Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rewind: Goth

I approach this topic as I've been doing a lot of things on my blog lately -- as a consummate outsider. Unlike Winona Ryder's character in Beetlejuice, I myself am anything but "strange and unusual." I rarely wear black and I live for the longest days of summer when it's already 70 degrees and six in the morning, and the sun doesn't go down until 9:30 in the evening. I generally don't come out at night. The "gothiest" thing I've ever done was cultivate a long-standing, and confusing, crush on Bauhaus's (and later Love & Rockets) Daniel Ash during latter part of my high school career.

To be honest, listening to that music now makes me feel like a petulant teenager: a bored, white, suburbanite with a little too much self-indulgent angst. I realize I'm probably harboring some serious stereotypes of goth subculture, but since its 70s/80s heyday, it's become somewhat of a punch line. (Or a brilliant marketing tool -- see Twilight, et al.) And that's sad, because there's a lot of transgression and subversion of traditional gender roles, and during my teenage years MTV actually played a lot of these bands during most people's waking hours.

I did a quick tag search on last.fm, and while I saw a lot of same iconic bands of my youth: The Cure, Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, they're all fronted by men. But in my memory, goth fans were usually girls. Sure there was Siouxsie Sioux, but the big, mainstream bands -- the ones that commercially broke were usually led by guys. I'm sure that says more about the music industry in general than it does the scene overall, but it does make one question, "Where are all the great, iconic women in goth?"

In a book simply called Goth, Laren M.E. Goodland says: "[...] goth masculinity is in many respects and ideal subject for a postmodern theory of gender performativity. Like the drag artist or the lipstick lesbian, the male goth is a figure who trouble gender, 'enact[ing],' in Judith Butler's words, 'the very structure of impersonation by which any gender is assumed.'"

But I found that when trying to find videos that feature female performers, I had to step outside the boundaries a bit, or step outside the boundaries of what I consider goth -- the mainstream concept of goth as heard on radio in the 80s. (This is part of parcel of being an aging music blogger: you're cultural references become more and more irrelevant each year.) I had the same problem when I tried to write a post about women in "power pop." There just weren't any. Or if there were, they flew under the radar, or were absorbed by other genre's of rock. And, as transgressive as a style it was, the only archetype offered to women was that of "witch." Though I think there's a lot of strength in that, it's still another version of the good girl/bad girl trope.

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