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The Goth Bible
A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined
By Nancy Kilpatrick
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2004 Nancy Kilpatrick
All rights reserved.
DEATH IN DOC MARTENS
Why do me love the tragedy and the dreams? My dear, you need only look into your silent existence to find out. Anon net goth
goth with a small "g"?
Defining goth is like defining God — we make efforts that always fall short of the reality. To call goth merely a subculture does not do it justice. And while goths are for the most part darkly artistic by nature, pigeonholing goth as an artistic movement only skims the surface.
Nobody knows the totality of what modern goth is about, but the simplest truth about goth is this: goth is a state of mind. And while most people who identify themselves as goth or gothic dress the part, a lot of people who do not wear fishnet and velvet are goth inside. Goth is a way of being that embraces what the normal world shuns, a lean toward and an obsession with all subjects dark and grim, a view of life that incorporates the world of night as well as the world of day. The gothically inclined make room for the noir in a global culture that favors white and prefers its darkness sanitized.
But saying goths are lonely and morbid is misleading. The mainstream views goth through a distorted mirror that sees only dreary music coupled with Morticia Addams fashions. Most goths and kindred souls dispute that shallow reflection. Romance is at the heart of what it means to be goth, and consequently tragedy is always a sigh away. In the modern gothic world, as in few other realms, the outward trappings of similarity belie fierce individuality. Every goth is an individual first and foremost, adamantly defending that position. Yet lurking within such independence is the intense need for community, which is glaringly obvious to anyone who cares to look.
GOTH ACCORDING TO THE SECTION
"Most people in the gothic scene want to distinguish themsleves from the world of the average, where there is not a lot of place for imagination and deviation from the norm. goth is an imaginative world, a dark romantic place into which we attempt to flee."
"... a peacefully dark work in which one can escape the masses and uniformity. The deep bliss this world brings gives the power and strength needed to experience life and love in an extreme way, intensely."
Nimue "It is liking what other people find hideous, or disgusting. It is loving things that other people could't love. goths have ancient souls, ones that never really died."
Krockmitaine "[It is] the research of estheticism, art, romantism in a modern society devoid of magic, hope, and humanity."
"I like the dark music and gothic thinking, but I don't want to chang the world. I just want to keep my world full of real feelings."
Being goth is going on what cultural mythologist Joseph Campbell called the Hero's journey, exploring what psychologist Carl Jung dubbed the shadowy side of life. It is a path Robert Frost wrote about in his poem "The Road Not Taken," but in this case, goths promenade down that dark, unknown road that most of the population veers away from. Emily Dickinson wrote about what gives life its juice, "a moment of noon," when something happens. This is what goth is about.
Despite the dark current that carries goths along, and maybe because of it, goth is also about fun. About extremes. About edginess. About flapping your latex bat wings in the face of convention and secretly giggling at the notion that your very existence upsets the mainstream. If goth is anything definable, it is a living, throbbing entity composed of rabid individualists, a veiled underground realm where encompassing what the light of day fears or rejects is considered fascinating, compelling, and, at times, awfully amusing.
Does a black trenchcoat a goth make?
One of the most common misconceptions about goth is that it is some sort of devil-worshiping cult. A number of The Section are Wiccan (see Chapter 13), and variations thereof. But only two identified their religion as "Satanist." Sire Cèdric says, "I do not worship any sort of horned god. It's just that in the Bible and in Romantic literature, I identify with the Satan character. Also, God is the ultimate representation of misogynistic stupid males. I stand for the Goddess of Night, and the pleasures of the flesh."
Still, the mainstream will glare at goths and in their collective eyes you can read the letters C-U-L-T. Maybe it's the cadaverous makeup, or the ready-for-mourning-at-any-time-of-the-day attire, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Cults need leaders. Goth has always been and always will be leaderless. Goth, since it slouched out of the amorphic ooze of Punk in the 1970s, has never had a leader. The closest would be the bands, and none have assumed that role. Nor would goths permit it for a second — what a great way to ensure that goths no longer buy your CDs!
It's difficult for the average mortal pounding concrete to realize the worldwide scope of goth, and to believe that nobody started this. In that way, goth is much like the Internet — it emerged seemingly out of nowhere, and flourishes, yet nobody can figure out Who Is in Charge Here!!! At least when goths crash, they only effect themselves.
Andrew Eldritch, the currently blond genius behind legendary band Sisters of Mercy, is one of goth's best-known singers. His hauntingly spiritual lyrics combined with wicked instrumentals have rippled through darklings around the world for well over two decades. Eldritch has always divorced himself from goth, although goths are his biggest fans. Sisters were invited to do an autographing in 2002 at the Sonic Seducer music magazine booth at Germany's huge annual M'Era Luna Festival (see Chapter 5). The band's manager warned, "If the booth looks like a goth shop, they might just walk away." Maybe it did; Sisters canceled the signing. And while they continue to adore his music, goths have never been anywhere close to letting Andrew Eldritch take charge, even if he had wanted to be Leader of the goth Movement!
Goths resist being controlled — it's at the core of why most goths are goth. Goth is one of the premier artistic movements of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, and true artists are, by nature, unique, and unpredictable.
When goth, with eroticized grace, first lifted its pale flesh out of a murky pool composed of a complex blend of music, literature, and philosophy combined with outrÃ© fashion sense, it did so on its own. Despite a world hell-bent on finding "the person to blame," or in this case, The One Who Started It All, in gothland, there is no such dark animal.
Amazing, then, that goth exists all over the world. This nonmovement movement can be found not just in the United States, Canada, and in most European countries, but also the Ukraine, the Far East, South America ... Somehow — and the Internet is a major contributor to goth communication — people of like mind have built velvet bridges using music, fashion, art, literature, and philosophy to find soulkin. It's a given that goths can spot one another in a crowd.
"It's a slightly less optimistic outlook on life than other people's, and a lifestyle that becomes second nature and is absolutely impossible to shake off. It's got nothing to do with looks or culture."
"It is dark, quiet, and magick. It is shadow and the night and all dwellers within; cemetery peace and the safety of solitude. An owl's cry at midnight, the soft whoosh of a bat's wing, the tolling of chapel bells. It is candle and whisper, incantation and prayer."
Lestat de Lioncourt "One thing I am sure goth is not — and this I can say because most goths I know are not — and that's judgmental. They can accept anyone for who they are, regardless of how deviant or egotistical."
One reason that goth has remained whole, as it were, unto itself, protected, still relatively pure, is that while through fashion and music it has been visible, individual goths are still elusive creatures. What goth really encompasses is the silver they keep hidden. And goths do not necessarily want to be high-profile. Goth is an underground movement — that's the beauty of it — and it has existed largely apart from the mainstream. This is what has kept it alive, despite bits and pieces of debris hurled into the darkness.
50 Ft. Queenie "It's a way of making the fact that you will never fit in work for you."
Vile "I believe that goth is having learned very tough things at a young age, and being able to see the world for what it really is, to see past lies, and falsehoods. We don't want to damage the already damaged world anymore. We live in sorrow, no, depression."
Saturday Night Live started one of the most widespread goth usurpations with a spoof in the late nineties called Goth Talk. The occasional skits were introduced with Bauhaus's "Bela Lugosi's Dead," one song that can be clearly identified by all goths as goth music. "Goth" hosts Azrael Abyss and Circe Nightshade managed to savage every aspect of goth one can see by observing high school goths — who are the most self-conscious and least able to defend themselves.
It's a mixed bag of good and ill when goths poke their ringed noses into the mainstream, or the mainstream grabs an image to exploit. There have been academic papers written on goth — more and more of them, it seems. TV newscasts and articles in popular magazines and daily newspapers have profiled goths, not always in a favorable light. In the mid-1990s, Cher put out several issues of the catalog Sanctuary, packed with delicious goth decor. Goth artists have been featured in interviews, and there have been fashion models, like Donna Ricci, Lenora Claire, and Sky Claudette (of The Section), and plenty of famous runway clotheshorses doing the "goth look." Haute couture designers have brought goth aesthetics to the forefront, for example, designers Rick Owens of Los Angeles ("Not one for color." — Vogue, Feb. 13, 2002), and Olivier Theyskens, who incorporates goth decadence into his fashions. All of the major design houses have ventured into goth style at one time or another in the last couple of decades. Calvin Klein's print ads, and Levi's commercials have used goth clones, and Italy's Fiorucci filled the catwalk with faux-goth clothes. Cosmetic and hair-color companies got goth a few years ago, for example, MAC, and L'Oreal, which has a line of dark makeup. World famous Bloomingdale's in New York featured goth garb in at least one of their catalogs. TV shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Dark Angel, among many others, use goth actors, and films, including 8MM and Underworld, hire goth extras when they require a gang of perverse and seedy clubbers. Whoopi Goldberg hosted the Oscars in 2001 and dressed goth, and many Hollywood movie stars do goth from time to time. Britney Spears's HBO special featured goth-imitation dancers in the opening number. Everywhere you look, it seems, the mainstream is mimicking goth.
It's a given that the mainstream, seeking to entertain, excite, and expand itself, will always uncover and eat the edge. It happens with every subcultural phenomenon. Oddly enough, the collective culture thinks it understands what goth is all about. It does not. But every goth can see the middle of the road for what it is. After all, goths may have been born goth inside their skin, but they have usually grown up in "normal" families, gone to school, been raised in a conventional religion, shopped at the local mall, maybe even married a regular person and had children, just like everybody else. It is probably this knowledge through experience that will save goth from assimilation. The status quo has not yet thought of a way to seriously capitalize on goth, although the chain Hot Topic manages to bring goth fashion to the masses — presumably as long as it is profitable. But the minute exploitation takes hold in a big way, goth as we know it will be no more. The essence of goth is to be an individual, one who revels in the darkness that society usually fears and rejects. Perhaps that nasty, earthy, sensual quality of goth that lingers in the realm of entropy and dissolution will never appeal to the average citizen. We can only hope!
But will the increasing focus on goth spell the beginning of the end? Can we expect the fast-food restaurants at the mall to soon be serving goth cuisine, like black pasta? Will Wal-Mart be littered with poseurs? Are bag ladies going to be wearing discarded fishnet and hauling chipped gargoyles around in their shopping carts? Even if these dire occurrences come to pass, they will, as well, pass. And goth will remain, lurking in the shadows, waiting for the light to fade so it can come out and party in the cemetery. Goths have always existed. They just call themselves "goth" these days because it's amusing!
The dark side of dark
Unfortunately, from time to time goth hits the mainstream in a way that encourages a perception of it as evil. Sometimes it's laughable. In November 2000, Mayor Carolyn Risher of Inglis, Florida (population 1,400), nailed copies of her official proclamation onto posts at four entrance points to the city, declaring her town to be a "Satan-free zone." Risher claims she was targeting DUI drivers, child molesters, and "kids dressing goth."
THE SECTION ON COLUMBINE
Vena Cava "Alienated, miserable, vengeful teenagers have existed as long as there have been high schools, but it was harder to slay more than one or two of your enemies before you could get Uzis."
Nevermore "They were two confused children. They claimed to be Nazis, yet one was Jewish, so what could be thought of any claims they might make on being goth?"
Billy Mod "They may or may not have been involved in certain aspects of the goth scene, but this factor is irrelevant, only coincidental at best, and definitely not a cause-effect relationship."
"So they listened to Metallica, big deal! It's the media that wants you to believe they were something they were not."
Individuation "Honestly, if those kids had been older and truly part of the goth scene, they might not have snapped."
Also in the fall of 2000, the U.S. Congress gave the town of Blue Springs, Missouri (population under 50,000), $273,000 for a Youth Orchestra Outreach Unit to "combat goth culture." Would that be the town's four peaceful and law-abiding high school goths, who hang out in the mall's parking lot?
But at least one event propelled goth into the headlines worldwide, unfairly, and with troubling ramifications. That horrifying incident happened at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, two deeply troubled students, opened fire at the school, killing thirteen and wounding twenty-three. Harris and Klebold wore black trench coats, claiming they were members of a small group of alienated students who had formed the Trenchcoat Mafia at Columbine. After the shooting, one traumatized student incorrectly identified the two murderers as "goths."
As has been the case throughout history, and now more so with the media that Marshall McLuhan assured us create a "global village," first impressions may be wrong, but they stick. The U.K. newspaper the Guardian's article "Black Tuesday" is similar to other news reports around the world: Both boys — one the son of a military man — had a strong interest in Nazism. It claimed they described themselves as Nazis, white supremacists, fans of heavy metal, and interested in the occult. The Guardian stressed the point that Nazi dictator and mass murderer Adolf Hitler had been born on the same day 110 years earlier, and obviously that date had significance for the two. The Guardian also specifically identified the Columbine killers as goths, although neither Harris nor Klebold defined themselves that way. The paper stressed that the boys listened to the transplanted-from-Germany-to Seattle industrial rock band KMFDM — the band's logo was on the baseball cap of one of the killers; the two quoted the lyrics of U.S. shock rock group Marilyn Manson; they listened to the German industrial band Rammstein. The paper also quoted several "authorities" on goths, including Sergeant Cynthia Burgin, a Texas police detective who lectures nationally in the U.S. on cults, and who talked about splinter groups that embrace both goth culture and neo-Nazism. "They are using mystical violence and mystical illusion as a way of intimidating other members in their groups."
Excerpted from The Goth Bible by Nancy Kilpatrick. Copyright © 2004 Nancy Kilpatrick. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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