Goth as a Commodity

I recently responded to a survey sent out by a college student. She was writing a paper for her senior project as a Sociology major. The paper was “attempting to look at how Goth culture has changed and if its members think its being made into a commodity/ being used to sell items as Goth that aren't actually part of the culture.“ I reveal a bit about myself and some views on the subculture in the following responses. Please feel free to add your own responses to these questions, or opinions on what I've said in the comments!

Why do you identify as Goth? When I discovered the goth subculture it really just put a name to what I had already been feeling inside and searching for a way to outwardly express. Even as I've continued to grow as a person, get married, have a kid, etc. I've still found my personal worldview, aesthetic preference, and many of my hobbies to line up with, and be encapsulated by the goth subculture.

When did you begin getting into the Goth scene? I know it's a cliche, but I have always been into the strange and shadowed. Growing up in an ultra conservative Christian family, it wasn't until the age of 17 that I discovered goth. I was at a Christian music festival of all places, and on the 3rd day I happened upon a tent called the Asylum. Inside I found the walls draped in lace and velvet, candles and incense burning all over, goths smoking cloves, and this dark broody music I'd never heard before. I had frequented hot topic previously, and thought of myself as a goth from the age of 15, but the wonderment and elation I felt in my heart as I wandered into that tent was the first time I knew I had finally found a home among kindred spirits.

What represents the Goth culture to you? That is a bit of a broad question though I suspect that may be the point. :) So many things represent goth to me as I feel there are many aspects to the spirit of goth. I suppose if I had to pick 1 thing/place/metaphor/ideal or what have you. It would be a cemetery. Whether shadowed by grey clouds, dimly illuminated by candles and the moon, or in the dead of winter, I've always felt a walk among the tombs representational of the goth subculture. The most obvious aspect of this is morbidity, though not death merely for the sake of death, but rather an acknowledgement and acceptance of mortality, through which we can better celebrate life. Then there is the artistic nature of a cemetery, where we have beautiful examples of statutory, often in harmony with a natural element, both aesthetically beautiful but also representational of the dichotomy and co-dependance of life and death. Then there is the introspection aspect, I find cemeteries, even though often located in the thick of a town or city, to be a great place for quiet introspection. Then finally, there is a historical element. Wandering cemeteries and being able to learn about the past, which can give you perspective and wisdom about the present. (which I think is very important to goth)

What are different elements of the subculture?  I'm going to list what I believe to be the 5 elements of goth, which happens to also be what I use as the definition of goth. All of them I believe are strict enough to keep goth a subculture rather than something with more fluid or trans-substantive identities like neo tribes, but also loose enough to allow for variation and personal meaning and application. Case in point, #3 the embrace of darkness, this is often stated as being intrinsic to goth yet it is able to have a plethora of meanings being manifest in music, a clothing aesthetic, an artistic expression, emotionally, or even philosophically.

1. A social departure from the mainstream
2. An aspect of morbidity
3. The embrace of darkness
4. A sense of mystery, madness, or the arcane
5. an active pursuit of making these things part of one's daily life

Have you seen a change in the culture? Yes. Goth has been changing and evolving since it crawled out of post punk protoplasm. I think there have been measurable shifts every ten years or so. If you compare the mid 80's to the mid 90's, the mid 90's to the mid 2000s, and I think now especially we are seeing those growing and evolution pains as goth tries to find the balance between cultural and social relevancy and staying true to the roots from which it has grown.

What are your feelings about mass produced “Goth” items? In general I prefer more niche market, fan driven products. ie a zine vs. gothic beauty. I find, even while not mainstream in comparison to other products, the larger goth productions have lost that artisanal, passion driven nature and are more focused on appealing to as broad an audience as possible to make as much money as possible. Then in some cases you get gothic beauty which perpetuates thin white women model stereotypes, or tripp who makes a shitty overpriced product. I think in general (not always) the larger the company the more danger in doing harm to the subculture through stereotypes and mainstream ideals than doing good from being representational of the culture. Or you have people/things like Marilyn Manson who is perceived as goth, and represents goth for a large audience, when in fact is unrelated.

When I ask you to think about Goth clothing, toys, TV shows, movies and other pop culture items, what comes to mind? I think when it comes to beloved or accurate representations of goth in pop culture it's few and far between. Tim Burton films (nightmare before Christmas, beetlejuice, corpse bride, etc.), Wednesday Adams, tripp clothing (cringe), living dead dolls, gothic beauty, midnight syndicate, vampire film aesthetics, and Sofie Lancaster foundation being more mainstream goth related products. I think when it comes to pop culture goths are either used as a stereotype, or their aesthetic is re appropriated and sterilized. You get "goth chic" or people like Rhianna "dressing goth" but in reality the soul of it is gone and it's more about making a statement and seeming edgy than anything that is truly goth.

What is your opinion of the ways that Goth culture is sold? I think it can be shady for sure. Some places care more about driving their product or manipulating the market than the passion or their craft. In general I try to do research on clothing companies, musicians, jewelry vendors etc. to see what they are in that business for. That’s not to say I fault anyone for trying to make a living, but when you have someone like wielding the goth culture as simply a demographic to sell to, it does bother me. Entomology is important, these flash in the pan micro subcultures like health goth, street goth, pastel goth, etc can be dangerous to goth via abuse of the word. Words get stripped of their meaning and that has real effect upon what they used to represent and stand for. Consequently using goth simply as a marketing tool, not only muddles the focus of goth culture but confuses those new to goth, making the next generation even further removed from where it may have been headed before hand.

Do you think Goth has become mainstream? No, at least not in the US. Goth aesthetics do cycle through the mainstream every few years, but they are used as marketing gimmicks, an injection of "street cred", or used to give flair where people are looking for the next big fad. While I think goth is on the whole more accepted in the mainstream now than in days past., If not by persistence of participants then by the proliferation of much stranger niche cultures the internet has made accessible. I also just don't think the core and spirit of goth is something that would ever be appealing to a mass market.

Is there tension between older more traditional Goths and those from newer Goth groups? Yes and no. If we look at people who were around in the early 80's and watched the goth scene evolve, I have found they either don't really associate with the word goth, or if they do, they are generally OK with the state of things other than fashion trends like nu goth, pastel goth, gothic lolita, etc. Where I find the tension usually lies is with the deathrock/trad goth crowd, who tend to be younger, maybe coming into the goth scene at the mid 90's the earliest. I think they've sort of idealized the early 80's as pure and the real goth (even though it wasn't called that). For them goth is often considered to be fashion and music and nothing else, so not only do they dislike industrial, Victorian goth fashion and sometimes even the new romantic or glam look, but they don't see goth as having a lifestyle or ontological element to it. It's almost a punk mentality. So then you have the newer gen. that doesn't know much about the history and may be into stuff like witch house, more of a nu goth or mall goth look, and the trad goths who have idealized the old days without accepting any iteration or evolution past then, and there is a tension there. Of course you will have assholes in both camps (I don't use the word elitist because I think that can be a positive thing.) I personally take a more moderate approach. I think we need to know our history and stay true to that, but also not be afraid of change, it's certainly a tight rope walk, which is why there is that tension. People hold goth as a very personal expression and want to protect it, and I think that's great and that discussion, when civil, is necessary.

-The Count runs the Cemetery Confessions podcast and The Requiem Podcast. For more info on The Count, click here.