Mainstream Metamorphism:

The Homogenization of the Goth Scene

by Naythe Somerest

Just how applicable is the old saying that “variety is the spice of life” to the current Gothic “movement”? Goth has had its own extraordinary aesthetic, with a matchless energy for limitless variety and exquisite expression — that is until recently. There was a time when no one in this subculture resembled anyone else; whether the form of expression was audio, visual or tactile (unless of course they were punkers, Goths and DRs). At that stage of the game, being Goth was equated with being a reject, freak and outcast by the rest of society. If we’re honest, it still is to a degree. But no one could accuse us of not trying to make the effort to be as far outside of the cultural norm as possible in appearance, music and attitude (even if a few got arrested). We were the masters of the idiosyncratic.

Somehow Goth has been turned into fodder for consumerism. Society is rapidly gnawing away at what made us different. There’s nothing left now, but the bones and gristle smoldering in the ruins of Gothic past versus the wasteland of the present. The flame of creative individualism has died; burned itself out. This means Goth is quickly spiraling head first and on the way to becoming a forgotten relic of eccentricity.

For instance, open any recent Gothic (or high fashion magazine) and there’s the  -shudder-  Undead cliché of the extra thin, ultra pale girl/guy in some one or two-piece PVC/velvet/leather Gothic “uniform” wearing customary black and white make-up and (yes, that’s Goth!) hair. Visit any random Goth-related website and voilá, there’s the same guy or gal. Or is it? You can’t count the interchangeable bands that are shades of SoM, The Cure, Bauhaus, XD and Siouxsie but without the progression of sound, talent, theatrics and innovation for our time, not theirs.

“The ’mystery’ of androgyny has been replaced by the cutesy non-threatening weekender cookie in dark makeup and attired in Gothic prêt a port...”

Who could tell who’s who and what’s what, when everyone is trying so hard to sell a stereotype in a scene where these boundaries should not exist? The scene was a backdrop that encouraged Goth’s music and style towards the unique, thus an incentive for the imaginative macabre misfits who shunned the dull light of the mainstream. Goth is in danger of true death then, if it has discarded its originality and yielded to conforming to any prepackaged set of generic standards. It’s one thing to support the scene’s musicians, artists, writers, collaborators and designers that satiate and tantalize our hungers and thirsts, but it’s something altogether different to become the whore and the exploiter of what makes us, well, us. The mainstream is only interested in seeing us bend over — with an oily smile while lining its pockets — after asking us to cough while shoving the blunt objectivity of avarice up where it’s dark beneath our sheer black and lace unmentionables.

How can our scene continue to develop and thrive when everywhere you look the same theme resounds without the cutting edge or distinctive flair that made it exceptional? I fear that Goth has succumbed to the boredom of mainstream homogenization, where what is alien and unacceptable to the majority can be transformed by marketing into the latest and greatest product, once it’s been reupholstered for television and the everyday consumer. Example? The Kodak commercial where the painted-up teen Goth girl takes morbid (but artsy) pictures and displays them in class for the snide titillation of her judgmental peers. In the rear of the classroom, a boy dressed in black smiles at her in approval. Makes you want to gag? It should.

What was once wine in the Gothic cellar is now tap water from the well. The sophisticated palate has to suffer the taste of stale moldy bread in the place of pastry. No one’s comparing the by-gone scene’s past to the present, but how can we look forward to the future when we’re being force fed and choked by self-inflicted blandness and homogeny? There is minimal diversity observed and acknowledged (even though the scene borrows from countless cultures) and almost nil progression for a scene that should be kicking ass and taking hostages in music, art and film. No, instead there’s suffocation from the sickening stranglehold of conventionality’s tedium that’s draining the violent pulse from Goth. Don’t let’s shift all the blame on the mainstream; we’ve contributed to the tightening of the noose. I’m just kicking the stool from under us in order to jolt Goths into awareness.

The “mystery” of androgyny has been replaced by the cutesy non-threatening weekender cookie in dark makeup and attired in Gothic prêt a port; her male counterpart, the macho jock, is masquerading in black on Saturdays in dark clubs with the assumption that Goth chicks are as “sleazy as they look” and the opinion that “fussy, effete” Goth boys are no real competition. Many of these poseurs have joined the ranks en masse, bringing with them their mainstream attitudes and norms. Their misplaced information of “what is” and “what is not” Goth has been collected from negative images resulting from ludicrous media typecasting and numerous other resources that are questionable and destructive. I don’t think that “Goth or Not” website has helped either. [Ed. Note: If you think the endorses or agrees with the content of sites linked to in this context, please get a clue.]

Those of us that don’t fit into the current stereotyped “ideal” are in turn harassed, ridiculed, ignored and ostracized by people in the very group that we once sought refuge in. Just look around you at things you may have seen, perhaps experienced. Waif-thin suburbanites who’ve decided to latch onto something cool enough to piss off their parents mock Junoesque girls as “fat” while criticizing any boy sleeker and prettier. Teenaged/early twenty-something newcomers have informed elder Goths who’ve been in the scene since before it was termed “Goth” that “they are too old for this and it’s time they grew up”. There is an unnerving bigotry in the scene resulting from the need to perpetuate a specific ideal: Über-Goth. Coupled with ignorance, personal insecurity, malice and fear, it all adds more fuel to the fire, which proves that Goth has finally exploded into the mainstream.

The intolerance that I have witnessed towards intellectuals, non-white Goths, alternative lifestyles or choices (as if Goth isn’t already), Big Beautiful Goths, neophytes to the scene, and those whom some define as “not looking or acting Goth enough” is a despicable hypocrisy that is reminiscent of contemporary conventional attitudes. True enough, there has always been a separatism that comes with any “underground” subculture from the masses; there are the cliques within the Goth clique, but are we being crushed by our own smug complacency? Or by Goth elitism, practiced by us towards the invading mundane world? And one another? Perhaps, since the sword cuts both ways. No subculture or scene can survive if it doesn’t expand its horizons and remains inclusive. Have we finally betrayed ourselves (and the entire scene) by succumbing to the very thing that we sought to escape? If so, then we are poking a stick at a dead rat and no amount of white make-up, tight clothes, blood sex and badly assimilated music can revive it. Should we give up the ghost? Not without a fight. The poseurs will eventually grow up and grow bored and grow out of Goth. The media hype will fade out once they discover a “new” scene to prostitute, demean and slander. It’s up to those who are in it for the long haul to continue invigorating our scene’s longevity and future by reinventing the music, renovating and graduating old concepts, upgrading not just our clothes but our thinking, and by remembering that it should be fun. Once we stop taking Goth for granted by wallowing in our own self-made-elitist-tyrannous-gluttony compounded into self-loathing, we can start hacking through the deterioration caused by the rotten roots of inertia that’s stagnating every offshoot while decaying new buds and branches. Remember that like the Punk rock scene that it emerged from, Goth is ironic (but also sinister) in approach. If we’ve lost the ability to laugh at ourselves and at the world, then we have fallen prey to the lukewarm disease diagnosed as middle-of-the-road.

It’s enough to make an Elder like me slash my wrists down the centers rather than bungling the effort by cutting across. And miss the long awaited transition to come? I don’t think so.

This is Naythe Somerest’s first submission to the