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A 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 mainstream culture.
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.

Works Cited

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 Core.

Gunn Joshua “Gothic music and the inevitability of genre”
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, 2007.
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 <www.gothicsubculture.com/articles/undead.php >
Tekman, H.G., & Hortacsu, N. Music and social identity: Stylistic identification as a response to musical style


Sweet R Derek “More Than Goth: The Rhetorical
Reclamation of the Subcultural Self” Popular Communication, 3(4), 239–264


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