Saturday, February 18, 2012

On "How to be Goth" guides

How many of you have read any summaries of books that you were "reading" for a class? Even if you don't use them yourself, it's common knowledge that they're a popular tool for students of all ages who can't or won't, for whatever reason, read the actual text. But can you use those kinds of guides for anything else? I wonder, could you use Cliffnotes for...Goth?

Source: Aoakley

They're everywhere. On eHow, Yahoo!answers, wikihow, and anywhere else that you can ask a question or provide a guide, someone has provided a primer for becoming a Goth. Not only that, but anywhere you can respond with some measure of anonymity and personal security, someone has voiced their displeasure over these guides. Well, more than just one someone. In fact, many Goths have a low opinion of people who write these guides and people who read and take them seriously. While one might have come into Goth without those guide's help, what makes the way that others become Goths bad? To answer, let's look at what someone who takes those guides seriously believes about Goths or what we should do:
  • "Goth is to pull away from what is accepted and explore what has yet to be accepted." [x]
  • "To finish off the Gothic feel don't act like your too interested in anything. Even if that thing is your favorite movie, actor, book, song, game, etc." [x]
  • "One of the standard rules of thumb: the darker the better. Wear all black clothing. Your face and skin tone should be pale, ghostly and really, really creepy."[x]
  • "Wear black fingerless gloves with any normal outfit. It will add a subtle goth touch. You can purchase then anywhere.; hot topic has like an unlimited supply, really cheap." [x]
  • "Today more than a few Goths follow a dark trend and give importance to the darker side of life and affectionately call it Doom and Gloom. They study Paganism, occult and witchcraft, though they refer it as craft." [x]
  • "Goth dudes can never be too tall or too thin. Keep yourself relatively skinny, just so you are close to seeing your ribcage. But don't go anorexic! By no means do goths like being able to see your heart pumping in your chest." [x]
  • "Try tight clothes (both girls and guys). Boys, do not try wearing tight clothes unless you like looking a bit more feminine." [x]
Source: Buzznet
"But Mary!" I hear you ask from across the broad, expansive internets, "Some of those are satirical! Why are you picking on those?" Gentle reader, I have come to a few conclusions in life, but the one that perhaps I hold the closest to my heart goes thus: Some people will never, ever, get sarcasm. That means that, while the above comment about the bodies of Goth dudes was intended as a joke, some person out there probably doesn't get it. While the author of those kinds of articles probably will laugh at these people who take it too seriously, they're not being much of a help to us.
The basic set up for these guides generally goes that they give a short, two-sentence primer on the history of Goth, then a lot of rambling about clothes, a small bit about "real Goth music" (which can range from stereotypical to just false) and then a short bit about how to change your personality to fit the subculture. If the writer is feeling adventurous then perhaps they'll mention what literature one should read. This is usually accompanied by a picture of a popular Goth model or a stock photo of a suitably brooding gentleman or lady, or (goodness help me,) a tutorial on Gothic makeup. And don't even get me started on Goth makeup tutorial videos.

Source: SiouxsieLaw
For many Goths, the subculture represents more than just its musical roots. The fashion, aesthetic, sense of humor, and tastes in literature associated with Goths can hold just as much appeal as the crooning of Robert Smith to some. Many Goths call Goth an important part of their personality. So, it's natural to say that some become offended when people try to give a guide on how to adopt someone's personality, the essence of their being. Even if, to you, Goth is just a musical movement that you love, it can be hard to say that seeing your favorite bands listed as a checklist. Still other people don't care.
The main complaint about this wave of guides that I've seen centers around the idea that it is an artificial personality and style that someone is trying on, not someone being themselves. I saw much the same complaints against My Summer as a Goth, in which "real Goths" make over a "normal girl" to be Gothic instead of letting her just be herself. However, even I defended it because it's natural for people to adopt fashions and tastes similar to their friends. However, something about the idea that an anonymous person on the internet telling people how to change something as personal as their music tastes, aesthetics, etc. rubs me the wrong way. It's not a mutual thing, there's no two-way learning. The result is an image of Goth that feels inorganic and hollow. It's soulless. Where's the fun in that?
And if, per chance, you are a non-Goth who has stumbled onto this blog post searching for the very types of articles that I show disapproval of, I say only this to you: be true to yourself. If you're a Goth, it'll show. You don't need a guide for that.


  1. now i need to spend an evening looking for how to be goth tutorials. i do like the satiric ones. but too strict ones make me sad because taking away the entire personality also takes away the creativity. using guides as inspiration i think is perfectly fine :-) (even though i'd prefer blogs or friends on and offline to talk to...)

  2. This lovely post made me think about my youthfull "Goth days" (not that I'm old now... just a little less young), when I used to make fun of those tutorials, or simply think about the meaning of their appearence on the web, and the reasons that presumably lead people to write/read them. The matter is: Goth is not a uniform, is not some kind of cult or a philosophy that teaches to people how to live their lives. Goth is a somehow both defined and undefinable subcultural movement, well settled in his space-time environment, that evolved troughout the years and geographical boundaries. Goth is just a matter of people who found themeselves togheter in creating something, in creating an aesthetic. Goth is not born this way and it won't stay this way forever, because, as every else product of human culture, it's a "project", in his ethimological meaning of being "thrown ahead" (latin "projectus", the action of throwing ahead). Becoming "Goth" is just what happens with people meeting Goth subculture for what it is in its pragmatic features, and loving it by what Goth people does and did, by what they are, and joining it and adding to it their unique, special contribution. There are no static, immovable thngs about Goth: when Siouxsie started to sing "Hong Kong Garden", she certainly wasn't thinking to lovely ladies wearing corsetry and having tea whit lace umbrellas while listening to some medieval inspired stuff. But as long as girls wearing corsets -or cyberpunk-inspired boots- will feel an ideal connection to the roots of the movement, as long as they feel they are pursuing its spirit, well, weather you like it or not, this is Goth. So, I guess that the only rule to become a Goth could be: explore the world around you, follow what attracts you, find the things you dig, learn to know them, copy them, make them yours. And then start to create your own way to be Goth. Or anything else.

    I just wanted to give my 2 cents. And, oh, well, tell you that I really love your blog. I'm sorry if my prose is weird or uncorrect or not very flowing: sadly, my english carries heavy influence of my native language :)


  3. In some ways I appreciate 'Goth tutorials' especially the Wikihow ones, as through reading them I decided I wanted to be Goth.

    They certainly did have very bad ideas though, haha. It was only when I found the Goth blogging community that I got on the right track.

    Still though. Those guides are useful to at least start babybats on their way. :)

  4. I actually think make-up and craft tutorials are really helpful. I used to find doing my make-up really difficult and my results were always sloppy and disappointing. I started trying to follow some of the better tutorials - the ones done by people who actually know what they're doing, including non-goth tutorials on basic make-up skills like contouring cheekbones and applying foundation properly, and now my make-up skills have improved vastly and I've garnered a library of skills that I can use to create my own designs. I've now posted my own tutorial up on Domesticated because I hoped that stuff like that would be useful to other people who found themselves in the same situation I was in a few years ago. I can understand it if the tutorials are posted as being the "one true way" of doing Goth makeup, but most of them are either quite specifically how to do a specific look, or just tips on how to do certain things (like eyebrow filling or silver lips). I see these projects are good starters - I might copy a design so I can get it neat and tidy and done properly, and once I'd got it down, work on using different colour combinations, or altering the design in different ways until I was confident experimenting. Things like Adora Batbrat using a brush to do her swirls rather than an eyeliner applicator brush bottle were a revelation to me (swirls and vines are HUGELY improved when done with a brush).

  5. u can't just become goth u just fucking know that u r

  6. Honestly I've been looking into the gothic community, it's always called to me but restrictions from my parents and peers have kept me away. I'm about to be eighteen so I can start being who I feel I am, and I'm glad there's such a wide range of opinion in the community. Personally I look more into the history side of it instead of the makeup. Anyways my point is that Wikihow is kind of a helpful start up because it emphasizes the whole just be you.

  7. I didn't learn the word "goth" until shortly after the Columbine murders when my best friend and classmate was accused of being a goth. It was only because of helpful goth 101 guides that I learned about this subculture at all and I have been reading the Lady of The Manners since she was hosted on gothic dot net. I found the short version extremely useful because up until that time I felt so disconnected and lost. I tried to dress like normal people, but I couldn't sustain the effort. These silly guides might have saved my life. I was so distracted from my gender issues that I made it straight through my whole public school education without killing myself as so many trans kids do. Now I am saving up for gender confirmation surgery, but I honestly credit the androgyny of gothic fashion with the fact that I was able to ignore it until recently. Until I had reached the age of majority and had a general education. I'm still a goth, the books and music and fashion and decor that I love shows that utterly. Nevertheless, I do not feel certain that without this dream I would still be alive. My mother's transphobia coupled with my peers' rejection might well have done me in if I didn't feel like I belonged to this group of people that I have never met. So, to sum up, I think these silly oversimplified articles might help misfits feel like they could someday be loved and accepted, so I think they are a very good thing even though they are not perfect.

  8. I dressed up as goth for this Halloween

  9. I consider myself goth in certain ways, I love the films, literature, some music, macabre things, the aesthetic, but I don't really dress goth. I'm afraid to call myself goth because I don't want to offend other goths...

    1. It's ok I if you feel like a true goth inside, it's ok.. well according to me.