Sunlight & Shadow: Understanding the Gothic Subculture
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Gothic Myths and Gothic Facts

Going simply by the most commonly heard reputation of the Gothic subculture, it's no wonder why so many parents and teachers are so negative about it. Goths and non-Goths alike acknowledge the stereotypes--but "stereotype" is precisely the problem. "Stereotype" is defined in the Webster's New World Dictionary as "a fixed or conventional notion or conception, as of a person, group, idea, etc., held by a number of people, and allowing for no individuality, critical judgment, etc." Stereotypes are almost always forced on the group of people they're applied to by people who are not within the group but are instead critical of the group, most often due to simple lack of understanding. Stereotypes are essentially cardboard cutouts that represent tired ideas rather than real living, breathing human beings. But far too many people hold stereotypes in such high regard as to believe them to be true examples of members of the groups they're meant to represent This leads to intolerance, resentment, loss of understanding, and eventually to the kind of deep chasm we see between general society and the Gothic community today. Let's burn those cardboard caricatures and find the real truths behind the stereotypical fiction.

With all those black clothes and all that freaky make-up, all Goths must be Satanic.

As far as clothing choices go, Goths are no more "Satanic" than tortured-artist Beatniks (where the Gothic trend of wearing black first came from). The ghoulish and morbid appearance of many Goths is derived from the method of rebellion devised by the original Goths of the twentieth century, who used the look to protest what they saw as a sanitized, materialistic "always keep your chin up no matter how bad it hurts" society. Some say it was a sort of mourning attire for a miserable and dying society; some say it was more a rejection of traditional ideas of beauty. Either way, it was more of a social protest than a declaration of (or mockery of) religion, and it remains so today. The Gothic subculture has no specific religious affiliation at all. There are Goths of all faiths, from Jewish to Christian, Muslim to Buddhist, Wiccan to Atheist, and yes, even Satanic. Many of these faiths have special sub-movements within the Gothic community, most notably the Christian Goth movement, which has its own style of music, value system, and community.

Goths are all fixated on death. They all want to kill themselves--or someone else.

The commonly held idea of Goth is that of the maladjusted, antisocial outcast who attempts suicide on a regular basis and is incredibly proud of the scars left from previous attempts. This idea is utterly false. While some Goths are outcasts and often feel depressed or alone, the rest of the world isn't immune to these problems either. Goths are no more maladjusted, antisocial, or depressed than any other average human being. It may be noticed more in Goths because Goths tend to be more open with their negative feelings, or perhaps because more attention is paid to depressed Goths than other depressed teens because the Goths seem "odd" when compared to the accepted norm. "Admittedly, people who dress and conduct themselves a bit out of the norm should expect to receive attention--not all of it positive," Roland Dobbins, who runs an internet chat channel for Goths, said in an article in the Sacramento Bee, "But by the same token, blaming this on us is almost as bad as the mindset of the gunmen [at Columbine High School] who were selecting victims based on race or whether they happened to be athletes."

Goths deal with the same pressures that other teens deal with--academic failures and stresses, social anxieties, family problems, etc. They also deal with a great deal of rejection, intolerance, judgment, and prejudice, potentially creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. "The people who have set themselves so firmly against Goth kids and all the other kids who don't conform have yet to grasp that the suffocating perfection they present is the best argument for the styles they're decrying," says Charles Taylor in his article "Wild Children" from

As far as the Gothic "obsession" with death, the more appropriate word might be "acceptance," or "acknowledgement," or "respect." One of the reasons why the Gothic viewpoint is so foreign and frightening to most people is because it challenges the way we traditionally think about "unpleasant" things. Goths refuse to see certain things as "beautiful" simply because they're acceptable while seeing other things as "offensive" because they're unpleasant or uncomfortable to deal with. "American pop culture focuses too much on the new and shiny, the bright and happy, [Goths] say. It does not deal well--if at all--with pain, loss and death," say Seattle Times staff reporters Janet I-Chin Tu and Alex Tizon in their article "Goths." They also describe the Gothic subculture as "a way to understand and come to terms with the darker aspects of life." The Gothic viewpoint on death is one of acceptance of the fate that awaits us all, rather than "whistling past the graveyard," denying death, and hoping it'll just go away. Goths accept death as a natural part of life, part of the natural balance of things. This doesn't mean, however, that Goths invite death by attempting suicide or homicide--those things would upset the natural balance as much as denying death does. Instead, Goths accept and respect death for what it is--and move on.

All Goths are Worshippers of Marilyn Manson.

First and foremost, Marilyn Manson should not be taken as a representative of the Gothic subculture. Why? Because most of what he does is the antithesis of the Gothic movement. The Gothic mentality is founded on the maxim "be thyself" (prerequisited by the more common maxim "know thyself"). Everything that Manson does is motivated by its shock value and his anticipation of society's reaction to it; Manson compromises self in the name of image. He makes a wealthy living out of being a caricature of everything he believes parents and general society loathe and love to hate. His music, his appearance, his demeanor--everything is a slave to society's opinion. "The controversial shock-rock star with the satanic leanings and violence-tinged music has never been a part of their [Goths'] community, artistically or philosophically," says J. Freedom du Lac of The Sacramento Bee. Goths simply want to be allowed to exist as what they are (which is, in general, a darker, more introspective version of "normal").

While it may be true that many Goths do indeed enjoy Marilyn Manson's music, none "worship" him and almost all Goths agree that he is not Goth--even those who are fans. "Some Goths do like Marilyn Manson...but the vast majority of Goths do not consider his music to be Goth--they consider it heavy metal," journalist Diane Snyder explains in an article from the online news magazine APB Online.

Besides, what about the countless other musicians Goths enjoy? Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, Siouxie and the Banshees, Rasputina? No one attempts to hold those artists up as "demonstrative" of the Gothic movement. Then there are the thousands of "normal" musicians that are well-loved by Goths--I myself am a dedicated fan of Richard Marx, who is well known for his love ballads "Right Here Waiting" and "Endless Summer Nights" and who has more recently moved into doing music very reminiscent of pop heartthrobs N*Sync and country sweethearts SheDaisy. Nothing dire and evil there.

Finally, as will be explained in great detail in the next section, the Gothic subculture predates Marilyn Manson's stardom by at least a decade. It's terribly difficult for a movement based around the worship of an idol to come about before the idol does. If anything, Marilyn Manson probably borrowed quite a bit from the media portrayal of the Gothic movement and then turned up the volume a few hundred notches to insure the proper reaction.