Sunday, 6 May 2007

Gothic culture - it's for you

I promised something on Gothic culture in the UK today. My name at the top may have betrayed my interest in this side of things. Most people know that Gothic culture as manifested by your local Goth (now quite a rarity in the UK, but strong in Germany and in various parts of the USA) was a distortion of early medieval German culture, primarily reflected through the Gothic Revival of the early 19th century. It exploded into popular culture in the 1980s running alongside other ostentatious strands like New Romantics, but proving to be much more enduring. I think that is, that aside from the music anyone getting into Goth could explore a load of poetry and literature stretching back almost 200 years. Even Hollywood has got on board, going back to 'The Crow' you only have to see all the 'Blade' movies, 'Underworld' movies, 'The Matrix' triology, and now even 'Batman' and 'Spiderman' are getting Gothic flavourings. Old songs by The Cure get used in advertisements. So you have recent and vintage culture to draw from. There are now many sub-genres ranging through Corporate Goth, Fairy Goth and Skater Goth and even on the fringes fetish-lovers had taken on many of the Gothic elements, black and shiny appealing to both camps.

So, though Goths may not be as numerous as they once were their culture is bleeding into the mainstream. Why this resilience and popularity when other fads of the 1980s have been consigned to humorous documentaries? Well, everyone looks good in black, not matter what your build or size you can find good Gothic clothes. You can be manic as a Goth and flail around on the dance floor or sit quietly in the corner. You can simply put on black trousers/skirt and a black shirt or you can invest something a bit more interesting. Long leather coats, knee-length boots, long metal rings and for the women everything from spectacular dresses to miniskirts to zipped trousers from pointed shoes to clompy boots, all appear on the Goth clothing menu; velvet, leather, silk, brocade, vinyl, lace, all the richest, most exciting fabrics are there. It is not all black either, purple, rich reds, emerald green. So you might stick out when you wander down to the shopping centre on a Saturday, but who wants to blend in, be yet another in pale jeans and a fleece? In addition, though you will astound and sometimes scare others you will never go anywhere uncommented upon and the best bit, you feel strong. My partner describes it as her 'armour' when in her Goth clothes she feels she can face the world. In age when different cultures have disappeared and everyone looks like a chav or a raver, seeing another Goth is a great sensation, you feel the instant affinity, part of a disparate tribe (though these days heavily inter-connected by the internet) and you can feel both outside of society but part of a richer society all at once.

Gothic culture goes well beyond the clothing. People say it is all about depression and suicide and hanging around in graveyards. However, such people have not talked with Goths. The bulk of the population hide their unhappiness beneath consumerism and false happiness usually sustained by buying things. Goths look more to the way we feel. We accept that there is dark and light in everyone's life and you can only see how bright the light is if you can also tell how dark the shadows are. It gives depth to your perceptions and you have not seen people so deeply happy as Goths in their community having a good night. Goths explore all the senses in how they engage with life, we live our lives more richly than non-Goths do. Neglecting one side of the human psyche and human experiences gives you a flat, distorted view of the world. If you want to know what it is truly to be a human, a mortal, then become a Goth.

People say Goths are ungodly, though in fact there are Goths who are Christian and in Japan where the culture is strong, Buddhist and Shintoist too. The Gothic Revival was embedded in a Christian Britain. There are dark elements, references to vampires and demons, but do not confuse Goths with those who delve in black magic, remember vampires are dismissed by a crucifix and the Goth gentleman rides to rescue the lady in distress, not to sacrifice her. Gothic culture is a culture it is not a religion. It is about exploring all that is in the human world but for the benefit of people not for any detriment.

A fascinating programme was shown (suitably) late on ITV1 (mainstream British commercial television channel) a few years ago; 'Why do Goths make such good lovers?'. It asked the question, why do you always see Goths in pairs and sought the explanation. A couple of years later I read there was a website advising non-Goth women how to find a Goth man to be their boyfriend; I have never tracked it down, but there are reasons why people might seek such advice. Basically Goths make good lovers because they are sensitive to feelings, they really like to explore their senses and they enjoy the extravagant. The parallels between what Goths like and what is seen as a 'romantic' setting are very close, think about it: lots of candles, dark roses, large iron beds, a roaring fire, silk sheets, dark wine, sumptious foods, a windswept night, the closeness of people, sitting reading poetry, talking about the future and so on. As the programme argued women often yearn for a man who is sensitive to their emotions and to their needs; they often like to dress extravagantly and to be made a fuss of; to have a man who takes care over his grooming and appearance; who can address them intellectually as well as physically and yet when the time comes can be sensual in his sexuality. As people speaking on the programme stated, often what Goths wear day-to-day is what others keep for the bedroom such as corsets, boots, lace, leather, etc. and in some cases reveal tattoos and piercings which are the kinds of things others keep discrete, so in one go they are both reserved but also up front about sexual appeal, a tantalising mix. Goth men are loyal and tend not to sleep around; they are generally seeking the one who can be their soul mate for eternity and will tell you so in poetry. So if you are a man or a woman who welcomes these aspects (and many people do) consider embracing the Goth and becoming part of this rich community, you can be sure there will be a like-minded partner out there.

Why is Goth still around, quarter of a century after it burst forth? Well, you tend not to grow out of it and Goths of the early 1980s are still Goths. In contrast to other 'youth' cultures (though in fact it now covers many age brackets), Goths tend to be the quiet intellectuals sitting at the back. As an article in 'The Guardian' newspaper ('I've Seen the Future - and it's Goth, 21st March 2006) showed Goths usually end up in very good jobs as doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. and a lot end up in computing. They can compose sensible, moving words, they are computer literate (as so much of Goth society is knitted together by the internet and so much Goth clothing and products are bought online), they read widely and have an interest in art, literature and architecture. So, it is not for the chav population and it is a culture which you can stick with for life. At almost 40 I have no embarrassment about remaining Goth and there is always a new generation coming on, though unfortunately in fewer numbers than before.

So, if you feel at a loss in this modern world, I suggest you join the Gothic culture. Do a quick search online and you will find a whole virtual community. Get in touch with the richness of the whole scope of your feelings, revel in the extravagance of Gothic clothing and even decor; find yourself a partner for life who will explore all that it means to be alive.

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