I missed the “goth” trend by barely a few years. I was born in 1992, and by the time I entered middle school (and was finally riding the “big kid” bus with middle and high school kids), I was eleven years old and the year was was 2003. I remember maybe two or three individuals on my bus, high schoolers, who would saunter down the bus aisle every morning, their eyes downcast and a HIM hoodie pulled up over their heads. Their Tripp pants seemed about four times the size of their legs. These kids reminded me of the piercing-laden, green-haired sales associates at Hot Topic and they scared the life out of me.
As I got older and found myself spending just about all of my free time on the internet (I’ll be sure to compose a super riveting post one day about my shameful DeviantART era), the subculture that to me was “goth” suddenly started to seem much more appealing. From my pre-teen perspective, goth kids were quiet intellectuals, not troublemakers, and they listened to emotionally dark music and read books by Anne Rice and Amelia Atwater-Rhodes (none of this Twilight garbage). And yet, while I find myself oddly attracted to the subculture, I resisted all public association with it (meaning I listened to Evanescence and watched Neurotically Yours at home but at school I scoffed at the “gawths”). Unfortunately, I was born with ghost-white skin and black hair so most of my classmates assumed that I identified as a goth anyway. By the time I entered high school, I was dyeing my hair lighter colors and made a fierce attempt to lose weight and wear feminine clothes. By the time I entered my sophomore or junior year, the goth subculture had faded away. I instead embraced the “scene” style since it seemed significantly more feminine and sexy to me than goth ever had. (Ugh, I feel like this post is turning out to be nothing more than a painful nostalgia trip. “First I was kinda goth, then I was scene, then I was this other obnoxious teenager-label…”).
In any case, looking back I really miss the goth subculture, or at least, what I knew of it from the internet. So many of the goth/alternative kids that I actually knew (not just the terrifying ones on my bus) were actually some of the sweetest, gentlest people I had ever encountered as an ugly, misfit tween. Goth was artsy, goth was smart, it was misunderstood and in a weird way kind of mature.
I’d like to mention that I am probably incredibly underqualified to write about this, provided I just explained why I was never actually part of “goth.” There are actually some neat books I have on my Amazon wishlist about this subject, including Lauren Goodlad’s Goth: Undead Subculture (2007). If I get an opportunity to read it, I’ll be sure to post a review/critique.
Part of the reason that I think goth faded out of existence has to do with how we perform our identities as human beings. Ten years ago, it was easy to join a goth or vampire forum on the internet, but much of the “subculture” still revolved around music and clothing. I would also argue that much of the “goth” subculture was related to art, if my experiences frequenting mid-2000’s DeviantART is anything to go by. However, I think that as the internet really took off with the rise of social media and our virtual culture became saturated with images and videos loaded on a high-speed connection, it become less of a place to seek refuge and more of a place to learn how to act like everyone else. Even DeviantART is more secluded and niche-y than microblogging site Tumblr, where I feel most of the young artists on the internet have migrated.
After all, why have a gallery of your own artwork in a niche artist’s community when you could instead personalize the experience by customizing your theme, follow non-artistic blogs, and even interact with kids from your school? While the staggering use of social media has resulted in people being more connected and unified, it has also resulted in an increased sense of vulnerability. When your identity boils down to an internet-based performance, via insanely popular sites like Facebook or Tumblr, there’s more pressure to fit in and “brand” yourself as someone who is just like everyone else and not some sort of weirdo social deviant. That isn’t to say that people don’t still post things online that go against what everyone else thinks is cool, but the stakes are much higher now and you’re much more likely to be found out and ridiculed (Remember the Harry Potter fanfic “My Immortal“? Much of its humor is derived from how it parodies “goth”).
As I tried to allude to earlier, I don’t think that subcultures are fading away entirely. I think that the wide range of websites—even if they are dependent on visual stimulation and are more about performance than refuge—cater to the diverse music and fashion tastes of today’s young adults and teenagers. However, the self-consciousness and the awareness of ever-present surveillance (coupled with many popular sites’ commenting features, so you can have your pictures and lifestyle judged by others) seems to color these subcultures with more hokey-ness and irony than ever before (for instance, see Cracked.com’s post on Hot Topic).
The goth subculture has transformed into something kitschy and ultimately non-threatening. It’s a real shame that I was raised during the tail-end of the goth craze and therefore can offer little insight about the transformation of “goth” from the 70s/80s through the 90s. If I had maybe been a little older and a little braver, maybe today I would be digging old Tripp pants out of my closet during moments of intense nostalgia. I still have my old Amy Brown Fairy Art books, and sometimes I pull my Evanescence CD out of my glove box after unfortunate days of school when I need to let myself slip back into that dark fantasy world of my youth.