The Rewards of Being Goth
> 4/14/2006 10:20:18 AM

There has been a lot of news coming out of the UK regarding goths and goth subculture. For the tragically ill-informed, the term goth refers to a style of dress and behavior and not the rampaging hordes of nomadic peoples who helped bring down the Roman Empire. Certainly, in the US there are goths, there were goths at my high school and there were goths at my university. For those of us who have grown up in the 80s and 90s the presence of those who identify with this subculture is neither surprising nor worrisome. However, from the sound of the articles below and portrayals in recent films and TV shows, raising a goth child can be taxing on parents who have fully embraced "normalcy."

Today's New Scientist brings news that is at once disconcerting and encouraging. According to researchers at the University of Glasgow roughly one half of teenage goths have engaged in self-harming practices, or even worse, attempted suicide. The research, which focuses on 1258 youths, found that of those who self-identified as goths 53% had self-harmed while a staggering 47% had attempted suicide.

These numbers are, at least in my humble opinion, pretty shocking, but they are also misleading. Of the 1258 subjects in the study, each of whom were interviewed at ages 11, 13, 15 and 19, only 25 said that they strongly identified with the goth subculture. This sample size is obviously quite small, but nevertheless revealing.

The good news is that of those who had self-harmed, the behavior usually began before the individual became involved in the goth subculture.

One common suggestion is they may be copying subcultural icons or peers [when they self-harm], but our study found that more young people reported self-harm before, rather than after, becoming a goth. This suggests that young people with a tendency to self-harm are attracted to the goth subculture, says Robert Young, who led the study.

Those quoted in the article go on to explain that one of the reasons that many youths begin to identify with the goth subculture and make friends with others that do is because it is largely a very accepting and non-violent group. This can be appealing to youths who struggle with awkward periods during adolescence and find themselves on the outside looking in on "normal." (I continue to use the quotes here, because I don't even want to touch on the debate about what constitutes normal, especially in a middle or high school setting. That's a whole other can of worms.)

This latest research follows up on another report a month or so ago that received a fair amount of press, especially in the UK. The hoopla all started when German academic Dunja Brill published her doctorate work in media and cultural studies at Sussex University. According to Brill's research and interviews, contrary to popular opinion youths who identify strongly with the goth subculture are more likely to grow up to be successful adults with professions like doctors or lawyers.

The BBC explains:

[According to Brill's paper, goths] are refined and sensitive, keen on poetry and books, not big on drugs or anti-social behaviour. They are also likely to carry on being goths into their adult life.

They have an ability to express their feelings and are believers in romance rather than one-night stands, it says. In fact, the only things dark about them are their clothing and their sarcastic sense of humour.

"They won't like me saying it, but their lifestyle, unlike the punk scene, is a middle-class sub culture,'' says Dunja Brill, who carried out the study.

"They are usually intelligent youngsters who have rejected the idea that teenagers must fulfil certain criteria.''

These two published accounts give us a fuller picture of what being a goth can mean for many youths. On one hand, goths are often individuals beset by difficult mental health issues. Although it is not specifically referred to in the New Scientist piece, one would infer that there are issues of low self-esteem and depression tied up with the self-harm that may goths report engaging in. As the piece mentions, individuals often self-harm in order to better deal with negative emotions.

But as Brill's research points out, goths many times grow up to be as successful, if not more so, than their peers. The qualities that Brill listed to the BBC are often those which might get a student mocked during adolescence when things like atheletic ability and appearence tend to be more highly socially favored. Of course, as we age and mature, the personality traits that make an individual successful or popular shift, so it would make sense that those youths who identified as goths would find greater happiness and well being as adults.

I would argue that (like most other things) the negative stereotypes surrounding goth culture are largely a product of the media. In the Independent, Brill mentions that the reason that she chose the subject she did for her research (aside from having goth proclivities herself) was the negative attention she saw being attached to goth teens after the Columbine school shooting. In reality, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris and their "trenchcoat mafia" shared very little with the majority of those who identify with the goth subculture. However, the media did contort the event somewhat, and there was indeed a backlash against the goth subculture.

Beyond that single incident however, entertainment outlets like cinema and television are just as culpable in creating a negative public image for goths. Winona Rider, portraying Lydia in the dark comedy Beetle Juice, brought a sullen and drab connotation to her character. Her demeanor was often played for laughs though, and in fairness, she certainly exhibited the creative and open minded traits that Brill mentions. Similarly, films like The Faculty, American Beauty and Wedding Crashers give us varying levels of parody of the goth subculture (American Beauty, a dense and powerful film, presents a rounder picture and doesn't have the same mocking tone as the other films).

There has been perhaps no more cutting a send up of goths than on Saturday Night Live, where Molly Shannon and Chris Kattan hosted a segment called Goth Talk(You Tube video here) or later, on South Park (You Tube). But as we have gotten further away from the Columbine incident, goths have seen increased acceptance and even co-opting of their culture by the mainstream. The popularity of film series like Blade or Underworld highlight the marketability of goth themes (granted, in almost unrecognizable form). Meanwhile, the website Suicide Girls, a site that offers erotic content featuring goth women, has seen an almost meteoric rise in popularity.

Certainly, the negative connotations that once engulfed the goth subculture still persist in many regions. Clearly the recent interest by the British press indicates that their is some discussion still to be had in that country. But as Brill, and even more recently researchers at the University of Glasgow, have shown, being a goth does not mean what it once did. So make sure you're nice to that mysterious, black clad teen next door, one of these days he just might be stitching up your wound or refinancing your mortgage.


i can somehow agree wit ur opinion....but somehow it still is very confusin...others say that if u want to be a true goth u hav to listen and master all "cool" goth music...but i didnt wanted to be a goth jus to force myself to listen to songs i dun even giv a damn 1st i never tot of bein a goth...i jus woke up 1 mornin and realized that i was a goth...hahaha...u may say it sounds kinda stupid...but thats my story...wenevr i wear black i feel like im not wearin a if my black clothes brings out the true me...wenevr i stay at a dark place i feel safe...i feel comfort...wenevr i pass by this mortuary in goin to school or comin home from school and i see a dead body i feel a thrill...a feelin compared to gettin "horny"...i dont think that there are rules in being a goth...i love art,music and books...its plays a big part of my life...but no one forces me to apreciate a music or art nor book that doesnt apply to my interest...wat im tryin to say is that each goth has its own way of livin up as a goth...i hav not been influencd by any of my frends coz in fact im the only goth here in my hometown Dumaguete located at the don't generalize us!!!
Posted by: Black Listed 12/14/2007 6:14:57 AM

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Posted by: adam 2/19/2008 12:17:52 PM

thankyou for your has helped me alot :)
Posted by: yeoww 3/10/2008 7:50:07 AM

I believe goths really are intelligent people, but they are not happy with their lives. I have many gothic friends and they are all good at school, but mostly they dont talk alot with other people. They often hate everyone, always wants to be alone, mostly depressed, doesnt want to be noticed, and quiet people.
Posted by: Jamie 3/12/2008 6:22:33 AM

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