One could says that Goth is an artistic movement centered around music and fashion. That said, the Goth culture is so diverse that it defies definition. Though Goths are often (nearly always, in fact) stereotyped, Goth means different things to different Goths.
One observer of the Goth culture puts it like this:
I would like to make a quick point that Gothic is the same as goth, Gothdom, gothik etc. The only difference is noun or adjective use. Capitalization is often arbitrary. There is no general distinction between these terms. Any distinction made is often particular to a certain person or group who might use a different term to designate one of the different levels of involvement or divisions of gothics. For our purposes, we’ll say these words are all intended to mean the same thing.
Gothic: Of or pertaining to a literary style of fiction prevalent in the late 18th and early 19th centuries which emphasized the grotesque, mysterious, and desolate: a gothic novel. [This is the relevant definition in the dictionary. Think of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the works of Edgar Allen Poe.]
But what does gothic mean in regards to the group of people? Here’s where it gets confusing. There are things that many Goths like that are not gothic (Industrial or Classical music). There are things that are gothic that many Goths dislike (vampires, interest in death). There are things that some people think are gothic that are not gothic (bands like Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails), and there are things that do not call themselves gothic even if they are considered gothic by most people (bands like Sisters of Mercy and Dead Can Dance). However, there’s no Grand Gothic Judge to decree what is truly Goth and what is not, although there are plenty of people who claim to be it. It’s an ambiguous label with many people using it that don’t understand what it means. The people who do understand it often have many different definitions.
– Source: Alicia Porter Smith, What is Gothic?
Following are a couple of quotes from news articles on Goth culture. See also the Religion News Blog archive of Goth-related news articles.
Media Often Gets It Wrong
Note that the media often – but certainly not always – portrays the Goth culture in a sensationalistic and/or negative way. After all, reports on Goth culture tend to appear in the news media in connection with someone’s criminal activity. See, for example, Murder case prompts discussion on teens’ fascination with `gothic’ lifestyle, written by The Mercury News in connection with the murder trial of teenager Scott Dyleski.
Fox News on Oct. 22, 2005, interviewed Goth musician Voltaire – author of the book, “What is Goth?“ regarding the Dyleski case:
It should be clear that one can not form an accurate opinion of the Goth culture based solely on media reports. Hence we refer to our research resources on the subject.
You’ve seen them in the parks or at the mall, wearing black nail polish and lipstick or ripped tights and combat boots. Some have purple hair and strange tattoos. Others hang out at cemeteries or listen to music with lyrics about death.
These are Goth kids, teenagers who dress differently so they may appear mysterious to others or are secretly or openly obsessed with the [tag]occult[/tag], said Gordon A. Crews, associate dean of the School of Justice Studies at Roger Williams University in Bristol.
“Why all the black? What most of them will tell you is, ‘We don’t exist to you anyway.’ The black is a way of being on the other side. It is a way of separating,” he said.
Crews, who has written books and articles about the occult, [tag]satanic[/tag] involvement, gangs and school violence, presented pieces of his research on Goth behavior during a seminar for law enforcement officials Wednesday at the university’s conference center on Anthony Road. About 30 officers from around Rhode Island and as far away as Boston attended the program.
Crews, a former police investigator, became interested in studying the Gothic movement in 1987 after he discovered an unusual mural inside an abandoned house while he was leading a pack of bloodhounds through the woods in the South. The mural depicted Satan grabbing baby Jesus from his mother. The following day, he returned to the house to find it had been burned down.
Since then, he has researched Gothic activity and interviewed people who follow it, including a man who claims to be a 450-year-old vampire and sleeps in a coffin. The Goth movement grew out of the 1970s punk trend and became popular in the late 1990s, at about the time school shootings were becoming more frequent. Some school shooters, like Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, who killed 13 people before committing suicide at Columbine High Schoolin Colorado in 1999, have been described as Gothic.
Most Goths are young, white and intelligent, and many teens use the behavior as a protection mechanism, Crews said. They may feel ostracized by other social groups, so they dress and act mysteriously in an effort to be feared by others.
“What they will tell you is they would rather be left alone than be bullied or attacked,” he said. “It is up to the individual to define what Goth is for themselves … The mentality is, ‘I want to be left alone but I want to be seen. I want to see the shock on other peoples’ faces,” he said.
But others take the movement to the extreme. For them, it is a belief system rather than a trend. They are into witchcraft or believe they are vampires. Some practice Satanism, drink blood or mutilate their own bodies, he said.
– Source: ‘Goth’ defined: Seminar sheds light on what is behind mysterious teenage trend, The Newport Daily News, USA,
Oct. 30, 2003
On Thursday nights, David Hart dons a black trench coat, black shirt, pants and boots and heads for a club called The Soil, where heavily pierced patrons emulate Count Dracula and Morticia Addams.
The clothing is clerical garb for Hart, a fiftyish, Christian youth minister from San Diego. He’s one of the few ministers who specialize in reaching out to the music-centered, underground youth subcultures.
In fashion and philosophy, goths style themselves after horror literature. Dabblers content themselves with Anne Rice. Devotees delve into Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Edgar Allen Poe.
“These kids romanticize death. They romanticize the blade, the blood that trickles down. They write very, very sad introspective, self-absorbed poetry,” Hart said.
Hart’s Web site, “The Sanctuary,” promotes itself as “a fellowship of Christian misfits — a spiritual alternative for the disenfranchised … We are here for anyone seeking sanctuary and looking for answers in a big, dark universe.”
Hart began his work 15 years ago as a promoter for the Christian metal band Stryper. A former Navy drug counselor who was raised Presbyterian and graduated from the more Baptist-oriented Talbot Theological Seminary, Hart saw teens with profound emotional needs who wouldn’t fit into any church youth group.
Hart started home groups for the goths, who dislike crowds. He urges them to give up drugs, promiscuity, cutting themselves and other self-destructive habits, but he urges their parents not to condemn the whole lifestyle.
Unlike some youth subcultures that believe in God but reject organized religion, goths often reject God but keep religious trappings, Hart said. Most religious goths are self-styled practitioners of Wicca, an ancient Celtic nature religion, he said, while others dabble in spiritualism, a religion that tries to communicate with the dead through seances. Few are Satanists, Hart said.
They can relate to the Jesus whose own friends failed to understand him, Hart said. He tells them that vampirism is a counterfeit of the life given them through the blood of Jesus, that his crucifixion was the piercing to end all piercing.
– Source: Goths: Morose outcasts in dire need of acceptance, Post-Gazette, USA, Apr. 27, 1999