History of the Gothic (Goth) Subculture
Most people in society today are basically familiar with the goth subculture – at least to the point where they can identify someone wearing the stereotypical goth garb as a “goth”. But not nearly as many people really understand what it means to be goth or what the history of the goth subculture is. Like many other subcultures, the true goth style has changed over time as the goth subculture has been adopted by more of the mainstream culture. To really understand what true goth individuals are all about, you have to go back to the beginnings of the goth history.
And to understand goth history, you have to have a basic understanding of the punk rock movement, particularly as it played out in the late 1970’s in European countries. That’s because the history of the goth movement began as the 1970’s turned into the 1980’s and some of the people who associated with the punk rock movement moved on to form their own social niche group within punk rock – the group that ultimately came to be known as goth.
So, pre-dating the goth history was the punk rock history. The most important thing to understand about this is that the punk rock subculture was formed around the central idea of a group of young people rejecting the society from which they came. They rejected mainstream social values and religious values in favor of questioning the norm and establishing their own subculture. This rejection of the mainstream society in favor of a different approach to life was not only at the core of the punk rock movement but also at the core of the goth subculture.
Popular history disagrees somewhat on the origin of the term “goth”. Some sources say that the label was first applied to this subculture of people by a man named Anthony H. Wilson who was the manager of the band Joy Division. In a description of the band’s music, he used the term “gothic” as an anti-thesis to the mainstream culture’s popular music. Other sources say that the term first arose in a 1981 magazine article about the post-punk movement that was written by a man named Steve Keaton. Whatever the origin, the term began to be used regularly and soon was shortened to “goth” and associated with a particular subculture of the punk rock movement.
By 1982, a club had opened up in London called The Batcave which appealed specifically to the people who were coming together as part of the goth subculture. This club was a place where the messages of the goth people were advertised and the individuals interested in those messages could gather together. In effect, it served as a meeting place for the early movers and shakers of what was coming to be known as the goth subculture. This was also a place where the fashion and music styles of the goth subculture were more firmly established.
So what does it mean to be goth? As a general rule, this subculture has certain fashions and musical preferences associated with it. In fact, it is important to note that the history of goth culture can’t be separated from the musical history of the people who came to be known as “goth”. The devotion to certain “goth” bands was strong at the start of the subculture’s emergence and remains a key part of being goth today – although there are now more and more varied bands to choose from as a member of this subculture. Certain strong fashion preferences have also been highly associated with the goth culture.
The word most commonly associated with these styles is “dark”. The people who identify as goth usually wear dark clothing and dark make-up, watch horror (or “dark”) movies and read horror books and listen to “dark” bands that may also self-identify as part of the goth subculture. Beyond this general image of what it means to be “goth”, it is highly difficult to define what “goth” is due in part to the anti-political, anti-social nature of the group and in part to the fact that there are now many different subcultures within the subculture of the goth movement.
What has happened as the goth subculture has grown is that there have become smaller groups within the group that are defined by the people who self-identify as goth to further individualize themselves from one another. These different groups may have varying beliefs, different preferred styles of dress and tend to like certain “goth” bands more than others. In other words, the two-decade-plus history of the goth subculture has given it enough time to grow large enough to have splitting within the group itself. And enough time has passed that we can reasonably look back on the history of the subculture to try to better understand what it’s all about!