The Real Gatekeeper

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I wanted to write this one sooner this year but my laptop is having a weird problem where some keys decide to randomly stop working on and off. Turns out none of the stores near me sell keyboards any more (thanks rise in mobile technology) so I started by hammering this one out click by click using the on-screen accessibility keyboard. Then a week ago I found a keyboard in a thrift store for $5 and it works like a dream. So here goes my first article for 2019 albeit a little late.

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Yay for Microsoft accessibility options and thank god for Salvos stores

I was online talking in a goth group on Facebook or Reddit (I can’t remember which as this situation practically happens daily) doing the usual opposition to cries of “Gatekeeper!” and “Elitist!” not long into the new year. I don’t know why but something clicked in my head. This article is an attempt to explore that idea. I am sure others have likely had the same idea too. I am going to discuss a few points around this.

The rise of insulting terms

From the beginning we had the term poseur which was inherited from punk. In short, a poseur is a person who looks the part but that is all. In a music subculture like goth this is considered a faux pas but to be fair there are a lot of people on the fringes making up the numbers who are like this. Fringe people attending events help keep them alive so the word doesn’t usually get thrown about much in real life. It does not even see a lot of use on the internet though people do get corrected and sometimes called out for lumping things in goth that are not. I think it is good poseur isn’t used so much now as it isn’t a nice thing to call anyone. We have enough problems in the goth subculture without driving away new people like that.

Elitist is used by people in a derogatory way most of the time.It has been around for years and I recall hearing it used (or at least referring to the local elite) from since I started in out in my local goth scene in 1996. Elitist often refers to anyone who dares to try keep goth… well, goth. By this I am not referring to natural evolution from within but from outsiders trying to force anything and everything into goth because they happen to like it. Or it happens to be black. Or something. I have seen people called this in real life generally if they are seen as a bit snobby but it isn’t common. On the internet however it is thrown about everywhere if people dare to defend the goth subculture.

Personally I am of the school of though of taking the word back and joking about it, in particular through my meme page ELITIST JOE ( the source of many of the wonderful memes I use in my articles now. In my opinion it is the elitists who have kept the goth subculture alive as most people come and go in a couple of years.

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Sucks to be you

Gatekeeper is a relatively new insult. Basically someone saying you are not a true fan which is kind of already covered by elitist. From what I can tell it is a word that originated in geek culture and has migrated into goth culture from people who participate in geek culture. It is worth considering how mainstream geek culture has become and the idea of inclusiveness isn’t a bad one. But the values of geek culture do not apply well to the goth subculture. Geek culture is broad and has many facets where goth is very niche. As a whole geek culture has no rules where a music subculture does. Now if gatekeeper was to be used for alternative culture in general I think that would be fair but for goth? No.

As you can see I don’t think the term gatekeeper really applies to goth as no one is actually stopping you from being goth. Sure, you might not be goth right now but that can change. The only real gate here is the one you keep. To be fair I haven’t seen anyone call anyone a gatekeeper in real life but it is thrown around a lot online, sometimes paired with elitist.

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Can’t argue with the truth

What I don’t get

Poseur is not used seriously anymore by people in the goth scene online or in real life because we generally want to be less hostile. Yet non-goths claiming to be goth are allowed to call people gatekeepers and elitists with impunity. Why is that? Do we need to self police heavier? Problem there is we could potentially drive new people away. We have to tread lightly while defending goth from outside change while it evolves as it has for forty years. But no, anyone can claim black lipstick is goth, a make up palette is goth, non-goth music is goth, a brand is goth, hello kitty is goth or anything is goth because they say so. And those of us in the subculture are expected to bend to their will like they own the place. This sort of behavior isn’t tolerated in any other music subculture. Why does this happen in goth and why do they feel empowered to do this?

Who is the real gatekeeper of goth?

Let’s assume gatekeepers are real in goth for the sake of argument and they create a barrier of entry for goth. Who are the real gatekeepers then? The way I see it, the elitists aren’t the gatekeepers. They are just upholding standards. Hell the minimal generally agreed upon standard is at the very least be a fan of goth music. If you like a handful of goth bands it counts, you can have multiple subcultural affiliations if you want. There is also the aesthetics and stuff but you pick that up along the way and by simply being yourself with your interests.

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I am the gatekeeper…
(Cheers Angela Benedict for making this)

You aren’t going to last long in the goth subculture if you hate goth music and don’t like talking to goths. So maybe you gatekeep yourself by trying to force yourself into something you are not? Or maybe this and other questions about being “goth enough” is a symptom but not the cause.

The questions I see a lot from new people are a good reflection of where the real gatekeeper is. I will list some and attempt to answer them.

Do I have to listen to goth music to be goth?

Yes. Goth is a music subculture even though it also has non-musical elements. A lot of the stuff like fashion and aesthetics are borrowed from and shared with other subcultures. The music is the core and is the thing that makes goth what it is.

The beauty of things now is access to goth music is not a barrier with youtube for free and other streaming services, podcasts and radio shows. No gates here apart from your own motivation.

Is industrial or gothic metal goth?

No and no. They are their own unrelated things with their own following. There may be some influence and overlap but that does not make them one and the same. Goth music has an evolution and pedigree linking back to post-punk. Industrial even pre-dates goth. Gothic metal comes from metal.

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Sorry but Nickelback isn’t goth and never will be!

Is Soundcloud Sadboi rap goth?

Hell no!

Do I have to dress in black to be a goth?

No but that doesn’t mean any old fashion is goth because a goth decides to wear it. I would even argue that goth fashion doesn’t really exist because there is nothing that is uniquely goth only. We more incorporate alternative fashion styles but we don’t own them.

It is worth noting some goth clubs uphold dress codes which will mainly include black but that is mainly to maintain an aesthetic and keep the normie looky lous and troublemakers out.

I am an X goth type, what goth type are you?

There are two goth types. Goth and non-goth. The types people bang on about are merely fashion styles and you don’t have to stick to just one. Why limit yourself? Hmmm… could this possibly be the first self-imposed gate one keeps before they get to the music?

I need money to be goth?

DING DING DING! We have hit the gatekeeper zone!

No! You do not need money to be goth. But why do people think this? DIY and thrift shopping has long been a staple of the goth subculture. It is something else we inherited from punk. If you can’t afford much, get some basic stuff from Target (or whatever mainstream cheap store), pick up some cheap costume accessories (flea markets are good for this) and bam! A goth outfit for cheap!

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I know right?

Why new people think goth costs money

A new person wants to be goth. So they look into it. A quick google reveals some popular goth youtubers and a, maybe a wikipedia page, a list of bands that have a few non-goth bands in the mix… so the easiest place to start is the youtube videos.

They are then shown a heap of unboxing videos, closet tours, make up tutorials and so on. Everyone is talking about products. The people who aren’t posting fluff pieces about products and stuff do not have the subscriber counts and views to get first dibs on new views or they are using other mediums like blogs and podcasts to get the word out. By the time they get to the more informative content their minds are pretty much already made up based on the fluff bombardment.

So they have a look on other social media like Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram. It is more of the same except in selfie and photo form. Maybe a few “LOL black thing” memes in the mix too. A lot of leghumpers posting random pics of sexy alternative models too. They may even see some brand or shops mentioned in hashtags. More things confirming the fluff bombardment.

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Oh, I get it. It is goth because it’s black, right?

What is a new person to think? Obviously goth must be very focused on fashion and buying things to be goth. Then they get to interacting with goths (and people who think they are goths) and they get mixed opinions on goth being fashion you have to buy and DIY styling. Then they have other people saying the music is most important on top of that and people can’t even agree on that.

So then we have the “What is goth?” debate over and over until we all die. It is old to us but not to the new people who are just trying to work out what is going on and where they fit in it all. Plus a lot are young so access to lots of money isn’t exactly an option either.

And the real gatekeeper is…

Alternative clothing brands and their marketing tactics.

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This is why new people think money is a barrier to being goth. They are taught that goth is about the clothes and style. They see the pretty pictures and think that is what being goth is all about. They see goth youtubers and goth social media influencers shilling products given to them by the brands and think they must have the brands to be goth too.

This is the real gate being kept as it is a physical barrier to entry to the goth scene, at least in the eyes of new goths. And it is our own fault for letting it happen.

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If only there was someone speaking out against this…

What can we do?

Well, it is not just our fault as many social media and youtube goths deliberately target a wider audience. The goths keeping it real are rarely seen in spite of pumping out more relevant content.

We can fight this by encouraging people to explore the music and things away from the brands. To encourage people not to fall for “goth types” and discover their own way to be goth. As long as music is in the mix the rest tends to look after itself.

There is nothing wrong with buying things you like but blind brand loyalty because you think you have to buy brand stuff to be goth is missing the point.

By all means keep calling me a gatekeeper, now I have figuratively just handed you the keys to the gate. Enjoy your goth freedom!

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Should you need us…



Aytakk has been active in the goth scene since the mid 90s both online and in real life. He firmly believes in the old line "if you don't get the joke, you are the joke". As well as this he produces music for a couple of music projects: Corpulence On The Catwalk (goth/darkwave/coldwave) and Hypnophile (aggrotech/power noise). He is also a club DJ and nemesis of DJ Jelly.