In the late 1800s, the word "gothic" was used to describe a popular type of novel, mysterious and romantic, filled with dark foreboding and supernatural occurrences. Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley (1797–1851) and published in 1818, is an example of a gothic novel. In the 1980s, a youthful subculture emerged that used the word "gothic" or "goth" to describe itself. Dressed in black, often with hair dyed black against pale skin, these modern goths shared the dark, brooding tone of the gothic novels of the nineteenth century. Young people usually become goths because they feel alienated, or separate, from mainstream society. They are often rejected or ridiculed by their more "normal" peers for one reason or another. Goths embraced that rejection by dressing and acting outlandishly and forming their own separate society. The goth subculture is based not only on magic, mysticism, and romanticizing the dark sides of life but also on tolerance, free-thinking, and challenging traditional gender roles.
Goth culture emerged from the punk (see entry under 1970s—Music in volume 4) subculture of the early 1980s. Punks, too, wore distinctive clothing. They had dyed hair, and pierced body parts as well, although their style was more angry and less mystical than the goths. In the mid-1980s, Anthony H. Wilson (1950–), the manager of a rock band called Joy Division, characterized his band as "gothic" and the term stuck and came to define a lifestyle. That lifestyle is a sort of postmodern medievalism, where devotees combine flowing Victorian clothes with metal studs and buckles, read vampire stories and fairy lore, and listen to the music of bands like Marilyn Manson, White Zombie, and Cradle of Filth.
Adults sometimes worry about the brooding, depressed nature of many goth youth, and their obsession with death and the supernatural. The April 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado, where two goth teenagers shot and killed a teacher and twelve of their fellow classmates and terrorized dozens of others, increased fears that goths are unstable and dangerous. Most goths, however, value humor and gentle theatrics over anger and revenge.
For More Information
Acker, Kerry. Everything You Need to Know about the Goth Scene. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 2000.
Katz, Jon. "What Hath Goth Wrought? A Much Maligned Subculture Hits the Net to Beat a Bad Rap." Utne Reader (No. 96, November-December 1999): pp. 104–8.