Way back when I was just a curious teenager, wondering what all this goth stuff was about, I stumbled across this webpage, called The Real Goth FAQ. There were quite a few goth FAQs floating around the internet back in the day, but this one was rather unique in how rude and nasty it was. From the tone of the FAQ, the authors seemed to be really annoyed at all the the other goths on the internet at the time, especially the newbies.
While some of the statements made in the FAQ were crossing the line, if you look behind the snark, the motivation behind seems a bit understandable. The authors seemed to be really fed up with some of the more overenthusiastic people on the internet. The FAQ may be almost entirely scrubbed from the internet, it’s not even on the wayback machine, but the phenomenon it is railing against still seems very present today. It’s fairly common for some people to just be a bit, overbearing, when it comes to goth.
Which bring us to this article, titled “being goth doesn’t make you cool”. It’s a bit of an attention grabbing title, one that might be misinterpreted. What it really means is not that goth is uncool, but instead that equating being goth with being cool, likable or interesting, is a bit misguided. If you overdo it, it can even be a bit of a turn off.
The first type of behavior that comes to mind when I think of overbearing behavior is people caring a bit too much about whether or not they are goth. Online it’s pretty common to come across posts of people asking if they are “goth enough”. Why ask a stranger on the internet to validate you? Not only does it seem a bit unhealthy, but honestly it’s a bit off putting to be on the other end of. I am not particularly interested in judging you and I am not licensed to give you your goth card.
There seems to be this belief that there is a sort of unspoken initiation to become a goth, like if you hit all the right checkboxes we will mentally put you in the goth category. I can’t really speak for anyone else, but I don’t really analyze people in my mind like that. I don’t look at a person and try to guess “goth or not”. The term goth really just serves a utilitarian purpose for particular people who are into certain things or hang out in certain groups.
When people aren’t directly asking if they are goth, they are instead asking loads of other questions that oftentimes are fishing for related conclusions. Oftentimes questions are asked in a way where the asker can use the answers to determine how goth they are, take notes to become more goth, or hope to get answers that validate them as goth. I can understand being new and wanting help and advice, and I am sometimes happy to give it. But at the same time there is plenty of reading and video material you can look up to answer this question. I can understand that being able to ask people directly can be a bit more comforting. But understand that most of us don’t sign up to be on constant welcome wagon duty and don’t be too upset if people seem uninterested or frustrated when asked too many questions.
The most frustrating type of question, however, is when people are specifically asking for friends or people to date. For all I know you could be cool in real life or whatever. But you could also be a creep. It’s a bit of a risk to just decide you’re going to be friends with someone you don’t know, one that many people don’t want to take. People who say or post these things tend to typically give off the impression that they just want to be around people because they are goth. Like I said in my previous article, “What’s wrong with wanting a goth gf”, it doesn’t really feel all that great to have people want to talk to you just because of an singular trait.
If you want to make friends just talk to people and socialize as you normally would in any other situation. If you have stuff in common and are a likable person you should be able to make some connections with new people without much concern. If you’re not, well The Real Goth FAQ has a great quote that should be kept in mind: “Just because you wear black, doesn’t mean we have to like you”. People aren’t obligated to be your friend.
It goes both ways however. Not everyone in the goth scene is necessarily someone you really would want to be hanging around either. Maybe you just don’t have that much in common or just don’t click, and that’s okay. Some people in the scene can be jerks or even a bit dangerous. You don’t have to be friends with everyone. It’s okay if not everyone likes you. Like in most large groups built around a common interest, not all goths like each other either, so it’s not like you’re alone in this. Worrying about being everyone’s friend is likely to just make you miserable
One of the things that has really been catching my attention lately is the pressure people put on themselves to conform. I recently watched a video by The Punk Rock MBA titled. “Why I am not vegan anymore (from a 90s hardcore kid)”, which really covers the point well. While the video may be talking about hardcore rather than goth, it’s pretty applicable to most scenes and subcultures. Relating it to the goth scene, sometimes people try way too hard to fit in. They greatly emphasize goth things all the time, while downplaying or apologizing for any aspects of themselves they feel isn’t goth.
Oftentimes people feel the need to apologize for liking what they feel are the wrong bands, as if they are only allowed to listen to goth music or can’t listen to specific styles. These other styles are mislabeled as goth or something very far removed from it. Or they feel like they can’t ever wear colors, they must dress goth all the time even at work. And if they can’t they feel the need to apologize or have a good excuse. On the more extreme end some feel like they have to be presenting some dark spooky version of themselves 24/7. In all cases it’s taking it a bit too far. Goth should only be one of many aspects of someone’s life and it doesn’t even have to be the most important one. You can be many things and it’s okay if goth ends up not being one of your primary identifiers. You don’t have to go whole hog into it.
Part of what can make the goth scene so great is that it can attract all sorts of people of all sorts of different interests and influences. It keeps things interesting and dynamic, what fun would it be if we all only ever listened to the exact same music and dressed the same way? It’s the common interests that bind the scene together, but it’s not the only thing you have to talk about. It can be fun to be able to talk to other goths about shared non-goth interests as well, or even learn about new interests from other people.
On the negative side there also seems to be an overzealousness that can get annoying after a while. Constantly saying how much you love Bauhaus or The Sisters of Mercy to a crowd with the same tastes isn’t exactly profound. It’s great to talk about bands you like but when people try too hard to adhere to the big name bands a lot of less well known ones get overlooked. Trying to constantly curry favor with facts everyone knows or memes everyone has seen can likewise feel a bit groan-worthy after a while. Jokes about Andrew Eldritch not being goth or look at this thing that is not black and covered with spikes are really stale at this point.
Sometimes with newbies it can even feel like a monkey-see monkey-do type of situation, where people will regularly parrot ideas that they seem to have read elsewhere. Usually it seems a bit obvious due to how oddly phrased it is. Like the amount of times you hear “I am into original 80s goth”, or “respect the history of the subculture” is surprisingly large. I think the coincidence of everyone just happening to have used the same exact string of weird is unlikely. I don’t know where these phrases were originally lifted from, but it just sounds so unnatural.
This can even take an unpleasant turn as people start being rude to others because they feel that’s what is expected. It’s fairly common to see people that usually exhibit some of the behavior above, all too happy to start jumping in to call other people posers or get involved in the latest drama. Oftentimes they end up being the most aggressive and vocal people about it too. And it’s kind of a bad look honestly. Putting others down because you feel like it may get you some desperately needed goth cred isn’t cool. Especially when you’re only a smidge more knowledgeable yourself.
Overall the main thing I want people to take from this can be summed up in two rather cliched statements. “Stop trying so hard” and “Be yourself”. You don’t need to be uber-goth to sit with us. There is no transformation involved to participate, in the scene. Just go to a club or other space where we are around, have fun and act like a decent likable person. It’s worth more than a thousand imaginary goth points, and you’ll be happier for it.
About the author: Zazie has no particular qualifications. She just likes goth rock and going to events a lot and sometimes writes about it for the Belfry Network.