The Gothic novel, first noticed in the first half of the 18th century, focussed heavily upon the questionable morality or rationality of the human mind. Authors such as Edger Allen Poe, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Kafka and H. P. Lovecraft are still widely read, as are poets and philosophers such as Baudelaire, Byron, Shelley and Nietzsche.
The two most prominent books of Gothic relevance were Bram Strokers ‘Dracula’ (1897) and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (1818).v Gothic literature often focussed upon the morbid or the marginalised pockets of humans in sociality, often questioning the assumption of wisdom in society and mainstream culture.
The Vampire of Dracula has been adopted as a cultural mascot and remains a much-imitated icon. Unsurprisingly, many Gothic’s like to think they share an understanding and affiliation with this character. Suspended in an existence between life and death, day and night and expelled to the margins of society for his morbid and perverse lifestyle, he thrives on an unsolicited substance.
He is condemned him to seclusion by mainstream social values and norms. Gothic today is concerned with recognising beauty in what most of Western society fears. The horror images of Industrial wasteland and the Victorian Gothic novels, the music both evil and romantic, the use of religious and pagan imagery, all highlight the dichotomy of the enchanting and repulsive found in every facet of the Gothic culture. The strength of the Gothic subculture lies in the force of it’s rebellion against mainstream society, and it attracts those people who feel alienated by society, giving them an identity and sense of belonging.
Most people in large societies want to feel as though the belong somewhere. This seems to be a natural human instinct. Just as tribes in remote regions of Outer Mongolia or Africa feel the need to group together, so do people from overpopulated cities. Subcultures often form when the cultural norm of the times exclude (and exclusion is an integral part of any form of inclusion) those who don’t fit the standardised stereotype. Often the subculture will try to compensate for the failure of a larger culture to provide an adequate status, acceptance and identity.
An argument that I feel would be viable in today’s consumerists and capitalist’s society, is that many of the sub-cultures exhibited by youths of today exist purely in a representational or visual display. A short trip down memory lane reveals an indisputable need that past (and current) generations have had to oppose mainstream norms of an oppressive society, however I don’t feel that such revolutionary sentiments can be attributed to the mass-produced teenage punk, Gothic or hippies that roam the streets today.
While today’s youth do submit themselves to certain sub-cultures, it often through the appropriation and bricolage of consumerist signs and symbols rather than a belief in the meaning behind themvi. One can now experiment with many different subcultures and look the part, as the search for identity and belonging becomes increasingly important to an adolescent in our image conscious society. Access to money and spare time are catalysts, as teenagers from Westernised cultures, not yet old enough for burdening responsibilities or concern about their future, can afford the luxury of self-analysis.
The adolescent consumer is able to choose from a range of ready-made sub-cultures, ideologies and movements. From the local shopping mall they purchase the visual indicators. They click on the Internet for a brief overview of the history and meaning and voila, a more defining role and identity within teenage social structures. The popularity of sub-cultures in the teenage age bracket has been partly attributed to the structure of the education and labour systems that have produced a kind of extended limbo period between early school and childhood and adulthood and workvii.
Shaking off the parental dependency of childhood, but not yet indoctrinated into the responsibilities and corporate pigeonholing of the workplace, youths are forced to spend more time developing and displaying their identity. Adolescence is hailed as a time in which youths can find themselves. The ‘halfway house’ of being a child and being an adult can produce hostility and anxiousness about a hostile world, in which they are at the bottom of the food chain.
Tribalism thus becomes a tool of survival, as youths look for support in a world they don’t quite understand or hold power in. The authority and class structure imposed upon teenagers is intrinsic in this scenario, as the dominant authorities (parents, teachers or police) are often seen by youths as the enemy, consistently trying to oppress the rebellious youth and impose their class structures. As a youth feels disempowered by system, they will break away and create a new class system, through which they are empowered.
Parents, reminiscent of their child’s innocence and aware of the dangers their child will face in a hostile world will often, quite understandably, try to protect their child. As the adolescent grows and the rules that once kept them disciplined as children begin to have less authority, a sense of curiosity and the search for acceptance and identity often overrides the rules that their parents try to enforce. Often a communication breakdown between parents and children develops. Mis-comminication leads to mis-understranding and suspicion.
Secrecy is natural tendency of teenagers, possibly a result of the constant assumption by older generations who adhere to a patriarchal system, that teenagers are not ‘old enough to know best,’ and require direction and instruction from authoritative figures. Often, as I know from experience, deception is an easier way to gain freedom in ones activities, thus propagating a pattern of dishonesty and lack of trust between parent and child. Is is true, nonetheless, that many of the activities that youths of today partake in, such as drugs, unsafe sex, fighting and drink driving are dangerous and do warrant suspicion.
Moral panic is often caused by popular media playing on stereotypes to create a sensational story and sell more papers. Due to poor media coverage in other instances, it arouses fear amongst the community due to ignorance. The fact remains, however, that teenagers need to experiment and explore. Humans learn from their mistakes and need life experience in order to grow. If the line of communication, respect and acceptance can be upheld between a parent and their child, unnecessary levels of ignorance and suspicion are lessened and the dangers involved in teenage pastimes reduced.
Bibliography Beswick, J. 1993, Helter-Skelter, available: http://www. vamp. org/gothic/text/anthro. html Accessed 18/4/04 Bexton, W. 1995, Spatial Boundaries: Etiquette and interpersonal interaction at a Gothic club, http://www. vamp. org/gothic/text/anthropaper. html Accessed: 21/4/04. Finnriorden, M. 1995, A Historical Anthology about Punk Gothic Industrial and Dark Wave Music in Melbourne 1978 – Present, Moonlight Publishing, Melbourne. Hebdidge, D. 1979, Subculture, the Meaning of Style. Excerpt as found in the course reader. Mark.
T, 1999, A New Approach to Youth Subculture Theory, Available : http://www. sonlifeafrica. com/model/subcult3. htm Accessed 16/5/04. Robinson B. A. 2004, The Goth Culture: Its history, stereotypes, religious connections. Available: http://www. religioustolerance. org/goth. htm. Accessed: 29/5/04 Smith, A. P. 2003, Inside Look at Gothic for Outsiders, available: http://www. gothicsubculture. com. Accessed 16/5/04 Thompson D. and Greene J. 1994, Undead Undead Undead Alternative Press, available: http://www. darkwaver. com/subculture/articles/undead. php Accessed 18/4/04.
I also used a friend of mine, Primrose Campbell, who was much more heavily into the Gothic sub-culture as a teenager as a source of information. NB I just wanted to note that, although factual and historical information and some other ideas were sourced from research, the majority of the information, references and speculation on both Gothic and youth sub-cultures, was sourced from personal experience. It wasn’t that long ago that I was another one of those teenagers questioning identity and authority, looking for belonging and experimenting with different sub-cultures.
I feel that this information and personal experience within the topic of discussion that I have chosen, is just as relevant as an academic opinion or the speculations of other people. i Smith, A. P. 9/28/03, http://www. gothicsubculture. com ii Thompson D. and Greene J. 1994, http://www. darkwaver. com/subculture/articles/undead. php iii Finnriorden, M. 1995. iv Robinson B. A. 2004, http://www. religioustolerance. org/goth. htm. v Robinson B. A. 2004, http://www. religioustolerance. org/goth. htm. vi Hebdidge, D. 1979.