What is the Goth Subculture?

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

This lesson will guide you through the defining characteristics, history, influences, fashion, and beliefs of the Goth subculture. Following this lesson will be a brief quiz to test your new knowledge.

The Goth Subculture-- Changing the Misperception

What comes to mind when you think of a Goth? Do you picture someone who wears a black trench coat, is depressed, and possibly violent? Unfortunately this is the perception many have of the Goth subculture. This lesson will teach you about the diversity and rich history of the Goth subculture, in order to rid any generalizations and erroneous stereotypes.

The Goth subculture is a misunderstood, and often stereotyped, subculture.
The Goth subculture is a misunderstood, and often stereotyped, subculture.

The Goth subculture started in the late 1970s and early 80s when English Goth rock, a dark and somber offset of punk rock, was rising in popularity. Goth rock is noted by its hard guitars and its ominous and theatrical sound. The Goth subculture can be defined as lovers of Goth rock, Gothic literature, victorian and medieval history, and contemporary horror cinematography. Members of this subculture are often accepting and non-violent intellectuals who are sometimes just cynical of societal evils and have a fascination with death. They take pride in being distinct from mainstream culture, and their dark style of dress depicts their choice to separate from conventional norms and standards.

Goth Subculture History

The first inspirational song for the Gothic movement might be 'Bela Lugosi's Dead,' released in August of 1979 by the English band, Bauhaus. Imagine a song with uncanny and cryptic sounds and ominous piano notes; one that would be appropriate music for a horror movie or Halloween party.

The first person said to coin the term, 'gothic,' however, was Siouxsie Sioux, lead singer of Siouxie and the Banshees. She used this term in reference to the direction that her band was taking with regards to genre of music. Due to the influence that these bands and their leading members had on the Gothic movement and subculture, the grandfather and grandmother of the Gothic movement are known as Peter Murphy, lead singer of the Bauhaus, and Siouxie Sioux, lead singer of Siouxie and the Banshees.

David J (guitarist) and Peter Murphy (vocalist) of Bauhaus

Siouxie Sioux of the band, Siouxie and the Banshees
Siouxie Sioux of the band, Siouxie and the Banshees

The Goth rock genre, an offset of punk rock, gained a lot of traction from 1979 and into the early 80s, starting in England and spreading to other countries. The word, 'Gothic,' or 'Goth rock,' was said to have caught on via English music media sources. A second generation of gothic bands sprouted in the late 80s and early 90s, and then a third in the late 90s.

Many of the youth that are now in the Goth subculture were a product of the third generation in the late 90s. During this time, Marilyn Mason was at his peak in popularity. Although Manson was more in the heavy metal and death metal genre of bands, some classified them as 'Gothic.' Many youth who worshiped Manson labeled themselves as 'Gothic.' Many of the first and second generation Goths look at these younger Goths with a wary eye.

An older generation Goth couple
Goth couple

Influences of the Goth Subculture

We have already touched on the music that many Goths love. Some of the most popular and well-known Goth rock bands of all time are The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy, and Evanescence. But the Goth subculture's influences and interests are comprised more of just Goth rock. In fact, this is a very rich subculture in terms of influence from the arts, old literature, theater and architecture.

To begin, the Goth subculture, or at least the older generations of this subculture, were heavily influenced by Romanticism, or a style of art and literature that emerged in the late 1700s and carried into the early 1800s. This style of art and literature emphasized expression of emotions, feelings, and imagination. Romanticism also took a fondness for unhappiness and the use of old-verse poetry to express this melancholy. The Goth subculture also had an affinity for Medieval, Edwardian, Victorian, and of course Goth, architecture, literature, music, and art.

In terms of examples, for literature, think of Mary Shelley's 1818 book, Frankenstein, one of the most popular and well-known novels categorized as Gothic literature. Or think of Gothic writers like Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote on topics like being buried alive, murder and torture. With regard to architecture, think of big pointed arched windows, clustered columns, pointed spires, and highly-detailed statues. Concerning Gothic cinematography, think of the works of Tim Burton, like Corpse Bride or The Nightmare Before Christmas.

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