Study in Music and Social Identity
Attitude of Mass Media to Goth subculture is often conditioned
by public taste and this often becomes a reason of negative
comments in press.
Music is a complex phenomenon which reflects not only individual
preferences but also social processes. In this respect gothic
subculture has become a vivid reflection of social ideas and
ways to express them. Berlyne views music “as means
of emotional and intellectual stimulation.” They also
believe that “music may serve a purpose beyond the individual”
(Tekman, Hortacsu 278). Such an approach gives new clues to
the understanding of Goth subculture, which is so popular
nowadays in many modern countries.
Goth subculture has lived longer than the rest of post-punk
movements. There are several reasons, which explain such long-term
popularity. First of all, Goth subculture is diverse and changes
with the flow of time in order to meet changing environment.
In addition, its message appeals to the wide audience since
it combines social protest and mystic motifs.
Originally, modern Goth movement appeared in the United Kingdom
between the 1970s and 1980s. It appeared as a part of post-punk
genre and quickly became popular as a separate gothic rock
music movement. In the latest 1970s several British bands
identified themselves as gothic, but gothic music and culture
did not become a separate subculture till the early 1980s
(Hudson, 1999, 12). At the beginning of the 1980s followers
of Goth music started gathering and they even organized a
separate movement. Being a part of post-punk culture, gothic
subculture has got separate life after most of post-punk trends
had lost their popularity. Goth subculture continued to develop
as music style and kind of culture. Goth subculture gives
new revival to Victorian fashion and the gothic art and literature
of 19th century. Goths themselves have also contributed to
the closed nature of their subculture. They thoroughly kept
their subculture away from the influence of mainstream cultures
and did not let people from outside come into their closed
society. Despite this wish, the influence of the Goth subculture
became so significant and serious that popular culture could
not ignore it any more.
Gothic subculture has been influenced by Gothic literature
of the nineteenth century and horror movies. This subculture
has strictly-shaped fashion. Despite there are minor differences,
all kinds of gothic subcultures have a tendency to dark sound
and special mode of dress. Gothic style can include death,
punk, rock, androgynous, Victorian and Renaissance clothing
styles. All styles mentioned above assume dark or even black
clothes, hairstyle and makeup. “Lyrically, gothic music
has its roots in gothic literature. Themes of death, solitude,
and romance were common. Gothic lyricists tended to stay away
from overt political messages although many did so subtly”
(Forsey 9). Themes of gothic music range from light and romantic
to dark and gloomy.
Despite some Goth bands had a commercial success, they have
not become the part of pop culture. Such bands as The Cure,
Siouxsie and The Banshees have become popular among comparatively
big amount of people but they did not make any attempts to
become more suitable for pop culture audience. Goth and death
rock music is the music for limited audience and chosen people.
This music is not accessible by general public. There are
several reasons for limited nature of Goth subculture. First
of all sound and texts of Goth music can not be understood
by everybody. In addition, accessibility of music can also
become an obstacle for its popularization. “Punk lyrics
were characteristically singsong with widespread profanity
and heavy social or political themes; lyrics found in gothic
music placed much consideration on art and style; profanity
and slang were not often used“(Kilpatrick 13). Special
Goth slang has become particular and characteristic feature
of Goth subculture. Goths are divided into smaller movements,
which represent regional, cultural and some other peculiarities
of Goth subculture. Neogoth appeared in Western Europe and
North America in such a way. Mallgoth appeared in the United
States of America, Cucarachas appeared in Spain, Gogans in
Australia, Hackians in New Zeland. Brake (1985) distinguishes
three elements, which form each subculture. These elements
are: image, demeanor and argot. Image is connected with style
and accessories. “Demeanor” is an attitude of
subculture members to mainstream culture and vice versa, while
“argot” is a way to deliver the ideas of subculture.
“Adopting a prefashioned costume, the subcultural member
dons the dress and orients himself or herself toward two different
audiences: other subcultural members and members of the dominant
culture being challenged” (Sweet 243). All these elements
are presented within Goth subculture and they serve it as
a way to express its individuality and shape their place in
Popular culture has influenced Goth subculture despite it
did it best to defend itself from external influence. Since
it becomes more and more popular, more people become the part
of this subculture. Media often attributes it to the representatives
of other subcultures not having enough knowledge about peculiarities
of this subculture. This was usually done because of similarities
in appearance and style rather than philosophical ideas and
musical genre. The term “goth” has become extended
with the flow of time and gradually has come to its frequent
usage. “As time went on, the term was extended further
in popular usage, sometimes to define groups that had neither
musical nor fashion similarities to the original gothic subculture“(Baddeley
15). Modern media creates a close connection between Goth
subculture and horror genre in literature and movie. Such
connection has become a common cliche widely popularized by
the media. Goths often appear in different horror novels and
movies. The Crow, for example is completely based on Goth
music and style of life. A famous by Rice film The Vampire
Chronicles also has specific gothic motifs.
Media does not only popularize Goth subculture among wide
audience but also often presents its image in a wrong way.
There are a lot critical depictions of Goths, which create
negative attitude of people to this subculture. For example,
famous cartoonist Jhonen Vasquez has created a series of cartoons,
such as Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, I Feel Sick, and Fillerbunny,
where he depicts Goths in a humorous and ironical way. In
his works he criticizes such features as unoriginality, backbiting
and conceit, which he attributes to modern Goths. Maddox,
a modern writer, dedicated a lot of critical publications
to Goth subculture. He even created a website called The Best
Page in the Universe dedicated to this theme. He states that
Goth subculture in the modern world is inconsistent and ambiguous
and its values contradict to modern aesthetic norms and values.
Gavid Baddeley, in his interview to Metal Hammer magazine
gives definition of British DJ Pete Scathe, who defines Goth
as a “term applied by the media to the subculture in
the early 80s which stuck, appropriately or otherwise, so
newcomers wanting to "become" Goths increasingly
adopted Gothic trappings. The whole scene soon has become
untouchable, as far as the press were concerned, as things
got silly and alternative clubs began to fill with "4000
year-old vampires" in homemade cloaks, clutching pints
of snakebite and black, spouting Poe at each other”
(Baddeley 15). Goth movement had become extremely popular
several years ago but then its popularity gradually declined.
For certain period of time Goth subculture became a kind of
mainstream; songs of goth bands appeared on TV, radio and
media published a lot of data about the representatives of
this subculture. Very soon, when popularity of Goth subculture
declined, mass media quickly turned to negative comments of
it. As Baddeley comments about this situation, “like
any other trend, once it begins to pass, the media –
especially in Britain – are quick to damn anything they
see associated with it” (Baddeley 16). He gives these
comments in order to explain such a rapid switch of music
press attitude to goth subculture.
Pete Scatche believes class belonging to be one of the dominant
factors of Goth popularity and unpopularity in media. As he
states, “Essentially, Goth was perceived to be Middle
Class, particularly by trendy London music journalists who,
though thoroughly Middle Class themselves, were desperate
to claim the street cred of being "Working Class heroes"
and had a habit of imposing their self-loathing onto the Goth
scene. Maybe if Goth had been a little more violent and stupid
it would’ve fared better in their estimation”
(Scatche 154). At the beginning of the 1990s the representatives
of Goth subculture became less active in comparison to the
previous years. Unexpectedly, Goths began singing in dance
clubs and playing music close to popular genres. This change
to dance-friendly style has completely changed the way Goths
looked. Scatche states that such a switch was a reaction against
“sad Goth in Black” stereotype, which was created
by previous generations of Goths. Change in style caused inability
to meet social expectations. “Class expressions are
always in a practical dialogue with existing hierarchies,
political regimes, and organizational outlets, but the shape
of the class does not take in civic discourse often swings
the cultural and political balance of the nations” (Cowie,
Boehm 356). In this way Goth music ceased to be middle-class
music and this quickly caused negative reaction of the media.
Since that time everything connected to gothic subculture
has become economically unprofitable and, thus, marked by
the press. As Scatche states,”I’m fully aware
that being labeled "Goth" can be a big commercial
impediment – the cultural equivalent of a leper’s
bell in the British music press” (Scatche 157). Artists
who played in Goth style found themselves trapped in their
own subculture. For example, Wayne Hussey, one of the former
members of Sisters of Mercy, one of the most popular Goth
bands, states that they are hostages of their own popularity.
He compares their position with the position of typecasting
actors. “A struggling actor would give his back teeth
to be typecast. But as soon as you’ve achieved fame,
and want to try your hand at something else, "the public"
won’t let you. But you should really thank your lucky
stars you’ve had a career and been allowed to do something
you love” (Baddeley 17).
So, there is one definite conclusion, which comes after comparing
media reports about Goth subculture. Media follows public
taste and compliments only cultural phenomena, which get recognition
of publicity. In the cases when public does not recognize
some cultural phenomenon mass media follows public opinion
and starts labeling this phenomenon as shallow, unoriginal
and inappropriate. We can very vividly see this one in the
example of goth subculture. Enthusiastic attitude of media
was quickly shifter to criticism, as soon as Goth subculture
had become less popular among wide audience. Definition often
becomes that limit that creates boundaries for artists. “What
is often being sold and transacted in the marketplace, then,
is not music per se, but generic – and thus linguistic
– codes” (Gunn 35). Genres serve to identify music
style and draw attention of the audience, but they can also
have negative consequences, as they limit freedom of artists.
This happens in many cases with Goth music because musicians,
who attribute themselves to this subculture, are criticizes,
as soon as they step aside from dark motifs in music and clothes.
Despite negative attitudes of mass media Goth subculture stays
a unique formation, which combines a big variety in one closeted
musical form. It works with specific motives and has specific
style, which can be easily defined and recognized.
Baddeley, Gavin “Goth Bothering”, Accessed May
12, 2007 < http://www.ninehells.com/~pete/gavin.htm>
Baddeley, Gavin: Goth Chic: A Connoisseur's Guide to Dark
Culture. Plexus, US, August 2002
Brake, M. Comparative youth culture: The sociology of youth
culture and youth subcultures in America, Britain, and Canada.
New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1985.
Cowie, Jefferson, Boehm, Lauren. “Dead Man's Town:
"Born in the U.S.A.," Social History, and Working-Class
Identity American Quarterly; Jun 2006; 58, 2; Research Library
Gunn Joshua “Gothic music and the inevitability of
Popular Music and Society; Spring 1999; 23, 1; Arts Module.
Hudson, Ray. “Regions and place: music , identity and
place.” Progress in Human Geography
Evans S., Ardill M., "Relax, it's just black," Toronto
Star, 1999-APR-25, Page.
Forsey R., Drakes S., "Goths paint life black,"
Toronto Star, 1999.
Hodkinson, Paul: Goth: Identity, Style and Subculture (Dress,
Body, Culture Series) 2002.
Kilpatrick, Nancy: The Goth Bible : A Compendium for the Darkly
Inclined. St. Martin's Griffin, 2004.
Scathe, P. Metal Scathe.demon.co.uk. URL Accessed March 30,
Mercer, M. Mick Mercer talks about Kimveer Gill Accessed May
12, 2007 at <mickmercer.livejournal.com>
Thompson, Dave, Greene Jo-Anne , "Undead Undead Undead"
Alternative Press, November 1994. Accessed May 12, 2007 at
Tekman, H.G., & Hortacsu, N. Music and social identity:
Stylistic identification as a response to musical style
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY, 2002, 37 (5), 277–285
Sweet R Derek “More Than Goth: The Rhetorical
Reclamation of the Subcultural Self” Popular Communication,