This is probably the hardest question any goth could try and answer, one may as well ask 'what is society?' as it has so many facets it defies any definitive explanation.
Goth in its simplest form, is a subculture. A group of people who feel comfortable within each others company. There is no specific thing that defines what you need to do or be to fit into the goth scene (except of course the implied black clothing). People in the goth scene all have different musical tastes, follow different religions, have different occupations, hobbies, and fashion sense.
Why do people become goths?
Most goths become goths because they have been spurned by 'normal' society because the way they want to live their lives does not fit in with how most people are told to live theirs. Goths are free thinkers, people who do not accept the moral rules of society because they're told 'This is just how it is' or 'This is what God says!'. Rather goths tend to listen to what you have to say, and make up their own mind. This kind of free thinking and rejection of dogma earns only rejection in todays society.
However because of this rejection from 'normal' society, goths have banded together to associate with other free thinkers. This has a beneficial effect on both the individual and society as a whole. For the individual they have a sense of belonging, and friends they can associate with. For society it removes one more misfit filled with rage from society's streets.
This of course is not the case for all goths. Many goths today are goths for a variety of other reasons. They like the music, or the clubs are better, they have goth friends and joined in with them, or they just like staying up late nights and goths are the only ones awake to talk to.
The gothic stereotype
Many stereotypes of goths exist these days. It seems everyone has their own way to define 'what is goth'. From the stereotypes based on clothing to music right up to the stereotypes of all goths being satanists or part of some kind of cult. Categorically, all of these are false.
The goth scene is just as widely varied as society in general. There are many different professions represented in the scene, from highly skilled professionals like doctors and lawyers, to tradesman, to technically minded people to clerical workers. Many different musical tastes exist (and not all of them goth, there is a HUGE 80's following in the goth scene for some reason). The fashion varies vastly from goth to goth from the traditional flowing victorian style garments to the buckled and studded style regalia (also called industrial style, which is often closely related with goths, and have come to an understanding of co-existance, if uneasily at times).
How do I get into goth?
This is the simplest part of the page. Go check out our Community section over on the left, and use it to find out whats going on in your local area. Goths tend to be accepting and open minded. Just turn up to a club or event wearing all black and your already in the goth scene. You'll pick it up as you go along (just a hint though, lay off the vampire comments!).
The gothic sense of humour is highly developed, and often leans toward the satirical. Quietly laughing at the more idiotic and less tolerant factions of society that seem to think yelling out of cars at us makes them cooler. Goths have learned to laugh at themselves and see society in a much different light. They have had to, and it is a trait most would not give up.
Goths have for the most part (not unanimously of course, but mostly) dropped all forms of prejudice. Noone is afraid within the goth scene to come out as being gay, and noone has to hide their religion for fear of scorn from their peers or zealots wanting to convert them from the arms of Satan. In fact because of these facts (and the general lack of prejudice) the goth scene has a large proportion of gays/bisexuals, and followers of non-mainstream religions and views. This of course is the most important aspect of gothdom, and why most goths became goths in the first place, tolerance.
But they think weird!
Ah, but this is the beauty of goths. Most subjects that are taboo in 'normal' society are freely discussed and debated about. Death, religion, magick, mysticism, and many other topics that are only roached carefully outside of the gothic community. Most goths have realised that fear is only a reaction instilled in us by dogmatic propaganda, and once you realise there is nothing to fear from the topic, whats to stop you discussing it?
Goths often revel in the fear given to them by society as a whole. Often the behavior exhibited by society to them based on society's perception of them from stereotypes, rumour, etc are a constant source of entertainment. Of course, most of the rumours are totally unfounded, goths are people like everyone else, however when you already have a reputation, going for the shock factor is often far too tempting to see how much society at large is willing to believe (or deduce) with only a little encouragement.
This does not totally fall away once you get inside the scene unfortunately, and goths are all too often tempted to try for the shock factor within the scene (which turns out more tacky than shocking). Goths when you get down to it can be a rather pretentious bunch, trying for those extra 'goth points' on the gothier than thou scale, but it adds to the enjoyment.
History of Goth
Modern goth (ignoring where the name itself originally comes from) started in the early 80's as part of the punk subculture (which is itself was a rejection of most societal values, and anything considered part of the 'norm'). The phrase was coined by the band manager of Joy Division, Anthony H. Wilson, who described the band as 'Gothic compared with the pop mainstream'. The term stuck, and as punk eventually died, Goth survived and became its own subculture. The punk clothing and hairstyles mellowed, and the core 'rejection of society' attitude alone lived on in the gothic subculture. Over time this itself has been modified to be more of a 'no more blind acceptance of society's values' as opposed to rejection because it was there to be rejected (and because you could get away with it!).
Movies such as The Crow, and bands such as the Bauhaus helped establish the gothic image as dark, depressing, and even evil. As more and more 'dark' movies came out, numbers in the gothic subculture expanded, and there is now a gothic community in almost every major city around the world, and quite a number of towns have their own representative contingent. Nowdays there are more goth bands around than ever, and it has turned from an 80's phenomenon into a 90's way of life for many people. Unlike the punk subculture that it spawned from, there even exists a class of mature goths, still following the scene around even past their 20's and into their 30's and beyond.
Please note that the above is the opinion of the author, and that there is no definitive answer to the question "What is Goth?", so opinions and answers will vary.
© 2000,2001 Preston A. Elder