In the aftermath of the student and staff murders at Columbine high school in Littleton CO in 1999-APR, some of the media searched for simple reasons to explain the terrible tragedy. Some reporters bypassed the obvious causes (two teens having easy access to handguns and rifles; sustained ridicule, harassment, and rejection by their peers; their lack of respect for human life; their lack of hope for the future; etc.). Some reporters mentioned that the alleged perpetrators followed the Goth culture. A few reporters have incorrectly associated Goth with Satanism, violence, white supremacy and intolerance. The implication was that the Goth culture had been the cause of the alleged perpetrators' obsession with revenge, and thus is at least partly responsible for the homicides. Some quotations:"...morose subculture of Gothic fantasy." "They're basically outcasts, Gothic people, They're into anarchy. They're white supremacists and they're into Nostradamus stuff and Doomsday." "Black trench coats are a consistent theme in the Gothic subculture that has attracted many teenagers to the poetry, music and costumes of a scene that ranges from benign fantasy to violent reality." "Inspired by fantasy games such as Dungeons and Dragons, Gothic has become a fascination of many American high schoolers, some of whom simply dress and paint their fingernails black while others immerse themselves in a pseudo medieval world of dark images." "Tuesday was Hitler's birthday, an occasion for demonstrations, mock funerals and other macabre commemorations among both neo-Nazis and parts of the Gothic scene." 7
The perpetrators at Littleton were apparently not Goths; rather, they had incorporated some Goth symbolism into their group's unique image. Similarly, they held hands in school; not because they were bisexual or homosexual, but in order to shock other students. Their goal was to disturb their fellow students and distance themselves from the school jocks who ridiculed and harassed them.What is the Goth culture?
It is basically indefinable, because "Goth" means different things to each follower. Many adopt unusual fashions in order to separate themselves from other youth. Gordon A. Crews, associate dean of the School of Justice Studies at Roger Williams University in Bristol, CT is an investigator of what he calls the "occult" which-- in his opinion -- includes the Goth culture. He said: "It is up to the individual to define what Goth is for themselves ... The mentality is, 'I want to be left alone but I want to be seen. I want to see the shock on other peoples' faces." 11
Some factors that are commonly observed are:Its unique music, art and literature. The use of extreme black clothing, light colored makeup, unusual hair styles, body piercing, bondage items, etc. A fascination with medieval, Victorian and Edwardian history. Wearing of symbols such as a Christian cross; an Egyptian ankh or "Eye of Ra," or "Eye of Horus;" a Wiccan pentacle, a Satanic inverted pentacle. etc. 14 Goths tend to be non-violent, pacifistic, passive, and tolerant. Many in the media have mistakenly associated Goth with extreme violence and hatred of minorities, white supremacy, etc. Many Goths write about being depressed. Followers seem sullen and withdrawn, when in public. They are often much more "happy and carefree in the company of [other] Goths." 1 Examples of depression are: "Tigriss," commenting on her own life, writes: "So my gothic persona fit me quite well. My black clothing and dark music aptly reflected my own depression, pain, and anger which was what I made most of my life about. Most of my goth friends had dysfunctional families and troubled childhoods as mine. We could identify with each other through our dark make-up and painful pasts." 12 Researcher Jasin Tamlin comments: "If you take a look at the 640 sites that are listed on the Gothic Web Ring, you will find many of them filled with desperation, depression, anger, hatred, despair and angst." 13 "A lot of people turn to the Gothic subculture after having a hard time in school, feeling alienated, and looking for a way to express themselves that mirrors those feelings. Others find the scene through literature, still others want to be shocking, and some people just find black clothing slimming." 1 Goth music often deals with thought-provoking topics, concentrating on societal evils, like racism, war, hatred of groups, etc. Their music tends to concentrate on the very "nasty, unhappy" topics that "North American culture" wants to "ignore and forget." A fascination with death. They try "to find a different way of thinking about life, like trying to find beauty in life, pain and death. It's all a quest for immortality." 2 In contrast, many Goths are optimistic about the future and see much beauty in the world. Some Goths enjoy playing role playing games. However, RPGs are not an integral component of Goth culture. It is just that those intellectual and creative challenges that draw them to the Goth scene make them more likely to enjoy RPGs as well. Other interests: writings by authors like Dante, Byron, Tolstoy; German Expressionist silent films; writing music; painting, etc.
History and background: The words Goth and Gothic have had many, largely unrelated meanings in the past: the name of the Germanic Visigoth tribes that overthrew the Roman Empire. From this source arose the concept of a Goth as an uncivilized person, a barbarian. 4 a style of architecture in Western Europe which was popular from the 12th to the 16th century. a style of horror/mystery literature that is dark, eerie and gloomy. Goth, as a modern movement, started as one component of the punk rock scene. As the latter faded, Goth survived by creating its own subculture. The first use of the term Goth in its present meaning is believed to have been on a British Broadcasting Commission (BBC) TV program. Anthony H. Wilson, manager of Joy Division described the band as Gothic compared with the pop mainstream. The name stuck. Their use of black clothing was originally "something of a backlash to the colorful disco music of the seventies." 5 It also stuck. The movement first became established in the Batcave, a nightclub in London, England, in the early 1980's. 3 Spreading to the U.S., it first became popular in California. Goth is featured in The Crow horror movies (1994, 1996). Other Gothic movies are the original Nosferatu, the color remake Nosferatu the Vampyre, and the Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. Popular music bands are the Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Sisters of Mercy, Dead Can Dance, and many others. Religion:
Many Goths reflect popular culture and are probably nominal or devout Christians. Atheism, Agnosticism, the New Age, Gnosticism, Shamanism, Wicca, other Neopagan traditions, and other minority faith groups are represented more frequently than in the general population.
Goths often wear Christian crosses or Christian crucifixes, which many regard as a pre-Christian religious symbol. Others wear New Age/ancient Egyptian Ankh symbols. Some do this as expression of their religious beliefs, some for satire, and others because they like their appearance.
Religion is frequently discussed on the Goth newsgroups. Many songs, band names and album titles have Christian themes. 6
The public incorrectly commonly associates Goths with Marilyn Manson. 10 "Manson publicly presents himself as a follower of the Church of Satan... He was ordained a priest in the Church of Satan by the [late] founder, Anton LaVey. Many fans refer to him as the Rev. Marilyn Manson." 9 (Actually, Manson is not a follower of that Church; he was simply appointed as a Reverend within the Church by its founder, Anton LaVey.) From this Satanic connection, the perception has grown that Goths are frequently linked to Satanism. There are a few Satanists who are also Goths, but they are rare.Stereotypes:
People have accused or described Goths as being:Depressed, Unusually bigoted, Violent, Suicidal, Involved in illegal drugs, Vampires or believe themselves to be vampires, Sado-masochists, Satanists, Musicians, painters, and other artists, Computer programmers (although there seem to be a lot of them) Wearers of black (some wear white and gunmetal), Dyers of their hair, Users of white makeup. 4
Some of the above probably apply to some Goths, but definitely not to all.Helpful Goth resources: The Gothic Resource Network is a large and very active website featuring information on entertainment, news, shopping, etc. They have chats, message boards, personal pages, and other features online. See: http://www.egoth.com Dream-Gate is a British supplier of Gothic pendants, bracelets, rings, etc. as well as band t-shirts. See: http://www.dream-gate.co.uk/ Euphonika, according to Scanner: "... pushes outwards, fusing unsettling imagery, serial killers, rudely obsessed doll fanatics within a vaudeville circus atmosphere, leaving this viewer disoriented, unsteady, yet thirsting for more" See: http://www.euphonika.com/ MakeupPad.com has a list of links dealing with Gothic make up at: http://www.makeuppad.com/. Pyretta's Lair is another British supplier with Gothic clothing, Pagan/Wiccan supplies, etc. See: http://www.pyrettaslair.com/
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- S. Evans & M. Ardill, "Relax, it's just black," Toronto Star, 1999-APR-25, Page D16 - D17.
- "R. Forsey & S. Drakes, "Goths paint life black," Toronto Star, 1999-APR-27, Page C1 & C3.
- "Goth," alt.culture, at: http://www.altculture.com/
- Ice Princess, "Academia Gothica," a course of study in the Goth subculture at: http://www.blarg.net/
- Peter Wake, "Frequently asked questions list for alt.gothic newsgroup," at: http://www.vamp.org/Gothic/Text/gothic-faq.html. An updated version is maintained by tom Fosdick at: http://www.darkwave.org.uk
- ShanMonster, "Jesus was Gother than You," at: http://www.bigfoot.com/
- "Media's incorrect useage of 'Gothic' in Colorado tragedy," at: http://www.darklinks.com
- Some websites with many links to Goth resources are: "Rob's Gothic Pages" at: http://www.crg.cs.nott.ac.uk/ "Blackbride's Suit of Dreams" at: http://www.acc.umu.se/ Snap has a directory of Goth sites at: http://www.snap.com/
- Julie Carroll, "Marilyn Manson brings death rock to children," at: http://www.dwc.org/
- The website angelmanson.com bills itself as "the most 'in-depth' Marilyn Manson website on the Internet." See: http://www.angelmanson.com
- Wendy M. Fontaine, "'Goth' defined: Seminar sheds light on what is behind mysterious teenage trend," The Newport Daily News, 2003-OCT-30, at: http://www.newportdailynews.com/
- Tigris, "I was a teenage Goth," at: http://www.witchvox.com/
- Justin Tamlin, "Analysis of a subculture group: Goth," at: http://www.btc.co.za/youth/y1m30.htm
- "Common Culture," at: http://www.gothics.org/
- "Jeordie" has a personal Goth web site at: http://www.jeordiesden.tk. One section of his site contains nudity.