Saturday, February 27, 2016

"I'm Goth, But..."

For the longest time, I’ve wanted to introduce a multi-part series discussing the controversy regarding the label of Goth. This is something that both fascinates and puzzles me, as one of the biggest criticisms I’ve seen of the Goth subculture is that the label is limiting—that being Goth prevents you from liking or engaging in other activities or subcultures that don’t fit the approved label.

To be honest, I’m not sure where this assumption comes from, as labels are used as a shorthand. The Lady of the Manners has said in her book Gothic Charm School that “[l]abels are useful because they express a whole bundle of information in a compact little package. Labels can be explained and expanded upon, if need be, to communicate all nuances and quirks of personality, but sometimes brevity is a splendid thing” (Venters 107).

While I understand those who declare that the Goth label is limiting, I must point out that labels, in general, are inherently limiting. A label is comprised of particular traits. If an object does not possess those traits, then the object does not fit under that label. When a person describes themselves as an Atheist, for example, they are both labeling themselves and implying that certain traits of other groups do not apply to them. If an Atheist believes in a god, they are no longer an Atheist. If the label lacks restrictions, it ceases to have meaning.

In addition, I must add that if you feel you are forced into listening to a certain type of music, dressing a certain way, or declaring certain interests for reasons other than genuine enjoyment, I would highly suggest an honest assessment of whether or not the Goth subculture is right for you. This isn’t a statement meant to keep new Goths out; I’m stating that Goth should be fun, not an unbearable burden you’re forced to carry. You do not have to adopt the Goth label. You don’t have to be Goth. Goth is not a declaration of status or popularity; it is merely a subculture driven by a music scene from the late 1970s-early 80s with a dark, dramatic, and macabre aesthetic originating from the 19th century literature and horror imagery.

Personally, I do not feel limited by the “Goth” label. While Goth is a very important part of my life, it is still just a part; it does not fully define me, as there are too many facets to my personality and interests for the label to cover. Being Goth doesn’t prevent me from liking Max Fleischer-styled cartoons, tabletop RPGs, and adorable brands like Sentimental Circus or Rilakkuma.

However, I do understand the pressure and confusion when being presented with certain assholes who declare that doing something the least bit “Goth” earns the dreaded declaration of “poseur”, a subject I would like to discuss at a later date. Some Goths use the “real Goth” and “poseur” terms to exclude others from participating in the scene. These people are not important and should not prevent you from engaging in activities you enjoy. Please, do not try to please these people; they are not worth your time. Of course, if you do not fit under the “Goth” label, that isn’t a bad thing, nor does it mean that you are a shallow or uninteresting person; it simply means that you don’t fit under the “Goth” label.

I found this YouTube video by The Gothic Alice, and I think it is an interesting perspective on this issue. (The video can be watched here if it does not load.)

How do you feel about this issue? Do you agree with The Gothic Alice? Do you think that there is an unspoken rule on what Goths can and can’t like? Are there any “non-Goth” things you enjoy?

Sources Cited:

TheGothicAlice. “Goth Yes or No?”. Online video clip. YouTube, 7 August 2015. 12 January
   2016. (link)

Venters, Jillian. Gothic Charm School: An Essential Guide for Goths and Those who Love 
   Them. New York: HarperCollins, 2009.

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