What is the Goth Subculture?

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  • 0:04 Goth Subculture Introduction
  • 1:04 Goth Subculture History
  • 2:50 Goth Subculture Influences
  • 4:25 Goth Style of Dress
  • 4:55 Goth Subculture…
  • 5:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

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

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

Goth Subculture Introduction

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 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.

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 and Nine Inch Nails were at their peak in popularity. Although Manson was more in the heavy metal and death metal genre of bands and Nine Inch Nails was more industrial or electronic rock, some classified them both as 'Gothic,' if only because of the fan bases they cultivated. After all, many youth who were avid listeners of Manson or Nine Inch Nails labeled themselves as 'Goth.' Many of the first and second generation Goths look at these younger Goths with a wary eye for the same reason members of the punk subculture tend to do the same: a belief that these newcomers were 'posers.' This is something frequently lampooned in hit TV shows like South Park.

Goth Subculture Influences

We've already touched on the music that many Goths love, like Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Bauhaus. Some of the most popular and well-known Goth rock bands of all time are The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy, and Evanescence. Even more recent artists, like Billy Eilish have taken influence from the Goth subculture's aesthetics. But the Goth subculture's influences and interests are comprised of more than 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.

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