The modern Gothic subculture has emerged in the time period between the late seventies and the early eighties as a new medium for self-expression through the new genre of music, art, fashion and literature. The term “gothic” was initially used to describe the mysterious and dark literature that used the medieval gothic setting for the horror story-telling (Online Etymology Dictionary). Today the gothic subculture does not have a particular set of prerequisites for their members to be considered Goths. As “gothic” can be referred to the style of music, art, literature and fashion, high chances are that the members of the subculture have different tastes depending on the sphere of their self-expression. While one of them might be fond of the music, the others will prefer dressing in the specific gothic style to stand out from the non-Goths crowd. As the subculture of the Goths is considered one of the longest living contemporary cultures, the “gothic” concept is now surrounded by a set of stereotypes towards its members. Thus, the argument of the subculture has been widely distorted by the outsiders, who do not usually possess the in-depth knowledge about the history and the meaning of the phenomenon. The generally accepted main argument of the gothic subculture is the manifestation of the beauty of darkness, sadness, mystery, introverted individualism and the interest in supernatural. At the same time the long existence of the subculture has influenced its main argument throughout several stages of its development, thus, making it hard to give one final definition for the “gothic” mindset. Analyzing the development and main themes of the gothic music, literature and fashion may boost the understanding of the general gothic standpoint.
The first use of the term in the meaning close to the modern concept of being “gothic” was supposedly used in 1978 by Anthony H. Wilson, the manager of the Joy Division band on the BBC TV program towards the music style of the group compared to the mainstream music of those days. The gothic music emerged in the United Kingdom from the fading punk rock in the late seventies as a response to the somewhat shallow and extraverted disco music of those times. The first bands referred to as gothic were, inter alia, The Bauhaus, The Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Sisters of Mercy, The Damned. This set of the bands, though not always considered by either their members, or the Goths as gothic, is now deemed the first generation of the gothic music. The late eighties were marked by the withering of the British gothic music scene and the birth of the American one. The main distinction of the gothic rock music from the popular music of those times was the combination of the largely introverted dark lyrics and the gloomy mysterious music. The generally affirmed first gothic composition, if one can be named with a certainty, is the Bela Lugosi's Dead by the Bauhaus about the highly acclaimed first movie Count Drakula actor Bela Lugosi. This time was also marked by the establishment of the gothic subculture as a world separate subcultural movement.
The new dark music scene quickly became popular within the intellectual circles of those times, who gradually gathered into the gothic social scene. Here it is important to emphasize that although considered dark, gloomy and depressing, the gothic subculture does not push forward the ideas of suicide, drugs, depression or blood lust as its’ arguments. This common misconception progressed with the usually dark appearance and seemingly moody look of the members of the movement. At the same time many Goths are artistic people, who are prone to depression no more than any other average self-expressing artist. According to Miklas and Arnold: “As a caveat to the “dark” focus of Gothic culture, I would mention that many Goths dispute the attribution of negative labels such as “Satan worshipper” or “blood drinker” to their culture, which they feel have been created by “others” who prejudge them on the basis of their appearance” (Miklas, and Arnold 1). The specific feature of the gothic culture is the acceptance of the depression as a normal state of being that becomes especially spread among people at the end of the centuries (and this time at the end of the millennium as well), the exact time when the gothic culture came to existence. The new social scene united similar-minded people for the purpose of the social exchange, and the evolution of the gothic fashion, literature, photography and moviemaking began.
Influenced by the punk-rock, Victorian and Elizabethan fashion styles, the dark gothic look is usually described as dark (usually black) theatrical clothes and make-up that is aimed at standing out from the colorful clothes of the disco and rave seventies and eighties. Supporting the idea of darkness and mystery and also influenced by the gothic literature of the 19th century, the gothic look catches the eye with its exaggerated dramatic out-of-date appearance. The popularization and development of the gothic fashion resulted in the creation of the Haute Gothic fashion, whose main designers have always been Karl Lagerfeld, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Gareth Pugh and many others. The introduction of the gothic culture to the mass through fashion resulted in the better acceptance of the Goths in the society, as well as opened the door to new gothic artist supporting the gothic argument of dark beauty and aesthetics. At the same time it is important to remember that not all Goths choose to express themselves through their appearance. Many gothic look-alikes, whose main goal is to rebel against the social norms, have been using lately the theatrical gothic image to turn public attention to their anti-social position, while many Goths remain apolitical and tend not to breach social norms, but rather stay in the shadow of the rebellion left to the punk brothers and sisters.
The gothic literature is represented by the 19th and 20th century horror and dark stories and fantasies written by Edgar Allan Poe, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Bram Stocker, Anne Rice and many others. According to the Spooner and McEvoy: “Gothic novels used to be easily identified by their incorporation of dominant themes such as imperiled heroines, dastardly villains, ineffectual heroes, supernatural events, dilapidated buildings, and atmospheric weather. Texts produced after 1820 put their emphasis on the returning past, transgression and decay, the exploration of fear, and the cross-contamination of reality and fantasy” (Spooner, and McEvoy 1). The gothic literature had a major impact on the contemporary sometimes haunting gothic fashion, music, photography and, especially, cinematography. Portraying the dark beauty, mystery, finitude and supernatural events, the gothic literature is one of the main sources of the gothic argument and probably the initial and most recognized source of the gothic subculture by all three generations of the Goths.
All the social representations of the gothic idea, namely, music, fashion, literature, cinematography and other forms of art are a way for certain people to communicate their idea that the life may not always be as bright and successful in the socially acceptable way. The gothic culture embeds the idea of the dark beauty, the pleasant moment of embracing finitude and its mystery, the acceptance of the inner darkness on the same level, as our bright sides are accepted. Though sometimes misunderstood and hotly disputed within its own followers, the gothic culture proves its right to exist through the decades, as more and more people fall into the tendency of self-examination of their souls and finding more about their darker sides. As Del Gandio said in his Rhetoric for Radicals: “The idea of an absolute social norm as the absolutely correct way to live, act and think is a myth that needs to be challenged. There is no single, absolute norm that we can follow. This is because each person occupies and composes a different standpoint. A standpoint is your place in the world” (Del Gandio 21).
Del, Gandio Jason. Rhetoric for Radicals: A Handbook for 21st Century Activists. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society, 2008. Print.
"Gothic." Online Etymology Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2013. <http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=gothic>.
Miklas, Sharon, and Stephen J. Arnold. "'The Extraordinary Self': Gothic Culture and the Construction of the Self." Journal of Marketing Management 15.6 (1999): 563-76. Print.
Spooner, Catherine, and Emma McEvoy. “Introduction: Approaching Gothic.” The Routledge Companion to Gothic. Ed. Catherine Spooner & Emma McEvoy. Routledge, 2007. 1-3. Print.