Rants & Essays

What Is Goth (Again)?

By TJ Hardman Jr.

I will give you the polite answer.

To be very simple, gothic alludes to a fascination with the dark side of life, not a fascination with evil. We just admit that life is not perfect and pretty. There is evil, we observe it, we do not celebrate it. There is good in life. For many of us the good in life is music, our friends, the way we dress, intelligent conversation. Our music is in many cases very tribal; we love it but nobody else likes it much. It's not bad music, it's just usually more complex than most people will like, much like classical music: very good stuff but not "popular."

Many of us are artists, many of us write much, though perhaps we don't write professionally as a job or vocation. Goth can be easily explained to say that we love beautiful things, but what we think is beautiful, many people might think strange. Perhaps we think some things are beautiful because other people think those things are strange; everything needs someone to appreciate it, and even things like bats need to have people think they are "cute."

We love beautiful things. Perhaps the greatest achievement of art - perhaps the definition - is that with art, with skill, the commonplace may be disguised to become a glory. While we are a new subculture, perhaps really only 30 years old at most, we absorb elements of subcultures which go back a very long ways through history. For instance, we (purists) take from the ethic of the ancient Celtic Druids an admonition to memorize an epic cycle of a people, a culture, an artistic movement, or a political ideal. Also, whoever has the talent will discover the entirety of a field of art sufficiently as to be a competent critic. We also take similar elements from the Geisha subculture. Refinement of art, refinement of skill, refinement of person, are all considered desirable by the older, more-experienced Goths. As my personal opinion, to speak only for myself, I believe we have much to learn about the beauty of precision and "thusness" from such formal subcultures as the Geisha, the Elders of any other culture who preserve precise ways - I am myself fascinated by Cambodian dance, I don't understand it but it is definitely beautiful - and practices of art. I also believe that our subculture will evolve its own distinctive patterns. Perhaps our best subcultural attribute is that we seek for beauty and understanding and will mold ourselves according to whichever practice will bring more beauty into our lives.

Many of us are fond of cemeteries. Many people have unpleasant reminders from cemeteries; they only are in cemeteries when someone they love has died and the memories are too strong and sad. But we recognize that the eternal monuments were created as things of beauty to remind the future that the past was a thing of beauty, and now is in the earth. All things pass on, we ourselves will one day be in the earth and we would not want to be left all alone to rot, forgotten by all. So we will tour the cemeteries, to witness the memorials to people who are, to us, strangers. We may say, they have such a lovely monument, someone must have loved them very much to mark their passage with such beauty. Some people might think that we glorify death, but we celebrate life - and death is a part of life. We come from the world and are part of it, and in the end we rejoin the world as part of the earth. Life is a cycle, death is a milestone, and do we live in the memories of others? We can hope that someday people like us will come to see our beautiful monuments and wonder who we were, and what we did, and perhaps in some way, we will live in the memories of strangers, as we honor the memories of strangers by visiting the monuments to their earthly remains.

But also there is a small dark side to our subculture. Often, our members come from those young intelligentsia who find that their parent culture has little to offer us as we mature. We strike out on our own. Often we are very sad; there is in this world much pain and horror. We may look as if we are pretending to be the most sinister or frightening icons of our parent culture, but this may be because one may through mockery dis-empower those unflattering elements. But it is true that many of us are very emotionally depressed, because the world is a terrible place where people do horrible things to other people for stupid reasons. This may be the central element of our movement. We are surrounded by horror, great horrors, and also small horrors, and we are damaged by this.

Some of "Goth" is merely trendy hangers-on, people who fancy the music or the fashion but who do not reach down to the ethic. For those of us who are "real" and not "poseurs," we are sad, we are horrified, we represent ourselves as horrors in an abreactive mime designed to shock the mainstream world from its complacency about - and acceptance of - casual horror in everyday life, accepted as "de-rigeur" so far as it isn't of personal impact.

The subcultural hard-core of Goth is not much represented in many venues, if you were to say "I shall investigate Goth" you will find many people dressing as mimes in order to access sexual promiscuity in singles-bars. But look beyond that... You will find a lot of artists and professionals with an ethic which has at its core a pursuit of a somber and reflective beauty.

If you have anything in your own culture which is similar, we will be pleased to be informed, as our search for somber beauty and calm reflective measurement and ritual - and the music which might therefrom derive - is never-ending. We are a young subculture, and formative influences are welcome, whenever they may come. But please show us beauty... and above all, show us Style.

Thank you for your honest curiosity.