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Goth Chic

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Say whatever else you will about goths: they’re tenacious bastards. For a movement that should’ve died some time around 1984/85, it’s managed to ride out the storms of critical mockery, changing fashions, and bad makeup jobs and bad hair to continue to flourish, albeit in somewhat subterranean fashion. If nothing else that’s more than can be said for the New Romantics, with whom the early goth scene was basically contemporaneous. Hell, these days even the bands in the gothic scene aren’t automatically afraid of being associated with it.

Goth is a harder thing to pin down than people perhaps think. It’s said that if you ask a hundred goths what they think Goth is you’ll get 76 different answers: 25 of them will each give a different answer and the other 75 will just say they don’t know. There have been previous attempts, most notably the various books by Mick Mercer, at books on this nebulous thing called Goth, though not many; and what media coverage it does attract tends to be pretty poor in quality (cf. some of the press stuff surrounding the Columbine shooting).

Gavin Baddeley has now provided what may well be pretty much the definitive Goth book, Goth chic : a connoisseur’s guide to dark culture. It doesn’t offer a simple, reductionist answer as to what does or doesn’t constitute Goth, and takes a very broad view of the subject. One thing is certain, though; if you do read this book, you should come away from it convinced that it is not simply about suicidally depressed teens who only wear black clothes and listen to The Cure a lot. (If you don’t, may I respectfully suggest that is not the fault of Baddeley.)

Baddeley’s survey of everything gothic is broadly historical, starting properly with the original Gothic movement in the mid-1700s. This Gothic movement (and the nascent Romantic movement of roughly the same period) was something of a reaction to the prevailing ideas of the Age of Enlightement in the 18th century, a deliberate adopting of what was considered to be bad taste in rebellion against the endless evident tastefulness and rationality of the times. Much as the current Goth scene seems to be most closely associated with music, the 18th century Gothic movement was a mainly literary one, most notably expressed in the works of Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley, Matthew Lewis and Charles Maturin.

The original Gothic novel was a bit of a dead duck after about 1825 or so, though that dark strain remained present in the weird literature of the 19th century and beyond. This tendency manifested itself in such figures as J.S. LeFanu, Edgar Allan Poe, and culminated at the end of the 1800s in that gothic archetype, Dracula. The whole “vampiric” subset of modern Goth begins with that book. In the 1900s, the gothic strain would find itself working out in the writings of M.R. James, H.P. Lovecraft, Mervyn Peake, Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker and Anne Rice, among numerous others. At the same time, gothic forms continued to flourish in historically less reputable but populist ways, like the chapbooks and serials of the 19th century, the pulps of the 1900s, and comic books.

Gothic manifestations also began to crop up in the new 20th century medium of cinema. It was the German cinema of the 1910s that provided the earliest examples of same (films like The student of Prague, 1913, or The cabinet of Dr Caligari, 1919), and American cinema initially proved somewhat resistant. The release of Tod Browning’s Dracula in 1931 marked the real beginnings of the American horror film. Baddeley devotes no fewer than three chapters to the various cinematic and televisual manifestations of the gothic tendency, including the output of Hammer Films, Tim Burton, The Addams Family, Dark Shadows and The X-Files.

As I’ve noted, though, modern Goth is most closely associated with a fashion style and form of music. The longest chapter in Goth chic is the first one on Gothic music; Baddeley admirably continues to take the broad view and begins with such 19th century manifestations of gothic as Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, making an interesting case for Screamin’ Jay Hawkins as perhaps the progenitor of gothic in popular music.

Baddeley then takes into consideration the likes of the Velvet Underground, Roky Erickson, The Doors, Alice Cooper and David Bowie before coming at last to the musical origins of the modern Goth scene out of the ruins of 1970s punk. Tracing the emergence of this scene and its gradual differentiation from the rest of the post-punk scene in general, Baddeley ends the chapter with Goth being identified, puffed up, and finally (in the mid-1980s) declared fair game for attacks by the British music press that helped spawn it.

That’s not the end of the story, of course, and Baddeley does a good job of then bringing us up to date with where Goth is at these days. Suffice to say that if you didn’t have much knowledge of the workings of Goth prior to reading this book, you should’ve gained some useful insights once you’ve finished with it. Add to that the fact that the book is well-illustrated throughout in black and white and you’ve got a winner.

I was a big fan of Gavin Baddeley’s previous book Lucifer rising, so had high hopes for this one when I first heard of it. Having finally been able to track a copy down, I’m happy to say those hopes and expectations were essentially met.

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About James Russell

  • http://nz mids skids

    i hated this page

  • Nikki Baxter

    I am labeled as ‘goth’ I do not believe in stereotypes though. The way I view things are dark–i love night, I paint dark pictures, and love writing dark poetry. I do not care what others think of me, this is the way I am, and no one can change me. I am such a mix of everything, that ‘normal’ ones cannot label me as one thing, and it makes them angry, and so they cast me out. But I would rather be casted out than befriend them, with their materialistic possessions, and fake morals and values. They are a society of conformity, and I choose not to be associated with conformity. I am unique, and it has done me more good than bad. I love how I am… and I don’t care if anyone has a problem with it, because i will continue to be who I am. The article was ok, if your only looking at the stereotype of goth. I can tell that someone who is a ‘normal’ one (though normal is a state of mind) but I mean normal as in one who follows the crowd in the materialistic world, wrote this because they have no idea what the minds of these so called ‘goths’ are like. The ones who are ‘goth’ probably said that they dont know what goth is, only becuase they do not believe in stereotypes, and they are so many things, that they cannot describe themseves, and if they did, someone like you would not understand it, becuase your not like us ‘goths’. Either that, or their not telling you because they are not wasting their breath on the idiots of this world. I am interested in reading ‘goth chic’ now, only to see how the ‘normal’ ones describe us goths. I find it ironic that they would write books on us because most of the time they are so prejudice about us, that they don’t even want to be around us. This makes me wonder if he even got his information for writing the book from correct sources. Like maybe he just wrote it from observatoin, and not factual things and opinions,such as interviewing or taking surveys of ‘goths’. I am going to buy the book right now. It will probably be hillarious, and cause me to weep more for the sad race of mankind….that is the idiodic, unintelligent part of it, which is pretty much every one except us ‘goths’. We are so depressed because we actually SEE the truth in the world, and it is sad at how many stupid people there are. We weep for mankind, and that we are alone, stuck with this curse of sight that no others have. We keep to ourselves because no ‘normals’ want to accept that their ways are not right, that they are dooming themselves into their own stupidity. They are so sucked into what they call normal, that they choose to see and accept nothing BUT the normal. And so I weep for their sad, lost souls, and because i have to let them die–have to let them drown in their own stupidity… and they do not even realize how they are being. It is like they are hypnotized… and they won’t listen to me… and that is sad. Extremely.
    Those of you on my side… the ones who see the truth, I would love to actually have a sophistocated conversation with you… email me ONLY IF YOU LIKE ME…at Morbid_Enchantess@hotmail.com

    Nikki Baxter
    ]v[orbid_Enchantre§§

  • nazarai

    in regards to the reply:

    The article was ok if your talking about stereotypical goths? The article was a review for a book!
    Your ideas are diluted. You don’t belive in stereotypical views and labels? you have a typical high school mindset in concern to the social heirachy of society. You’ve made two classes here – you and people similiar ie. “goths” and “normal people” (what the f*ck does normal people consist of?), you even call yourself and people like you goths… “see how the ‘normal’ ones describe us goths”. You’ve associated everyone without a dark persona to be conformists living in an materialistic world with fake morals and values? Well morality is how you conduct yourself, and your values are what you live by.. i don’t see how either can be fake. They can be different then yours, and similar to other peoples how ever, but one persons belief systems doesn’t make everyone elses wrong. Materialistic world is right. I like material objects, i like propeiating mass media collections, does this make me a conformist? Haven’t you conformed to a certain sub culture? Are personal posessions even an issue here? i bet you’ve got lots of nice stuff you would like still keep. If you think these so called normal people only think about the latest trends, and owning the latest things, maybe you should re-evaluate your mindset. Maybe the question of Conformity vs. popularity should be brought into your views. Who cares if people conform and wear popular clothing, listen to popular music? Maybe that style of clothing is actually pleasing to them, just how black fishnet stalkings are pleasing to others.

    It is about social acceptance, but for pro-social (as opposed to anti-social) people this is a good thing, having friends makes people happy, popularity is a valid interest. Your personality and ideas is what really makes you who you are as an individual, not the material objects that you own… For one who doesn’t care about materialistic posessions, you shouldn’t care who owns what, and for what reasons.

    These normal people you’re talking about apparently are all un intelligent, and have personal disgust and hatred towards goths. They can’t see the truth in the world, for they are blinded. Those they can’t label as one definite thing they cast out to the cold. Oh good god no! You know, you’re not the only unique person in the world, the reason you’re cast out is not because they can’t label you – they already do! You said so your self they label you a goth, moron. They cast you out because you’re anti-social.

    How do you know the author of goth chich falls into your whack profile of a normal person? Why is it ironic that the author is writing a book on goth culture? because everyone is against it? well even if you’re against something that’s not to say you don’t have an interest in reading for information. Why would this book have the authors personal views in it? You think it does apparently, considering you said you wanted to read what a normal person thinks of goths. Does his views reflect ‘normal’ people views? So do all normal people have the same ideas and beliefs and views on everything? Isn’t that a bit stereotypical? These same people then, as you say, could never understand the typical mind of a goth. You can understand gothic culture, ideas, beliefs and why some people are attracted to it. That’s pretty easy, all you need to do is read about and observe that way of life. But You can’t understand an individuals head however (that’s still debatable).

    The book itself isn’t just about today’s modern goth scene, which has only been around for about twenty years. You think he didn’t write the book on the right sources? only observations? those are the best sources, primary sources and that’s where most of our historical information comes from. Observations are Facts. opinions are not facts like you entail. There is no need to interview goths to explain the modern goth scene, it’s easy to understand. Each individual has different opinions and views on certain aspects of what being goth is all about, so the information doesn’t really apply to the actual culture. And interview goths today? Heh, how do you know if someone is gothic or not? By looking at what they are wearing? Hardly. You’re going to come across a lot of stereotypical angst-ridden teens trying to be rebelliousness, following the example led by their favourite metal / industrial bands, writing overly mellowdramatic poetry that over-analyzes their place in the universe, or people that just find the whole style intriguing – aesthetically pleasing to their visual and mental senses. And those goths that were asked what goth is and the ones who didn’t answer, couldn’t give an answer. The question is too broad to give an answer. Either it’s today’s Modern goths the stereotypical dark teens that matches the pre-concieved ideas that most persons have of what goth is, or is it the ideas found in gothic literature, or a certain way of looking at life, certain views and ideas – Not because people couldn’t describe themselves.

    Your entire last part of your comment makes absolutly no sense and reads like anne rice-esque books, except with a grade eight to ten intelligence.
    For some reason goths have a gift, more like a curse, to see the truth in the world? and this truth is that everyone but goths are stupid? That’s Stupid!
    So normal people only accept the normal and not the truth, the truth being they are stupid?
    These people are stupid, and now also doomed because they cannot see the truth, that goths are smart, they are stupid, and that they are doomed.
    And you weep for them, because they don’t realize how they are being, being normal, yet you also despise them, because in this world people with a radical style aren’t accepted into society. You aren’t accepted into society, this puts you at the bottom of the social heirachy if you attend a secondary school. This probably displeases you, you don’t like being unpopular, why else would you make such a big issue out of society in the first place? You are self-pretentious, you don’t accept ideas that disagree with your own; close-minded, quick to judge, pre-assuming, hypocritical, egotistical, stubborn, prejudicial. Someone with a good vocabulary doesn’t make them intelligent. You sound exactly like a stereotypical goth, maybe your idea of stereotypical is a wannabe goth, who knows… no one cares. You say you are a mix of everything, so you can’t be labeled. That applies to everyone. And your screen name is pretty un original.

    You aren’t the only ones who knows the truth, and that is this: maybe the american school system should focus on education, rather then graduation.
    There are more important things going on on earth then how you see everyone else. If you don’t care how people see you, why do you care about people who don’t care or try to understand you.

  • BRICKLAYER

    Darling Nikki,

    Yo, that was some of the funniest shiznit I’ve read in a while! Your parody of the self deluded, self important, humorless breathing corpses was spot on….wait a minute, you were serious? Oh, uh, nevermind.

    Goth girls are sexxxy (excluding the 95% of them who look like Tuesday from the Addams Family after a Twinkie binge), what with all the latex, lace, and capes. but who wants to hang around a grave yard all day waiting for them to get finished mourning the futility of life?

  • BRICKLAYER

    As any true fan of the Addams family knows, Tuesday was Wednesday’s older, adopted sister, played by a young Charlene Tilton, who left the show prior to the first season airing. She left the show over a contrat dispute reagarding the producer’s request that she use a British accent. Her scenes were subsequently cut from the pilot.

  • BRICKLAYER

    Bricklayer kill threads dead.

  • pay-pay

    gothic is not just trubled teens it is also critical comments that come along some people call you basterds but i know different

  • Eric Olsen

    somehow I missed this one – troubling – whatever happened to James?

  • Drusilla of Madinasa

    yeah i liked the review. when i finally have some money i will buy it. it looks good.
    i dont know much about deep Gothic… stuff. i dont know the word. but i love (what i have come to know as) the Gothic scene. i listen to lots of the music and i have some clothes which are considered Goth style. from what experience i have of Goths. (many of my friends are Goths) they are lovely people who just enjoy an alternitve life. i get that. it seems that many Goths happen to be Bi, are into bondage, black clothes and exteme make up and hair styles. but you know, you can get really bright colours too and the make up doesnt have to be over the top.
    i dont really know where im goin here….
    i have a lot of pier pressure on me at the moment because of who i am and what i wear etc. my age gruop(ish) have a problem with fashion and many of them think that if you dont like what their wearing, listening to and doing, your dirty and stupid and deserve beating up and ridicule. i dont agree with that.

    when your a teenager, people will always say you feel lost and alone. i dont, i found a fashion and a style that suits me and a group of people who enjoyt the same. and i dont hurt people if they dont like it. i think that the definition of “Goth” is completly different every time you define it and its one of those words that can mean something to one person, and something else to the next. i dont really get much of what Morbid Enchantess means but i can understand how they feel. i think. i mite read it agin. any way, thats my opinion,(if you can class it as one):s if you understand what i mean (not everyone does, im quite strange) and you want to chat (please dont bombard me with hate mail!)my email address is zombies_live666@hotmail.com. bye.

  • Kat

    So what if your a goth they have a better perspective on life then any one who is a stereotype.People shouldn’t be judged for who they are it’s who THEY want to be and thats up to them not anyone else.people who are popular have no backbone to stick up for them selves thats why there popular.

  • http://aol hope

    i am emo but my friends are goth i think people that judge are people that long for what you have so i don’t let those dushes bother me

  • http://http/imsogoth/net corey sinn

    well lets get 1 thing srayt gothics are free minds and they don’t go by any religion ,im corey sinn zizzo im 17 and im a dark goth i shop hot topics aolt and no ht isnt own by abercrabey or other of them preppy storez,i own alotof baggy chain pants a marilyn manson t-shirt,nin t shirt and a slipknot tshrt actully 2 and i have to say im a ex-satanist goth ”but” i dew own another shirt that has a pentagrm on it ”but” i now have a belief that i can come back in the next life come youze guyz there is next life for us gothics i a girl i love thats emo/punk she lives in midleburg fl i doint no if shes a chisrtian or not and i also have a best friend/assieot hes a hardcore punk his names scott i hate pozuers,ihate rednacks,i hate preps,ihate cops,and wigers. people can’t say what they will about us gothics because we’re betteur, and i already know that goths are so caled chirstians or satanist there arent they are free mindz free thinkers and we are into dark things none of thoze satanic stuff or god stuff because its all just over rated i mean both are battleing with each other satanist vs christtian ,god vs satan,its all just one big battle between both sides thats why im not a satanist anymore, im my own guy now and yes im real gothic been for 12 yrs and counting ive gone on being who i am wihtout any stereotypes i love black metal,death metal,goth metal,heavy metal,plain ol metal, i like marilyn manson ad no he did’nt start the columbine murders thats all the news fault and parents fault thoze two dudez were just p=== off,i also like slipknot again they were’nt evolved in the shooting niether,i like nine in nails,i like cardel of filth,evenesense,flyleaf,and rob zombie,and stone sour.i like dark poetry,dark concept art,dark writings, i also like anime like hellsing, i like stores like hot topics and attitude u.k, ilke eddy allan poe,and emily the strange.

  • http://http/imsogoth/net corey sinn

    im back in black i also want to let youse guys know that im anti-nazi,anti murder,ad anti torture ,and youz dont have to have black hair tobe a gothic person cus im dirty blonde 6’ft with shoulder length hair,green evil eyes, an im tall and very skinny,i like emo girls with light brown silky long hair adnd dark brown hair,i like goth girlz with raven black long silky hair and i do not like it when emo/goth girls get there long brown or black silky soft hair touched, trimmed, cut,or massaged by hands or sizzors its just wrong and torture i mean why dont u just leave it alone let it grow longer and softer i mean the more u cut it the more it dies cus ure cutting living cells in your hair and ”that” is make dead cells in your hair dead cells are growing your hair non stop and that makes it fall out faster than it is when u dont cut it, youse guyz wanna know why heres a saying”dead weight pulls stuff down and makes stuff fall”,im also a anti-comformist,anti-rules,anti-law,and anti-label,my parents hate the why i dress,act,think.

  • adrian

    I hated this page, its wrong in so many ways i am gothic and emo you can all go f ur selfs

  • Nikki Baxter

    Ok… I was the one who posted the second comment on here. I think I was like maybe 14? LOL. Well, I am 19 now and I just found this online and wow…. I can’t believe I wrote that. How embarassing! I apologize for my stupidity as a youth! I know a lot of people gave me crap about that comment… but I deserved it lol!
    That goth phase lasted about 2 years haha.
    I was a messed up kid…
    For some reason I just had it out for “normal” for being stereotypical…but I was being even more stereotypical than anyone becuase of all the labels and ideals and expectations I put on everyone. I tried to hard to be unique, that I was, in some weird way, conforming.
    But now I am just myself. I dress in whats comfortable (usually jeans and a t-shirt) and I am my own person.
    I got a good laugh out of what I wrote though. What was I thinkin! HAHAHA
    14 years old… wow.