My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

The Gothic subculture is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, and looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice et al.) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Friday, 2 June 2017

Subcategories - A Discussion


This is a response to my ::previous article:: being discussed in part on the Cemetery Confessions internet radio/podcast, in the most recent episode, ::here::. I suggest you listen to it - both because Cemetery Confessions is an excellent pod-cast, and because otherwise this post won't really make much sense. 

I don't intend this as an argument in any personal term, this is just my riposte in the debate, and I don't want anyone to misconstrue this as an attempt on my part to start any drama - I see this as a debate, where I've raised points, the Count and those on the show have given disagreements, and I give counter-arguments in the debating sense of the word - and I hope this conversation keeps going! 

The first disagreement discussed is in relation to Romantic Goths.  To them, Romanticism is only an underlying tenet of Goth, rather than something that can be considered a separate aspect of it - I agree that Romanticism is indeed a major contributing factor to the Gothic mindset and the Gothic Subculture in general, and it is an underlying tenet indeed  - the distinction I was making is that there are some people who gravitate more to that specific aspect of the subculture. All of the things I mention as being apart of a subcategory are not exclusive to the subcategories- and they shouldn't be - and the way I see a subcategory, it is more about from which perspective you approach the subculture, rather than an separate group within Goth that is a bubble divided from the other parts. Everything that I see as a subcategory has to be within Goth already. 

The second is that I think my take on the Megan Balanck stereotypes has been misconstrued - I don't actually agree with the way Goth is broken into subcategories by Megan Balanck, and I don't think I am all those labels that I fit according to her list - as my original article explained. I know they had to cut down from my original article because I do write a LOT, but I feel like at this point is was cut down in a way that lost my original point - listing all the subcategories I would fit under according to her was meant to be an example of how I find her framework overly labels things. I think labels are something that, like many things, are good in moderation. I don't think her 'Goth Stereotypes' accurately describe how Goth works (and I don't really think it was intended to), so I tried to give my own take on how things do work - and how many of things that Ms Balanck gave are making subcategories out of things I wouldn't consider to be subcategories as how I would define that - things that are hybrids with other subcultures, that are just an aesthetic, etc. I didn't really want to write an extended critique of the 'Goth Stereotypes' in my original article, but there are quite a few things I disagree with her on, especially her treating hybrids and other subcultures as part of Goth - 'Rivethead'/Industrial and Steampunk may have ties to Goth, but they are their own subcultures!

[Tangent: One particular thing I didn't like in her 'Goth Stereotypes' was her including 'mopey' and 'perky' Goth, because I think that someone's personality, or mood, aren't really subcategory at all, especially when these things are often subject to fluctuations, and especially when the idea of us being 'mopey' or depressed is an externally imposed derogatory stereotype, and I have never seen it reflected from within Goth, and feel like that unlike the others, which even if they aren't necessarily about Goths (Lolitas, Rivetheads and Steampunks aren't Goth!) do at least have a grain of truth, and some level of "it's funny because it's true" - they do at least reflect the world a little, and people can see themselves or people they know in them. The idea of 'mopey' Goths, or 'perky Goths' (usually with the latter as a deliberate contrast to the expected former stereotype) just doesn't seem true to human nature, let alone Goths.]

I think that labels can definitely be too "sticky" as The Count said, and that they shouldn't be used to box people in, or compel people to box themselves in. I've been a Romantic Goth for nearly as long as I've been Goth, and I've been Romantic for a lot longer - and I have never personally found it limiting or something which has become stale for me. The label shouldn't be something you act to fill - it should just be a description for how you already are - one thing I will always maintain about life is that it is more important to be yourself than to live up to the expectations of a label. 

I actually prefer the term "Classic Goth" that was proffered in the podcast to the term "Trad Goth". I didn't coin the term "Trad Goth", and I too am no fan of 'traditional' being contracted to 'Trad', but I just presumed it was an Americanism in this instance. I was using the term as it is the one I see most frequently used to describe people who are more interested in Goth from a perspective that is closer to its origins in music, club-culture and '80s creativity, rather than from a Romantic perspective, or from a perspective that is more ingrained with a different culture. I also think it is very important that all Goths understand their history, and the roots of the subculture - I just think that for some, both people who were there the first time around, and people who are Post-Punk revivalists of a sort, they find themselves drawn more to those aspects of Goth, and to looking at it from that perspective. I know that Goth had an ideological shift from its punk roots, and I would agree that perhaps my notion that "Classic" or "Trad" Goths are more into being deliberately subversive is more a reflection of the ones I know personally than of people who are interested in that era of Goth and that perspective on Goth in general. 

One criticism I would give of myself is that instead of trying to define what I see as subcategories, I tried to give examples of aspects -both in relation to aesthetics and in relation to music and perspective - of what sorts of things can come under that umbrella, and perhaps I would have done better to set actual parameters, even if nebulous ones. What I wanted to do was give examples of how it is more than just clothes, but what I think I actually did was further confuse the issue. 

I am not a sociologist - dilettante or academic - so I do not really know enough on that to argue the sociological framework of whether Goth is a culture or subculture, and whether Goth is influenced by its parent culture, or not. I think it's only right that I acknowledge that I'd be out of my depth there. 

J-Goth
I think the part where I disagree most is in relation to Japanese Goth and I will give my opinion as the author of the original article, and as someone interested in that aspect of the scene, but I really feel it would be better handled by a different blogger, someone like ::La Carmina:: who is more intimately connected with the scene (and has already written about how the scene is different there, and how yes, it can be more aesthetic in many ways, but that doesn't make it less sincere), or even better, someone in Japan from the Japanese Goth scene itself. I know that Cemetery Confessions has been interviewing Goths from around the world, as I was part of that, and perhaps this could open up an opportunity for the show to interview a Japanese Goth in Japan on this topic! I really don't want to talk for Japanese Goths here, because I'm a 'Franglais' person who has an interest in Japanese culture and as a Goth, an interest in how Goth is there, not someone living there, but I still feel like I ought to explain my reasoning, however.

If you're a Goth in Japan or another person with an interest in J-Goth who knows more than me, please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong - I'm not the font of all knowledge, and I certainly know that my perspective has limitations, plus I love to be educated! 

I think that part of the reason that Goth is fairly consistent in many places is because that there are a lot of similarities between the parent cultures - there, obviously, are differences between American, and say, British culture, but there are also a LOT of similarities, especially in our pop-cultures. Japanese culture has its similarities too, but it also has more marked differences. I don't think that I did a very good job of describing what I meant in my original article - the comment about manga, anime, etc. was more to indicate that Westerners into that part of Goth a) often come to be interested in how Goth is in Japan through depictions of Gothic themes in those media, and b) that they're into aspects of Japanese pop-culture other than just Goth in Japan, rather than this being all it takes to make someone a J-Goth (and anime and manga are examples that I expect my readers to be familiar with). 

I do think there are fads in Japanese subcultures and street-fashions (just as there are here! I see hipsters walking around in dressed in fashion that borrows a lot from the Goth aesthetic!) but I don't think that all Japanese pop-culture is all inherently faddish - just like anywhere else, if someone finds something to be a thing that they genuinely connect with and enjoy, they are likely to retain it. Yes, Japanese Goths have taken inspiration from Goths in Europe and the US, but I don't think it's a cartoonish pastiche, I think it is Goth seen through the lens of Japanese pop-culture and culture - and this makes it Goth approached from that perspective, and with its own distinctiveness. I think the "ideological influences, pop-culture influences.. ...purely aesthetic influences, moral normative type claims being either subverted or embraced in alternative way", from both directions, are precisely why Goth from Japan has evolved a little differently, and noticeably so.  

If it was just limited to Goths in Japan, I probably wouldn't call it a subcategory, more a regional distinctiveness that's a little more marked than others (and perhaps, as I mentioned, Deathrock is like that, different in its own distinct way from Post-Punk in the UK, or in Europe, because it developed in a different culture), but because it has produced a lot of tangible culture that gets consumed by, and influences a lot of Goths outside of Japan, many of whom have become very interested in Goth from a Japanese perspective because they have an interest in Japanese culture and pop-culture in general, I feel that it probably does deserve to be termed a subcategory - I can certainly see the ways in which my friends like ::K:: approach the subculture than from how I do, or my friends who could be described as 'Trad' or 'Classic' Goth do. I also acknowledge that a Goth outside of Japan approaching the Goth in Japan from their own culture and subcultural framework, and then ingesting a Japanese interpretation of Goth that in turn has been inspired by Western Goth is going to be a different perspective again to someone who is part of the Japanese scene itself. Also, aspects of Goth from a Japanese perspective have filtered into Goth in general - taking inspiration from Lolita fashion, listening to 13th Moon, discussing shinigami as psychopomps, or blending kawaii and kowai aren't limited to Japanese Goths or Goths elsewhere who have a big interested in Japanese Goth. 

I have definitely observed that there are both differences and a LOT of similarities - there has to be, otherwise it wouldn't still be Goth! Goth does have its own culture which does transcend national boundaries, but that does not mean that the culture you come from doesn't have any influence on how you interact with Goth - otherwise, using my local scene as an example, Goths here wouldn't be talking about bean sìth, the Cailleach of winter and kelpies as well as vampires, witches and werewolves, or incorporating the local folklore and history into how they interact with Goth, and wearing black kilts to club nights - for the obvious examples - although it's often far more complex than that, and harder to tease out, and I think the same applies to Goth in Japan, it's just that its more pronounced than with the differences between Goths in the US and the UK, or Goths in different parts of Europe, etc. (although I would say there definitely is a difference between continental Goths, and US and UK Goths) because the parent culture, especially in terms of pop-culture, is a little more different. 

There are definitely people in Japan who don't just put Goth on as a club costume, or just to be photographed on the Jingu Bashi bridge, garnering attention and ending up in street-snaps of Fruits or the Gothic & Lolita Bible (those things actually have become less popular with time, and the Goths there remain). I think it does Japanese Goths who are committed to their scene a disservice to see Goths in Japan all being likened to kids in the late '90s and early '00s getting into Marilyn Manson because he was different, darker and edgier, and it was cool and rebellious - especially when within western Goth we've seen plenty of people join the subculture because they think it's cool and edgy as teens or young adults, and then stuck with it for the long haul - all the 'mall-Goths' who grew into the subculture rather than out of it! Although I do think there may be more pressure in Japan for people to 'grow out of it' than in other places, that doesn't mean that everyone does, or that it is just something that is momentarily popular with some more rebellious cool kids and then vanishes again. 

Bands like 13th Moon, Neurotic Doll, and Madame Edwarda, are what I meant by 'Gothic bands from Japan' - I think there's a little more hybridisation going on when it comes to Visual Kei bands, etc. but that the influence of Visual Kei bands needs to be considered too. I do think that aesthetically, and musically, there's a lot of referencing Deathrock rather than UK Post-Punk and Goth bands (eg. Phaida has a lot of similarities with Christian Death), but that doesn't make it a pastiche of Deathrock, it just shows the path through which inspiration has flowed. 

The Part There Wasn't Time To Discuss
I really wish there had been time to discuss the last part of my article, as I think it relates more to what the actual problem is with labels - whether or not they are limiting and divisive. 

I think the way people approach labels is probably where a lot of the contention arises from. People don't want labels because they think they are innately harmful. People are, and with legitimate cause, worried that it will cause people to box themselves into narrow definitions that eventually lead to them feeling trapped, or that the way that hybrids and other subcultures (especially Steampunk, Industrial and Emo) get mislabelled as 'Goth subcategories' will confuse people, or that newcomers to the subculture feel like they have to pick a bunch of terms. All of these things do happen, but I personally don't think they have to happen. 

I think a lot of the issue is that people see the labels not as a description for how perspective, tastes in music, aesthetics and interests come together, but as bubbles, and fragile ones, that only encompass a narrow set of things, and that if you expand beyond that, the bubble will burst and it will be terrible - there should be no real consequences to outgrowing a label, or to finding that with time you better fit a different one, if you don't get cliquish about them in the first place. If you start of primarily interested in the Gothic and Romantic, but later come to be more interested in '80s revival, find you've more general interests, or in any way change how you approach Goth, then all that happens is you change a few words to describe your interests - it's no betrayal to whatever way you identified before, and unless you live somewhere with an unfortunately cliqueish scene, shouldn't have any real-world repercussions. People changing and growing is natural, and no label should seen as a boundary, just a description. 

As I keep coming back to - it's more important to be true to yourself than to create expectations based around a label. You should never pick a category and then decide to best fulfil it - you should be yourself and just describe yourself with the terms that are most accurate. 

It is human nature to try and categorise things in order to understand them, and I don't think we can ever escape that with time, and as things become more diverse and distinctive, labels will arise - what we have to do is be responsible with them. Over-labelling becomes counter-productive, as things become too specific - and similar terms used in too many different ways - to really be meaningful; overly rigid categories leads to people boxing themselves in, feeling like they have to conform to an expectation of what a category should entail; not enough labels mean that people don't have a vocabulary to express precisely what they mean without giving lengthy descriptions. A balance needs to be struck, and I think the key is moderation. 

I also think that a true subcategory - originating from within Goth, and being about how one approaches various aspects of what is Goth - will always be authentically Goth. I know that the hybrid subcultures, such as Cybergoth, Gothic Lolita, etc. will always be contentious because they're always going to be a mixture of things, in varying proportions, and because there's this external element it will never really be wholly Goth - and the debate is to whether that should be embraced alongside what is Goth, and see it as a positive diversifying influence, or whether it risks overly diluting the subculture to the point where the term 'Goth' just ends up meaning 'darkly alternative'. Those debates seem to answer themselves with time, as time either confirms or denies the possible consequences, and as people hash it out until eventually an approximate consensus is reached - it happened with the Marilyn Manson influx, it happened with the Cybergoths and the rise in popularity of Industrial, and it's happening with Pastel Goth and Nu-Goth, and I'm sure it happened with other things before my experience of the subculture and will continue to happen in the future as things change and new things arrive. 

I also don't think that subcategories should translate into social cliques. I have been in places where this has happened - those into the '80s way of seeing Goth acting like those with  a Romantic sensibility were just misguided LARPers with a fondness for vampires and not 'real' Goths, people into Cybergoth refusing to even talk to people who weren't clad in goggles, PVC and neon, and people saying that those who like metal as well as Goth have no musical taste and aren't proper Goths either, just 'Mansonites' - and I thought that all these cliquish attitudes were terribly immature, even moreso when I joined the Highland Goth scene, because the scene here - especially as it is so small - has just become a refuge for people who like the Gothic, the Goth and generally dark, and has welcomed all the hybridisation and the unique perspectives of each individual as a positive attribute rather than a reason for division - something I hope to to illustrate aesthetically with my photography project (especially as I photograph the same people again in future, in ways that show different facets of them, using fashion, location and photography to try and convey something that is more than aesthetic through a visual medium). I've seen first-hand that it doesn't have to be a scene where people only talk to those who have identical interests to them, and that it's healthy and keeps things interesting when they talk to a variety of Goths and people with interests outside Goth, people who blend and hybridise subcultures, etc. 

As I concluded the first time around: You do not need to pick a category, you do not need to fit a category, and it is far more important to be true to yourself than to be as Goth as possible, or as <insert specific type of Goth here> as possible. It is healthy - and good for the subculture- for us to be diverse people with diverse interests, and to not just be clone-like and striving to fit in to some social group as neatly as possible.

2 comments:

  1. I believe that categories only work to an extent, but the more succinctly we attempt to categorize someone or something, the more elusive an actual label becomes.

    When I think of goth types, I think of generalizations that give others a window into what a person might be about. Beyond that, you've got to know someone on a personal level.

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  2. I think of Goth subcategories more like specialisms, like you might be a soldier, but your particular thing is you're an artillery operator, or you fly a helicopter, or you're a tank driver. Or breeds of dog, perhaps(?) There are different thing that fall under the classification of Goth which are more or less present in most other subcategory, but which gain greater focus within given subcategory.

    As far as Tradgoth is concerned I first heard it in the late 90s as a disparaging & tongue in cheek term for folks who dressed like goths had around 1989 or so, who considered themselves truer & purer goths than anyone else, the gothiest goths that ever gothed. They (erroneously) ascribe the subculture's origins to the Batcave & think everything that came after 1995, unless a facsimile of their Batcave-obsessed idea of Goth, is somehow not goth.
    I wrote a Long-Ass Tumblr Post (tm) deconstructing this assumption here: https://skiamakhos.tumblr.com/post/164892177298/the-batcave-and-80s-goth

    Contracting it to Trad is like referring to jazz enthusiasts who only like turn of the century New Orleans jazz as trad jazz fans, or traddies. They're honestly ignoring a huge swath of jazz, just as IMHO tradgoths are ignoring & denying a huge swath of Goth.

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