Being Gothic during a pandemic
Pity for the poor Gothic. One minute, he or she is minding his own morbid business, combing his raven black hair in a bird’s nest and planning his outfits; black, black and blacker – so slimming and goes with all face tattoo colors. And the next minute, being an introverted loner obsessed with near death became a national pastime.
Gothics, for any gentle reader who believes that popular music ended with the death of the skiffle, are a subculture of youth. (Although, as with most originally youth-oriented sects, most members are now middle-aged and have plenty of free time to soberly think about than a neck tattoo saying ‘DIE YOUNG STAY PRETTY ‘might not have been the best choice as the young, firm skin it was scrawled on resembles the gnarled neck of a turkey.) They love the miserable music of bands called Christian Death and Dead Can Dance; you might have heard the excellent pop group The Cure, which was the tip of the upset iceberg for many years. They are interested in Satanism, witchcraft and vampires, but, like many young seekers of offense, there is an air of protest in them. One cannot help but think that these are mostly innocent wounded people who have not been able to happily adapt to our glorious and corrupt world for fun and profit and thus have gone as far as possible to reject it; basically a gothic is a romantic who has been chosen last in games once too often.
Their essential sacrificial lamb nature in Big Bad Wolf clothes could be seen in the heartbreaking 2007 murder of young goth girl Sophie Lancaster, who was killed by a rabid mob of teenagers as she strolled through a park simply to because of the way she was dressed. Her parents said, “We were proud to know our daughter. She was funny, kind, loving and courageous with a social conscience and values that made her a joy to know. Not being able to see her blossom to her full potential is a tragedy beyond words. More fished than fished, it is the ghost of Sophie that we see in the recently arrived Coronation Street the character of Nina, a sweet gothic girl shunned by narrow-minded street bat-watchers when she seeks to join their club. As a friend lustfully put it, “I loved sleeping with goths because they were very kind by nature – real cuddly monsters.”
As gentle as they are, it’s still easy enough to laugh at them for the simple reason that, as we’re all going to die eventually and probably begrudgingly, talking about death and trying to make it sexy seems like a complete silly thing. It’s tempting when a gothic loses a loved one to say, “Well, now you’ve got something to be kidding.” But shape watchers think differently. Writer Michele Kirsch says: “I have never known a Gothic who really wanted to die; it takes a lot of time, effort, money and life to look so dead ”. But my friend Julia remembers: “I was goth for a while and a young boy I knew hanged himself. I became a punk then, for death was suddenly brutal and cruel – not romantic, like Chatterton’s paintings. ‘
Regardless of the point of view, in the past this has been a private dilemma for individual goths – but now the pandemic will make us all a lot more familiar with industrial-scale death. (I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but when I see photos of the brand new Nightingale Hospital at the ExCel Conference Center in London, I can’t help but view it in six months and I have afraid it looks like nothing as long as the Black Hole Of Calcutta with extra fans and vending machines.) So what do Death Worshipers do when it looks like everyone is going to die? Do they continue to be morbid – or do they take a contrarian point of view and rejoice?
One thing that will compound their grief is the fact that this month’s All Tomorrow’s Ghosts music festival in Whitby has been postponed, for the rather ironic reason that we all now have a very good chance of being the ghosts of tomorrow. Hopefully, they postponed it to Halloween, which made me wonder exactly how we’re going to celebrate the annual ghoul party this fall. I’m not a good Christian even if I try, but I’m repelled by how the toddler death cult often scrambles to find space alongside merchandise celebrating the birth of Christ. Is it worth dressing up and roaming the streets like brain dead zombies when you’ve had it in your house for almost a year?
I asked writer and historian Violet Fenn (who runs the excellent Gothic website sexdeathrocknroll.com and is the author of Sex and sexuality in Victorian Britain) whether the response to an actual death of a loved one, or a death threat to oneself – both now real in the days of the virus – is somehow different if one belongs to a cultural group that finds in theory cool and sexy death?
‘I think it’s a misconception that goths “like” death. I can only speak for myself, but I find Gothic culture and literature fascinating because of the potential for eternal life, not eternal death. I love cemeteries because they are a physical memorial to those who came before us – as long as we remember the deceased, they never really left. In a situation like the current pandemic, I am with the majority in the sense that I would really like to see as few people as possible die.
Will the plague see reinforcements in the Gothic legions, or as death becomes commonplace, will they end up feeling, well, mundane? They are not the most original people to begin with; social commentator Jim Owen noted that “goths seem to be a group that other people have imagined for. From the Addams family and the Munsters to Siouxsie, they never had to think of anything on their own. It wasn’t a real fashion thing or even a coherent musical thing. It all looked like a bad Halloween party full of unpopular kids who were too scared to do drugs, so they felt like they had done drugs. It was just novelty music – “Monster Mash” without the smiles (smirk). ‘
But to be fair, with perspective, all the youth bands look a little bit silly now; Stormzy changing her panties at the BRITs seems like something from the Zeppelin Age. (Or Led Zeppelin.) What rubbish is rap – anything that boasts and demands respect from owning an expensive watch? Go stack the shelves – then I will respect you. (And BTW, the more ‘bitches’ you have, the more likely you are to die. I’m just saying’ …) In the worthless arrogance of rap, you can see the cretinism that harasses emergency services and loots them. excluding licenses.
Goths won’t do that. Always stronger in the suburbs, they are now hanging on there in the provinces. Maybe they will surprise us again. I can see them, at ease with death, sitting quietly in hospitals reading Bram Stoker to old people. The squad of Gothic volunteers; because when the going gets tough, we’re all team players – even the walking dead.
Julie burchill is a Brighton-based journalist and author.
Photo by: Getty