To commemorate World Goth Day this year on May 22nd, I’ve decided to take a nostalgic look back at a high school paper I wrote on the subculture in 2002. I was 16 years old and in 11th grade. The assignment was for an English class and I was to write an expository essay. I was a young goth who was still learning about the scene and eager to share the knowledge I had gained. This project was my opportunity to not only reveal to readers the dark beauty of this alternative community, but also proudly proclaim my connection with it.
I’m reproducing the essay here in its original form, grammatical errors and all. I even retained the formatting for the most part, except for minor elements such as margin indentations and double spacing. I didn’t tamper with any of the details or do any rewriting or editing. Reviewing and typing it to feature on my blog was probably the first time in nearly 20 years that I’ve laid eyes on the piece. I’ve kept it safe in my goth notebook where I have printouts of all the resources I relied on as a teen to educate myself on the subculture. Below are photos of the actual paper and brainstorming notes.
Since I was an adolescent whose writing skills were still developing, be aware that there will be misspellings, poor sentence structure in areas, as well as ideas that could have been more well-thought-out. However, I give my younger self kudos for the in-depth research and dedication that emerge through the words. The following article will hopefully give you a closer look at my budding mind and self at this point in life.
It also dawned on me that I’m publishing the piece on my website on the same date I submitted the assignment in high school. The date on the paper is May 20th, 2002. This blog post is being put up on May 20th , 2021—almost two decades later. This occurrence was by no means premeditated. And when I originally wrote the article, Goth Day didn’t exist yet and wouldn’t for another seven years. It’s interesting that I penned the essay around the time Goth Day would be established in 2009. What a synchronistic unfolding of events, no?
Without further ado, I give you my high school essay, The Dark Pariahs of Society.
The Dark Pariahs of Society
A time of questioning enters every person’s life. Some question more than others do. Who can keep from wondering and showing curiosity in this complicated puzzle we call life, where many of its pieces are missing and some might never be found? Who am I? What’s my purpose? Why do I exist at all? As I began to loose myself in the mist of unanswerable thoughts, something opened my eyes appearing luminescently in the fog, something with which I would be able to relate to and become part of, the brilliant darkness of the Gothic culture.
A variety of definitions exist for the term “Goth” and “gothic”, a very narrow-minded set of definitions. Most of how society views the Gothic community is in accordance with the following entry compliments of Webster’s dictionary:
Gothic (gäthik) n. – (1) a style of rock music that often evokes bleak, lugubrious imagery (2) a performer or follower of this style of music (3) a person totally lacking in culture or refinement: barbarian (4) fantastic, unreal, extravagant, baroque (a world of spooks and goblins)
The reality is though some words may fit with our image there can be no one meaning to define what Goth truly is, nor one way to describe the Gothic people. Each of us contributes our version of gothic, and if a group of us were to be asked, “What is Goth?” the question would create a potpourri of responses because it takes more than one answer to fully explain what we are. A very important point that I want to communicate across is that the term Gothic does not give meaning to or make the community, it is the Goth community that gives meaning to and makes what is Gothic. Although a person may identify himself or herself as gothic, unless they can give to the uniqueness and diversity of the word, the labeling is worthless. We are a very diverse group and contrary to stereotypical beliefs, we are not clones clothed in black without emotions except for hate and sadness. Actually, our style has evolved from many influences and is not the result of the latest fashion trend on the runway.
The Gothic culture has a much older history dating back to the third century when true Goths were an ancient Teutonic people. Because the lifestyle of the Germanic tribe, “barbarian” became synonymous with Goth. The first negative thought against the culture. There was also the Gothic style of art and architecture that began in the 12th century, which was not looked upon with bright eyes by others. The people labeled these artistic movements “gothic” to demean it because of its distasteful, morbid nature. Strike number two for us. Then in the 18th and 19th centuries there was a different genre of literature born that was dark and mysterious called the Gothic novel or Gothic romance. The macabre atmosphere was reawakened in the 1970s and 1980s with bands displaying a more gloomy edge in their music, such as The Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Eventually this spread, along with the alternative mode of fashion. In truth, all these periods, from the 12th century to today, have influenced what the subculture is now. Mixing the deep, somber style of Romanticism and Victorians with today’s modern scene and our own individualism, the final product is the Gothic subculture.
Many of the similarities us contemporary Goths share with that of the Middle Age period is the appreciation of art, music, and literature in all its forms and a fascination with topics that are like forbidden fruits in the Garden of Eden, such as death, the unknown and other thought-provoking subjects. Let’s say we just think differently from everyone else, and that is what makes us a poison to society.
Stereotypes haunt our image. Many would think of us as snakes that infect the population with deadly venom. That we take pleasure in the misfortune of others. This is so strongly believed that the congressional representative of Blue Springs, Missouri, Sam Grave, is using $237,437 in federal grants funds for an anti-Goth program that is meant to protect “at-risk” youth and warn families about the gothic society. Supposedly, we are depressed, suicidal, drug attics who roam the streets to perverse the minds of innocent children, who are our helpless prey.
But that’s not all. We also come in only one color, pale white, are anti-social, are Marilyn Manson fanatics, and are either Satanists, Witches, or Vampires, or a combination of all three. Either way it does not really matter because they are linked to the devil and/or occult in one way or another, and in the end we will just burn in Hell, which is a place we would not mind going to since we are all evil anyway, right? No wander Goths pose such a threat to churches! Am I the only one that realizes how ridiculous this sounds? One thing I would really like to make clear is the matter of religion. Gothic is not a religion based on devil-worship, in fact it is not based on any one belief system. Gothics follow which ever religion they believe in. Yes, even Christianity! Also, Satanism and Witchcraft are two very distinct religions, not related at all to eachother, and Vampirism is not even a religion, but these are whole other topics so I will just leave it at that. Just as our religious beliefs vary so do our skin colors and ethnic backgrounds. I am not white, in my skintone or culture and other Goths I know are not either. We also listen to different types of music, and although he may seem to be, Marilyn Manson is not gothic. Many seem to perceive him as one and this has further corrupted the gothic portrayal. It is not how pale your complexion is, how black your clothes come, or how scary you can appear to be, but uniqueness and the need to be original and not move with the crowd, that is Goth.
Unfortunately, the reason so many false images of Goths exist is because there are those who do it simply to play dress-up and like others, their pre-conceived notions of being Gothic is diluted with stereotypical beliefs. Some do it for attention because they feel ignored by family, peers, or co-workers and the image becomes more of a sign for help, a way for someone to recognize their crisis, thus the idea that Gothics are suicidal and self-mutilating.
My interest with the Gothic style began in middle school. I did not fit in with the rest of the students and so my two other friends and I secluded ourselves from the populace. The three of us were curious about this alternative mode of being and we experimented with it. I found a connection with the Gothic form. It was different. I could express myself more freely, and for the first time I became comfortable in my own skin, which was difficult for me to be especially since I always felt out-of-place. Soon after I became more involved, though it proved to be only a fad for my friends. I wanted to learn more about the background of the Gothic lifestyle and so I set out on a quest to find out what being Gothic really is. What I discovered was that it is more than a style; it is its own culture with specific characteristics that distinguish Goth from others. Although our clothing is one way we express ourselves, dressing from head-to-toe in black, with dark make-up and black nails is not the basis of the subculture. That is probably surprising to many people; they actually think that it is that easy. That one minute you can be pretty in pink and the next evil in black. Sorry for the disappointment, but those who think that only contributes to the stereotypical Gothic image.
Actually, your interests, personality, and behavior are some of the factors that determine whether someone is a true Goth. And they are all positive attributes, nothing to do with drinking blood, or being mean natured, or being severely depressed. One is that we enjoy creating as much as possible, whether it is art, music, or literature, among other things. We are very pensive and wonder “why” and “how” a lot. The unknown and mysterious of the world interest us, as well as death, but not in a negative way, more of in a curious manner. We accept that there is an end to every mortal’s life, and do not try to ignore the fact and pretend death does not exist. Whereas others fear it and view this passing as a dark, frightful hole that each of us inevitably fall into, Goths see the light and enchanting atmosphere that encompasses this eternal rest. We focus on the enigma of its nature and seek to create a peaceful unison between life and death.
By reading and acquiring knowledge of the Gothic community I was able to remove from it the disfigured mask society has given it, and reveal the Gothics’ genuine appearance. After learning so much, I related to the culture even more and found myself in a way. For me it was self-discovery. I can truly say I am Gothic and I take pride in that because it means more to me than just outward appearances, it is part of who I am. It was one of the missing pieces to my life puzzle.
Misunderstood, misrepresented, mistaken for monsters that are all part of one horrid nightmare. Many do not accept us, and as long as discrimination exists, we never will be. Hurtful and biased comments will continue to be made to make us feel increasingly inferior, but many cultures have suffered this persecution. I only hope that I have taken away from the negative conceptions and presented the positive nature of the movement. In the beginning, I open with a dictionaries objective definition of Gothic. Now I will give my meaning of the word and how I would have it appear:
Gothic (gathik) n. – (1) one who is a non-conformist; open-minded and accepting of things that are different (2) sensitivity and awareness to the situations of the world (3) interestingly different; embraces and appreciates both the light and dark sides of Nature (4) a unique and beautiful culture that consists of a variety of people whom each choose to follow a path separate from the majority of others and experience life to the fullest.
I hoped you enjoyed this special flashback blog post and thank you for indulging my nostalgic whims. If you’d like to learn more about how I got into the goth subculture, have a look at my article Growing Up Goth: Finding My Self Within the Subculture. You can also check out my latest podcast episode, where I celebrate World Goth Day. And if you’re involved in the goth subculture, I’d love to hear your story! Feel free to leave comments below.
8 thoughts on “The Dark Pariahs of Society: A Baby Bat’s Ruminations on Goth”
“Very promising,” Jenn. Oh yes, I certainly agree with your teacher. I see your essay earned top rankings in both categories, too. You got an ‘A’ for your submission, right? Naturally.
This holds up well after nearly twenty years, and to consider a teenager penned it is all the more extraordinary. I shudder to consider how that which I wrote at the same age would compare. Even those papers that captured the teachers’ imagination.
Plus, that you produced this at an age at which most people, while claiming individualism, generally seek nothing more that fitting in with their peers. Instead, you revealed yourself to be unique and eclectic, and your declaration reflects this. Also, to have put so much thought into an endeavor which then was even more poorly-understood than it is now, is extraordinary.
It’s hardly as though you had a massive amount of information upon which to draw, aside from that which personal experience afforded. Had you titled your essay “On Being Preppy,” you would’ve found ten times the material. Of course, that may be an East Coast thing, but you get the idea.
Anyway, A+, Jennifer. In fact, A+++, if your teacher didn’t note that elsewhere.
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Thank you for the high marks! It’s good to hear that despite grammatical errors, the heart of the essay was clear.
Yes, I do believe I received an A on it. It meant a lot to me to write this at that age, and even now, the topic is still quite dear to me. There weren’t as many resources on the goth subculture as there are today, but I did manage to find information from goth websites that existed at the time that I found helpful. I’m glad you enjoyed reading it!
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A very well written essay.
I happen to like both gothic architecture and gothic romance literature.
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Thank you! I appreciate the compliment.
Yes, I adore gothic architecture and literature as well and these have definitely influenced the subculture today.
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excellent post, thanks! xxx sandra
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Thank you! I’m thrilled you enjoyed it.
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