Saturday, November 9, 2013

Goths in the New York Times

On Halloween the New York Times featured two articles of spooky interest in their paper. Two articles, one called "Goth is Dead, Long Live Goth" (read online here) and called "Halloween or not, a Softer Shade of Goth" (read online here) graced my mailbox this week courtesy of my dear old Gran. And how do they fare? Let's dive right in.

Refreshingly, "Goth is Dead, Long Live Goth" dispenses with those stock three sentence histories of Goth subculture (usually referencing Siouxsie Sioux, Bela Lugosi's Dead, and that time in the nineties that we Do Not Talk About) and dives right into the heart of the matter. What is the heart? Well, apparently just a compilation of weird little tidbits on how to really dress Goth. But it also begins with talking about how Goth never dies because Southpark talks about it occasionally? This section of the article is advised by a "self-proclaimed Mall-Goth" and "Lauren M.E. Goodlad, a professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana, and an expert on goth culture." Under a section entitled "Blood, Blogs, and Tears" the article kindly refers to the Goth spheres of Tumblr as places to cry where "Everything is incredible and everybody is sad."

Oddly, it's accompanied by blips under the header "Goth Goes Mainstream (Again)" about how Goth/Goth-y things are featured in mainstream media. Monster High Dolls are mentioned, as is "Bat's Day", and an album cover where Rihanna wears eyeliner and a black dress (2spoopy.) Apparently the thesis of this section, essentially, is that since Goth fashion has been used by the mainstream, Goth itself is dead. Apparently as soon as certain aspects of something become popular, the thing itself just disappears. Not like Goths have been dealing with mainstream fashion using black lipstick and fishnets and "Victorian" or "Punk" clothing for decades (and picking up nice clothing items on sales racks afterwards, of course.)

"Halloween or Not, A Softer Shade of Goth" tackles the very new and not talked about by everyone who
ever picked up a tube of black lipstick topic of how to balance a darker look without looking too spooky. It's a goldmine of terrible advice, including my absolute favorite from professional makeup artist Suzy Gerstein: "Don't even be afraid to mix in some black eye pencil with the [lip] color. The key is looking like you just ate a bird, or a rat."


The article also recommends that you embrace a "soft, feminine" version of the Goth look (represented, apparently, by Alice Cooper) as if Goths didn't already embrace a variety of makeup styles from Norwegian Black Metal Band to dark fairy princess. And Goth's don't own black nail polish. We've had this discussion already! Kim Kardashian's black nail polish isn't Goth, it's just black! Jeez.

Besides that, I'm troubled by both article's insistence on pale skin. Everywhere in the article: Pale, pale, pale, pale, pale. This is representative, at least in my eyes, of Goth's ever-present race issue. While Goth continues to struggle for representation of people of color, the mainstream media blunders around talking about how paleness is Goth's virtue (as long as you look "ethereal", not "chalky" or whatever.) And you know what? That's bullshit. Pale skin is about as relevant to Goth today as Nick Cave's weird porno mustache.

Honestly, I'm not that upset at these articles, just a little baffled by their existence. There is absolutely nothing in them that hasn't been said elsewhere (by Goths and "WE'RE NOT GOTHS WE JUST LIKE BLACK LIPSTICK OKAY" types alike) and they're just lazy pieces of journalism. What do you all think?


  1. These articles are ridiculous, but I can't wait for the sales next season and the trickle down thrifting that will happen soon after that! Anyone else give a great big, "Whaaaa?" when they mentioned Robert Smith's black lipstick in the 'Softer Shade of Goth' article? Maybe I'm not remembering properly, but when I think Robert Smith I think of his iconic red lips and do not recall ever seeing him wearing black lipstick. Oh, and I do own black nail polish. ;)

  2. Oh, I got reliefed when I read your opinion. Those articles were ridicilous "this is how the new goth is like"... I think that the mainstream trend with st. Peters crosses on everything etc, the so called NuGoth and PastelGoth (certainly not made up by goths) will make goths go back to the basics like traditional goth style or victorian romantic.

  3. I think someone didn't reach their wordcount for the month, saw the southpark goths and thought 'Hey, why not?'. Both articles feel really scrumbled together and have no story arch, like they're testing an random article generator.
    The rat-eating part baffled me... How do you even get that idea?

  4. Counterculture? Someone failed their sociology class for sure. Secondly, what and what?? Just because some non Goth folks wear dark colors on occasion, it means that Goth is dead? Their so called expert is just as ignorant as the rest of the article. These people would not know a Goth if one was standing in front of them. Oh, and black lipstick is not even part of my makeup collection. None of the Goth people I have ever known has EVER worn white face paint. Oh, and that makeup job looked like crap. The advice is terrible, especially if you don't want to get laughed out of The Church or The Milk Room....or any number of clubs around me for wearing that crap and claiming Goth...Goth is more than clothing and makeup, it is not about fashion, those are just part of our culture. ugh... Sorry for the angry rant.

  5. Thanks for this post, it saved me from reading those silly articles for myself! Obviously the authors think we're all still living in the 80's (gag!). And I have to wonder how Ms. Gerstein knows what someone's makeup is supposed to look like after they've just eaten a bird or a rat... personal experience??? ;-)

  6. I completely agree with the lazy journalism bit. I mean, if you're going to write about an exhausted topic for a mainstream publication - at least do it with a flair of creativity or explore a different perspective.

  7. The New York Times can't be trusted on a lot of cultural material (I'm from south Texas--I could recount some doozies of stereotypes and complete misinterpretations they've made about us). If it hasn't been discovered and appropriated by haute couture, they don't get it, period.

  8. What on earth is a 'mall goth' (asks the English person!)?

    I suspect the journos brains would implode had they just spent the week I had in a sleepy northern fishing village called Whitby....!

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  10. I'm surprised this sort of stuff still comes out. It's... repetitive, for a start, and does not recognise the nuances of Goth at all - the pastel hair colours and creeper shoes are not really about Goth at all, and the young people who these are popular with tend to be more the hipster end of the more generic 'alt kids' than anything Goth-related. Yes, there is the Pastel-Goth hybrid style that seemed popular a year or two ago (I see less about it now) but that's not really at the core of the subculture. The aesthetic focus of Gothic fashion styles in Japan doesn't seem to have any connecting relevance to the rest of the article, but I think does have some merit - I've noticed that a lot of Gothic Lolita stuff from Japan has all the visual trappings of the Gothic (and done really well) but the associated music and subcultural isn't the same. Valerie Steele is right about how Goth is always lushly Romantic, I think it IS even when it isn't in its fancier incarnation, and I think to clarify that Goth isn't Grunge is also useful, as that seems to be a common misconception. However, I don't like Prof. Goodlad's comment that nobody "becomes a goth because they don’t want to strike a pose" as it reinforces the stereotype that we're doing this for external attention, that we do it to be a living objet d'art rather than we do this because we like it, that we and look pretty for ourselves, not for attention, especially as the kind of attention we garner can often be really negative. Pale does emphasise contrast, but it's not the only way to go, and you're quite right to point out that it doesn't reflect the more inclusive nature of the Goth subculture - it's not all pasty white folk like me!

    I also don't like the reductionist view of Tumblr Goth - it sounds more like a view of a certain section of Goth activity on Tumblr, the kind that comes from the more outwardly dramatic and emotional (and often young, teenage) Goths, not the kind of activity of a lot of Tumblr Goths, who aren't sad or incredible all the time. It does sound like he had something longer, and more accurate to say because of the "..." before "There is a real cultural relevance beyond being moody" which IS true and yet clashes with the previous quote. I get the feeling that the writer/editor of this article cobbled it together it from more extensive interviews but didn't get the point the interviewees were making (and should at least have READ the books by Valerie Steele and Nancy Kilpatrick (who also had a point about Goth not being completely "death-orientated")

  11. This is an 2011 article in one of the more sensible UK based newspapers about the enduring power of goth. It's an interesting read:

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