Who are Goths? Depressed, violent, and unusually bigoted individuals? Suicidal guys usually involved in the sale and consumption of illegal drugs? Or are they vampires or people who believe they are vampires? Are Goths sado-masochists or Satanists? Or are they crazy artists who can be musicians, painters or other type of medieval artists? Computer wizards? How do you describe Goths? As weird dyers of hair or as users of white makeup maybe?
All the above terms or descriptions have been applied to refer to the Goth. Some of them are in a way descriptive of how Goths depict themselves. Nevertheless, most of these terms are derogatory and ignorant of the Gothic lifestyle. This article does not concern itself with describing the Gothic lifestyle though. One thing that is of interest is the origin of the Gothic subculture. From where and when did they rise? What was their founding motivation? What was their early history if they have any? Those pertinent questions will be the subject of discussion in this brief article.
Let us begin at the very genesis of the central thread of good versus evil in gothic history. The term Gothic was in use since the Renaissance. It was mainly used to signify a specific mysterious art style prevalent during the Middle Ages. Etymologically, the term Gothic has roots in Germanic languages, referring to a German tribe called the Goths. This was the point where we can call the genesis of an evil style in Gothic history. The Goths had invaded the land of the present day Italy thus breaking the Roman Empire. The inhabitants largely blamed the Goths for ruining their share of the Roman Empire and resultant civilization. To them the Goths had been barbaric. Italians thus referred to the invaders lifestyle and art as Gothic. Such art includes a definitive architecture style prevalent also during the Middle Ages. A good example of Gothic architecture includes the Notre-Dame cathedral.
The Romantic Movement of the 1800s saw many people seek a revival of past art forms. It was during this age that medieval and gothic things returned to fashion. The movements embraced some emotive and nonrational aspects of an individual’s creative power. The intent was to escape from ‘boring’ contemporary art. The escape route was in most times through medieval lifestyles, religious radicalism, supernatural cults and naturalistic beliefs. It was during this Romantic age that Gothic references started to be associated with dark, strange and bizarre lifestyles. A perceptible evil style in Gothic history was set in motion and it would later on become the prevalent motif of anything Goth.
The lifestyles achieved, the symbols used, the culture crafted, and the theme of art conceived then bears a remarkable similarity with the modern day gothic subculture. The Romantic writers such as Shelley, Byron Verlaine and Baudelaire capture this central thread of good versus evil in gothic history in their work. The interest is in the dark realms of the human conscience. They are more concerned about the gloomy and sadistic experiences of being human and in most cases evil wins any confrontation of good and evil in Gothic history.
Romantic literature, pretty much the gothic subculture literature, has a central theme being sexual obsessions. Femme fatales and sinful orgies of delight constitute the Romantic sense or erotic evil. In any balance of good and evil in Gothic history, this period shows that Gothic subculture was based on an evil outlook from the very beginning and not anything good. It was more like the triumph of evil and darkness over the good. Such a conception is brilliantly depicted in the book ‘The Romantic Agony’ written by Mario Praz.
That candid and sometimes horrific Romantic spirit seeped into visual arts. Gothic painters such as the famed Casper David Friedrich preferred dark, gloomy and desolate landscapes. The same was expressed in architecture, with the neo-gothic style invading 19th Century church buildings. Cathedrals gained a trademark gothic façade at this time.
But the most prolific age of the Gothic history was in late 1800’s. The preference for a dark and bizarre life was captured at that time by the evolution of the Gothic Novel. The literature confronted a dark, shadowy part of the human self. Most notable, it was at this time that Gothic lifestyle begun challenging accepted social norms and conventional culture. The ingredients of everything Gothic became horror, terror, mystery and out-of-the-ordinary contextual settings. The typical characters of Gothic fiction emerged as vampires, villains, cannibalistic individuals, evil spirits, monsters etc. Mary Shelley’s novel ‘Frankenstein’ or Edgar Allan Poe’s work explore the evil style in Gothic history immaculately well. ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker is actually the staple of modern day Gothic film and literature.
Stoker crafted the vampirism traditions that ruled the 19th century literature and which contemporary authors developed and gave a Gothic edge. Anne Rice’s novel ‘Interview with the Vampire’ which has been reproduced in film is based on such a vampire theme (Lestat de Lioncourt). And so the evil style in Gothic history finally saw its way into what we are watching today.
This central thread of good versus evil in gothic history, as traced from early Gothic ideologies, was the very basis on which the 1980’s gothic movement was based. Society regarded everything Gothic as evil. The Goths on their part loved it when they lived and reproduced art forms showing the reign of evil, of darkness, and of death.
Today, the same motif of brewing evil to destroy the social good is still the very basic ligament that holds Gothic film or literature together. When the Goth movement surfaced in the early 80s, just preceded by the 70s Punk, the same central thread of good versus evil in gothic history was distinctive. Even today, the same thread of a non-conformist and libellous alternative culture lives on. Later history of the Goth can be followed up in The Vampire Book (Encyclopaedia of the Undead) if you are still interested.