I don’t have much of a clever intro to write for this one, so I will cut straight to the point. Goth has a little bit of a reputation problem. What immediately may come to mind to some people when I say this may be associations with goths being depressed or dangerous. I am not here to talk about that. It’s a rather absurd proposition and me debunking it here would mostly just be preaching to the choir. I am here to talk about the other negative stereotype, that of goths being pretentious, overdramatic, elitist, judgmental, self absorbed, etc. Are these stereotypes accurate? Does our scene have a problem? If so how do we fix it.
To better explore this stereotype, let’s take a look at a specific example. While most famous for creating the cartoon Invader Zim, Jhonen Vasquez is also well known for publishing a handful of black and white alternative comics, such as Johnny he Homicidal Maniac. In that comic, there are two short strips that depict a character who probably best embodies these negative goth stereotypes, Anne Gwish. Anne Gwish can’t really be described as anything other than goth, she wears the clothes and makeup, posts on goth message board/chats, has band posters all in her room and likes hanging out at goth clubs. Unlike a lot of fictional goth characters, she seems created by someone who really knows the actual cliches of the scene. Personality-wise she is over dramatic, gossipy and prone to making snide remarks about others.
One of the main motives behind the creation of Anne Gwish is that we are not supposed to like her in the least bit. She isn’t so much a loving parody as a critical jab at the scene. Whether or not this is a fair representation of the goth subculture is a subject we will get to later, but right now I am going to question if this is even a fair way of looking at the character. Yes she makes some mean comments, only in the second of the two strips. And of course contained in a comic that pokes fun at other groups of people. In the first comic the punchline primarily is just derived from her being overdramatic and being just like all the other goths, despite her claims of being different. Is being extra really a sin? I don’t recall goth really being about being totally unique from everyone else either, in general that’s not how subcultures work. Even in the second comic where she does a few unkind things, there are still jokes about how long it takes her to get ready and wanting to dance to a song along with a bunch of other people. A lot of it kind of seems to be based in the stuck up shallow girl archetype seen many times in media before, only this time the she is wearing black.
If you think about it a bit you’ll notice a lot of these negative traits are things that get applied to women in general. Seeing as the face of the goth subculture people often think of is a woman, unlike many other music based subcultures it’s no surprise that a lot of stereotypes have a gendered dimension to them. People into punk or metal don’t really get labeled with the same stereotypes even if they can also be a bit snobbish about music. They may get called elitist but there isn’t anywhere near as much negative insinuation about their core character. Of course the typical imagined punk or metalhead for many people is also male. Women tend to be perceived more negatively than men when they exhibit the same overly opinionated behaviors.
One might argue this is from a comic book that’s over 20 years old, and things are different. Goth is not only more socially acceptable nowadays, it’s even somewhat trendy. While this is a true statement, it seems that it applies more to goth as a concept rather than to goth as people or a scene. To the mainstream goth is merely a look, mood or vibe. Something more ephemeral or frivolous. While there isn’t anything wrong with this, it does show a difference in values. They might not understand why one would take goth so seriously, do it all the time or make it an important part of their identity. This lack of understanding can sometimes turn to criticism. Cultural omnivorism is becoming both a more common attitude in critical and mainstream circles. Traditional subcultures are out. You strongly like a specific style of music and both base your identity and socialize around it? You’re probably narrow minded, elitist or both. Open minded people listen to all kind of music. You want to distinguish yourself as being non-mainstream then you’re “not like other girls” or “gatekeeping”. While originally these terms may have described problem behaviors, going by the dedicated subreddits for each of those terms shows it’s devolved into an excuse to roast people who choose to vocalize difference, no matter how innocuous the original post. It’s only ok to be a little different.
Of course sometimes these terms are justifiably deserved, stuff like this doesn’t help us
A lot of the bad rep is also heavily a matter of hearsay. It’s just an oft repeated and passed around bit of information that goths are cliquey, pretentious, judgmental, etc. I can’t really say to what extent this is true, I can only go by my own experiences and that’s purely anecdotal. I personally haven’t had much issue with it, but can’t speak for everyone. I got into the scene mostly going to events by myself and found getting along with people pretty easy. When you have similar interests it’s easy to make friends. It took a bit of time for it to happen, but I didn’t experience much judgment before then.
What I have noticed is that a lot of people take the hearsay to heart and seem to be presuming the negative things they have been told will happen before they even enter a club or interact with a group of goths. And when you enter the scene expecting this, it’s going to be easier to find. If you keep to yourself all night worried that everyone else is cliquey, well it’s less likely you are going to hit it off with some new people. It may appear to reinforce your beliefs about goths being cliquey, but in reality you’re just rejecting others before they reject you. There have been many times when I see new people at a club, they don’t seem to really be trying to be all that friendly. There have been time when I have seen people come from a single bad experience and start making blanket criticisms of the entire scene, which is mostly made up of people they don’t know.
Also it is important to keep an mind, sometimes there is a reason for people in the goth scene mostly sticking to their group as well. Sometimes people in “normal clothes” come into goth clubs to creep on people or cause trouble. Some of us are shy or anxious, just like many other people are. And in general, sometimes people are just out to have a good time hanging with their friends and aren’t particularly concerned with meeting new people at the moment. People don’t owe you their time or company. This especially applies to those just going to clubs to “hook up with hot goth chicks” or the like.
It is worth mentioning however, that all of the above applies to the real life goth scene. The internet is a different story, there are loads of examples of goths acting in a manner that lines up pretty well with the negative stereotypes. Places for online goth discussion seem to be very prone to nitpicking, arguing, drama and rudeness. Of course that kind of applies to most online discussion. The internet doesn’t have as many direct repercussions as being unfriendly to someone’s face, the latter of which I haven’t seen happen that often. But of course every time this happens it is well chronicled for everyone to see and form opinions on the goth subculture based around it. If someone primarily experiences goth online it shouldn’t be too surprising that they might be put off the scene by what they see.
It should be pretty obvious at this point that I think goth’s negative reputation is a bit unfair. There are certainly a lot of issues within our scene, but I don’t think any of these things are unique or intrinsic to goth. Their isn’t really anything especially unpleasant about goths compared to other people.
But what can we do about the negative rep?
I feel like the best way to tackle this is to try prove it wrong with one’s actions. Be friendly, be welcoming and show that you’re about more than just gloomy music and black clothes. If people are curious or interested, share why you’re into all of this in the first place. This doesn’t mean you have to be friendly to everyone. You don’t owe other people your time and energy, especially if they are rude. But if you’re feeling up to it, share a cool band with a friend or invite them with you to an event. See a new face at an event, try being welcoming. If you’re in an online space, try to focus on positive and constructive discussion. (I should take this advice myself and write a lighter article next time) I don’t realistically expect a lot of people to change their preconceptions just because we’re nicer, but since things already aren’t in our favor, the least we can do is not give them more ammo.
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.
Special thanks to Aytakk for consulting on the article and helping with the images.