Sunday, July 29, 2007

Where Have All the Goth Kids Gone?

a report:

Flashback to December 1999.

Americans are shaking their bon-bons to Ricky Martin and stocking up on soup cans for Y2K. Regis Philbin's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" is a hit television show, and Britney Spears is a proud virgin. And on a stage in New York City, Azrael Abyss, he of the powdered-white face and poofed hair, is being buried alive. "I'm dead indeed la la la," he chirps, eyes atwinkle with tee-hee menace.

Azrael Abyss is no gothic soldier of the underworld; he is a comedic creation of Chris Kataan's on Saturday Night Live. In the late-90s "Goth Talk" sketch, Azrael Abyss and Circe Nightshade (Molly Shannon) discuss issues of darkness and gloom, only to be sidetracked by references to Azrael's un-goth gig at Cinnabon. The buried-alive segment was one of the final editions of "Goth Talk." Before the dawn of the new millennium, the sketch went off the air. It died. Period.

But what of the real-life subculture it was lampooning? What happened to "goth"? And before we answer that, what the hell is "goth"?

"The word Goth means a lot of things," says "Dru", senior at the University of Maine. Dru is a frequent contributor to "Alone In the Night | Vampire and Goth Appreciation!," a Facebook discussion group with more than 1,500 members. "In terms of architecture, it means grand cathedrals with tower spires and stained-glass windows. In the literary terminology, Goth defines a genre of stories that involve the degradation of a once grand past." As for the subculture spawned by these influences, Dru offers this: “I am not saying that there is a set Gothic mindset, but there are common similarities. The clothes and the music come after...”

While classic stories (Poe's, Hawthorne's) explore degradation of the past, the contemporary gothic subculture suffers degradation in its own right. "Mainstream" is a hard-to-quantify word, but it's safe to say it relates to beliefs generally accepted by a large swath of the population. The one link between heartlanders who enjoy Two and Half Men and hipsters who watch Flight of the Conchords is dismissal of the relevance of anything and everything goth.

And if there's not outright dismissal, then there's outright mocking: a recent Ikea advertisement for twin-cloth quilts read thusly: "Brightens up your grad's dorm. Unlike a creepy gothic roommate, who can be a bad influence."

In an age where interest groups of every stripe rail against offenses both real and imagined, the Ikea advertisement has survived unblemished, with little protest outside a smattering of blogs. Ikea doesn't mind offending the goth minority, while the mainstream population doesn't seem to care either way.

Does all this add up to a dwindling subculture, one losing its voice ever since Marilyn Manson jokes got stale? Where have all the goth kids gone?

"Look harder," Dru answers. "There are pockets of authentic Gothic people. There have been changes in the music and additions to fashion, but most people would consider these alterations Gothic."

So what happens if you "look harder"?

You find a modern-day goth community not all that different from the one by turns followed, appreciated, chided, and parodied back in the 1990s. In other words, just because a certain group of people is not on tv everyday, does not mean that group ceases to exist.

In Brisbane, Australia, a goth organization has more than three hundred members; they've had seventy-seven in-person meetings so far. Similar groups exist everywhere from Glasgow to Austin to Ottawa. Right now, somewhere in the world, two twentysomethings are debating the gothic credibility of the band Inkubus Sukkubus. Elsewhere, a teenager is rocking out his garage to The Mission U.K. These men and women are real. And alive. They're not Azrael or Circe.

"Mainstream society is a state of ruin," Dru says, responding to criticisms of goth culture. "Most people don't even care about their religion unless it's threatened...the government cares more about money than the people it governs. Gothic people, who usually live outside this sphere of corruption, have every right to criticize modern society."

And so they do, for whether you believe goth culture is a revelation or a farce, the movement nevertheless subsists, picking up followers from new generations along the way.

"The clothes and the music hooked me," Dru says. "I finally found a niche."


David Ogles said...

Haha, have you read Chuck Klosterman's article about Goths in Disneyland? Apparently hundreds of Goths flock (I think "flock" is an especially appropriate verb for them, btw) to the Magic Kingdom for this one special day of the year and act like little kids, either creeping everyone there out with their Group Photos of Doom or confusing those heartland types who think that the new mascots Disney is using are just a bit more macabre than necessary. Anyways, your post reminded me of that haha. Goths are terrible.

YiQi C. said...

I would much rather see a disappearance of goth iconography from mainstream music, fashion, and film...and still be able to find images of "authentic" goth alive in fan communities (including those that participate in fan fiction, make fanvids, attend anime conventions, are into cosplay, and even listen to european and asian metal bands [visual kei]).

Great reference to Goth Talk--i loved that skit. Somehow, though, the only one i ever saw of it included Rob Lowe.

RPlocher said...

The Goths, you forgot to mention, were also a Germanic tribe responsible for the burning of Rome (or were those the Osigoths?). In any case, that particular Germanic folk still roams Westphalia in large numbers, especially at my school in tiny, untrendy Mönchengladbach.

I can't bring myself to tell the Germans that they're all 10 years behind, fashion-wise.

Anonymous said...

i disagree with you, david ogles. just because goths are different than everyone (because they aren't afraid to be, unlike you apparently)doesn't mean that they are bad people or that they are stupid or freaks. goths are people too, just not people who are ignorant like you.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Although I don't think the meeting up and all of the gothic websites are very "goth".

g.v.w. said...

Yes, David Ogles' comment seems so hateful. And I don't appreciate that coming from someone who neither knows anything about the subcultures or cares to. So why should he care to discriminate? I'll tell you why, because it's just easier to conform to society and be like everyone else and shun things that in the surface seem evil. But it's not. I'm not. I have respect for others views, and I can only hope others have enough tolerance to let me have my own.

Anonymous said...

all of you sound like the sterotype i have been fighting for years. are you guys typing your "david ogles hate mail" in tripp pants and marilyn manson t shirts?
Goth really isn't about non-conformity. it is about rejection of modern society. you conform to the new society "Goth" gives you. so stop the stupid crap of 'Modern society is just a discriminate machine of self hatred and narcissim and realize that you too spend about an hour in the bathroom doing your gloomy make up and that you too want the same things as everyone else. "Goth" and "non-goth" really aren't all that different. just the wants from modern society.

Ice said...

Okay, the guy above me said it perfectly. I am goth, but it's not all about "hate the world" and "don't conform". Half the "goths" out there are conforming what they think a goth should wear or listen to. Saying they're so unique when they got this shirt although 20 million other people got it at Hot Topic as well.
It's not about that.