The Art of Darkness

Some Probing Questions

January 5th, 2009 by Cobwebs

A few days ago I received e-mail from a freelance journalist, asking if I’d mind answering a few questions about goths and their behavior. (I love that somebody thinks I’m the Jane Goodall of goths.)

I’m willing to go along with the gag, and offered to post her questions for anybody else who feels gothy to answer as well. She says that the premise of her article is “the persecution of goths and whether society points fingers at goths unnecessarily, or if they really are/can be as bad as their raps may suggest.” The magazine she’s writing for is The New Agenda.

Her questions are below, along with my answers. If you’d like to weigh in with your own answers, please send them to jesse@sadiemagazine.com. It’d be nice if several of us responded, if only to emphasize that “well-adjusted” and “goth” aren’t mutually exclusive. (If you want, post your answers to the comments as well. I’d love to see what you have to say!)

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1. Name, age, and location.
Jenna. 40 (yeek!). Virginia (DC metro area).

2. What is the idea behind and the ultimate goal of the project/website that you’re doing, and how would you classify yourself within the larger goth phenomenon?
My site and blog originally grew out of my desire to have a Halloween wedding. When I started looking for wedding ideas, I had a hard time finding suggestions and resources. I eventually created halloweddings.com to help other Halloween brides in the same predicament. I found that I enjoyed creating tutorials and posting interesting items that I ran across, so I eventually branched out into a more general goth craft and lifestyle site.

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Brief digression: The rest of these questions are a bit leading, and indicate that you perhaps don’t have the firmest grasp of “goth” as a lifestyle choice. In much the same way that reporters covering science fiction conventions always interview the geek in full Klingon makeup and portray him as an “average” SF fan, news coverage of the goth community tends to focus on the I-Make-Marilyn-Manson-Look-Like-George-F.-Will individuals and claim that we’re all like that. Goths are, very loosely, defined by similar interests in fashion, music, and lifestyle, but there are as many different flavors of goths as there are, say, flavors of country-western fans. (And the culture certainly isn’t limited to teenagers.) You can take a look at this list for a few of the basic types. You might also want to check out the Goth Primer for a discussion of some of the more common goth stereotypes. If you’ve got a lot of time to kill, wade into the forums over at GOTH.net to get a flavor of the culture.

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3. How can you tell the difference between harmless or dangerous (to themselves or others) goths?
Uh…the dangerous goths are covered in blood and carrying cleavers. You’d tell the difference the same way you would with any other individual: If they act threatening, move away. If they start viewing suicide as a valid option, call the hotline.

4. How often do you hear of goth culture extending far beyond music choice, dress style, and favorite video games? Do you think many goth kids involve themselves in cult activities, sacrifice animals, commit serious crimes, conflict (sic) pain upon themselves, partake in suicide, or bask in death?
No to all of that. Some people who identify as goth may do such things, but an interest in the subculture doesn’t automatically mean an interest in any criminal activity. Frequently, people who do such things get tagged with the “goth” moniker after the fact: Some idiot decides to vandalize a cemetery or harm an animal, and that somehow makes them goth by definition.

As for the “basking in death” thing, the goth interest in death tends to be along the lines of the Victorian “memento mori” tradition: Death is a part of life, and it’s healthier to embrace it than pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s more of a serene acceptance and romantic idealization than anything else. You want “basking in death,” look no further than the mainstream interest in slasher movies.

5. What would you recommend parents, teachers, or school guidance counselors and nurses do differently in order to better understand their kids and prevent them from getting involved with the potentially dangerous side of goth culture?
The same thing any parent or teacher should do: Talk to your kids, try to understand them, make sure you know who their friends are, keep an eye out for potential problems. If your child is wearing black nail polish and listening to Death Rock…but seems happy and has decent grades, don’t worry about it. By contrast, a “normal” child who is withdrawn, depressed, or has friends with long criminal records might be cause for concern.

6. Is there really music that advocates suicide or violent behavior? If yes, any examples?
Well, hip-hop does. I seem to recall a lot of violence in country-western music, too. (In other words, I think you could dig up examples of questionable lyrics in virtually any genre.)

There have been attempts to tie violent behavior and suicide to anything the “mainstream” doesn’t like: Music, video games, movies, etc. There has never been any hard evidence of a correlation. Just because a song tells you to jump off a bridge, it doesn’t mean that a well-adjusted individual will jump. (A maladjusted individual doesn’t need a song.)

7. How much of getting into goth culture is really just teens admiring and idealizing their peers or their seniors– acting and dressing the part–but not partaking in any seriously scary behavior?
99.9999999%. I don’t even know how to expand upon this. At its core, goth culture embraces the dramatic; anyone with arty or poetic leanings might have an empathy for goth-ness, but that empathy certainly doesn’t automatically translate into violent behavior.

8. What are the religious beliefs and practices often associated with goths?
All of them. There isn’t any religious belief that’s automatically included or excluded from the goth lifestyle. (And no, we aren’t all Satanists.)

9. What are the largest misconceptions about goth people and their culture? Any advice on how to dispel these misunderstandings?
Actually, the tenor of these questions pretty well sums up the major misconceptions: We’re antisocial, dangerous, and violent toward ourselves or others. We have no core values nor morals. We’re a Danger To Society.

The easiest way to dispel these misconceptions is primarily to stop pointing and laughing. Dismissing us as freaks or telling us that our lifestyle choices are somehow “wrong” is not going to encourage our friendship. We’re just as capable of being happy, having stable relationships and holding jobs as anyone else. (I’m a happily-married mother of two, both of whom seem pretty well-adjusted despite periodic exposure to spiderwebs.)

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