before I find it to be quite hilarious there is an actual hierarchy, and as I said before I never really cared about it, I just went to relax, be with friends, be me, and have fun.
How does Emo fit into these stages?
Actually Emo is very very, very, different than Goth and in fact putting those two cultures in the same sentence, to many, would be an insult. There are some similarities in dress and maybe a little in music but that is it. Emo is considered more a teenage angst thing that teens grow out of. A lot of time Goth is a lifestyle choice that many choose to live the rest of their lives with.
In conclusion I hope to have brought a bit more understanding or at least another point of view to have heard before looking down upon or fearing the next person that looks a bit different or dark. First impressions are hard to get past, but I suppose if they were easier to brush off a lot more people would get along. I suppose we can’t have that.