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“What are the worst dangers that threaten our children today? Satanism? Drugs? Homosexuality? A culture of violence? Heat exhaustion? What if there was a danger that included all of these? That danger is here, and its name is GOTH. ” 1 Those words, taken from the website hosted by Parents American Religious Organizations Defending Youth which main purpose is to inform and warn parents against dangers related to Gothic subculture, best summarize the confusion around the phenomenon of being ‘Goth’. Is gothdom a sinister cult posing danger to the society or a harmless movement, one among many?
The commonly negative reputation of the Gothic subculture, especially among parents and teachers, has its roots in stereotypes. ‘Stereotype’ is defined in the Webster’s New World Dictionary as “a fixed or conventional notion or conception, as of a person, group, idea, etc. , held by a number of people, and allowing for no individuality, critical judgment, etc. ” Stereotypes are usually imposed on the group of people they are applied to by others who are not within the group but are instead critical of them, very often due to lack of understanding or fear.
Thus stereotypes are simplified cutouts representing general ideas rather than real living human beings, depriving them of their exceptional individual features. Such attitude easily leads to intolerance, resentment and loss of communication between general society and the subculture, hiding the real truths of alive people behind the stereotypical fiction. Among many stereotypes related to Goths, one of the most common ones is obsession with death. The commonly held view is that they are antisocial outcasts attempting suicide or desiring to kill someone else.
In reality, Goths’ fascination with everything related to death is not as superficial as it appears at first sight. Their “viewpoint on death is one of acceptance of the fate that awaits us all rather than ‘whistling past the graveyard’, denying death and hoping it will just go away. Goths accept death as a natural part of life, part of the natural balance of things. This does not mean, however, that Goths invite death by attempting suicide or homicide – instead they accept and respect death for what it is, and move on.
“2 Although the notion of suicide is fascinating among them, it is not accepted as a solution to their own existential problems, but as an admitted failure to their emotions of despair, loss and loneliness. In this aspect it is the self-awareness and an attempt to overcome the fear of death, an attempt to pursue a critical analysis of their own proximity to death; a different attitude towards this problem, contrary to the one shown in tabloids and TV programmes, where the idea of dying is either ignored or deprived of its dignity. As Birgit Richard points out:
“The Gothics are one of the most conspicuous subcultures because they work against the suppression of ageing with their deathly pale faces in a time when sun-studio tanned complexions are the epitome of health. They become the terror of a deathless producing and consuming culture which marginalizes the process of dying and bodily decay to be able to proclaim the ideal of perpetual youth. Putting death at the centre of their style and their lives becomes a provocation by a subcultural group of adolescents which cannot be forgiven by society. Youth has to look fresh and ‘tasty’; it is not supposed to walk around ‘dead’.
In a society with an ever increasing average life expectancy, dealing with death is suitable only when a certain age has been reached. ” Another stereotype commonly associated with Goths is that their culture is anti-Christian with its Satanic motifs, black clothing, occult jewellery and devilish music of Marilyn Manson. They are accused of the worship of Satan, dangerous rituals and blood-drinking. Being attracted to the idea of self-mutilation, they are proud of their scars and occult symbols carved with razor blades all over their bodies.
The Gothic movement is considered dark and self-destructive, glorifying everything that is morbid, and degrading everything that is good. The truth hiding behind this stereotype is different. Although the rooms of the “blacks’ are designed in a special manner, e. g. containing small altars with accessories like grave-ribbons, crucifixes, grave lamps, candles and skulls, their purpose is not to serve as a place for black masses but to “reconstruct the dark atmosphere of the cemetery, its proximity to death, or serve as a cave that shelters from a threatening outside world.
“3 The colour black which dominates the style of clothing does not stand for their attraction to Satan but expresses a sense of despair, ascetic isolation and is the symbolization of inevitable death. The same meaning is vital for hair dyed black, specific make-up with black eye-shadow, lipstick and nail polish, and a chalky white face. Since Goths are attracted to everything related to death, their favourite motifs in jewellery are skulls, skeletons and bones, which serve as memento more rather than provocative items.
Other popular accessories, such as crucifixes, stars of David, ankh, the pentagram and the cross turned upside down, do not serve as symbols of Satanism but as distinguishing feature from the institutionalized church or a protective talisman against evil eye. “Symbolism rejected by as irrational by other parts of society enables them to express dissatisfaction with the institutionalized church and the completely rationalized modern civilization.
“Also their favourite venue, cemetery, has a completely different function than the stereotypical one, considered as a place for morbid Satanic rituals, since it serves as a symbol of mortality, silence, isolation and mourning. To the majority of society Goths are plain deviants and worshippers of Marilyn Manson and other ‘dangerous’ music which inspired the tragic Columbine shootings 5. “The titles of the songs alone are enough to show just what kind of music this is: Gloomy Sunday, The Order of Death, Draining Faces, Laughing Pain, Haunted, Movement of Fear.
These are dangerous songs, performed by dangerous bands. One band for example is called Type O Negative – a blood type, and clearly a reference to Vampirism. “6 While it may be true that many Goths enjoy Marilyn Manson’s music, almost all of them agree that he is not Goth as “the controversial shock-rock star with the satanic leanings and violence-tinged music has never been a part of their [Goths’] community, artistically or philosophically.
“7 Besides, Manson probably borrowed from the media portrayal of the Gothic movement which predates his stardom by at least a decade, as its origin is usually placed in 1979. In conclusion, it must be said that evaluating the whole subculture by means of stereotypes may be more sinister than the community’s rules themselves as it shows no respect for the individual, leads to intolerance and finally creates a deep chasm between the general society and the Gothic community.
It should not be forgotten that Goths have to cope with the same pressures that non-Goths encounter: social anxieties, family problems, every day failures and stresses. The only thing that differs is their way of dealing with those problems; a darker one and more introspective version of ‘normal’. Tolerance and understanding is what Goths long for, as is stated by one representative of the subculture: “One way or another, those of us in the Gothic community demand to exist with as many rights and as much respect as is given to any ‘normal’ human being.
Our population are millions worldwide, and we laugh, cry, and live just like anyone else. We are your doctors, your counselors, your grocers, your teachers, your students, your librarians, your favourite authors, your fathers, your daughters, and your friends. We may choose to revel in the shadows, but we smile with those who would rather live in the light of day. Being Goth is not a ‘phase’, it is not dangerous, and it is not going anywhere. Everyone deserves a chance to simply be. This is all we ask: let us be. ”
Covelo, Benjamin. The Goth Music Death Machine. 28 May 2004: http://redmusic.com