Title: Goth Craft: The magickal side of dark culture
Authorship: Raven Digitalis
Publisher: Llewellyn International
Year Published: 2007, First Edition
This book is pretty much a mixed bag and while I kinda get why some things are said the way they are in this book, my experiences won’t really let me sit on my hands about a few of its problems, which would likely seem relatively minor if I were some-one without my experiences.
First off, this book starts off with a chapter introducing people to the Goth subculture –for those who are very new, those who know some stuff but not a lot, and for nerds like me who fact-check everything like an annoying pedant (by the way –that line is foreshadowing the review: I will be an annoying pedant, for the most part, but I am an annoying pedant because I care). There’s a bit of a history which is mostly correct; I have a feeling that I could nit-pick Digitalis’ etymology lesson (he seems to just gloss over the rich literary “chapter” of the etymology, and subsequent cultural influence of the term “gothic”) and his stylistic choices in the differentiation between the Germanic tribes known as Goths and the current Gothic subculture here or there, but he goes into a fair amount of detail and frankly, he doesn’t just seem to make shit up in this chapter on a factor of “truthiness” or “feels”, like a pretty blatant etymological error in Kaldera & Schwartzstein’s Urban Primitive, which still annoys me that it even got a pass.
While the facts about the etymology and origins of the goth subculture are generally correct, he also falls victim to a LOT of sugar-coating on some of the “ideals” touted by goths for about three decades now (more-or-less) when juxtaposed alongside the reality of the situation. He says about as much as there being no such thing as goths who are sexist, racist, queerphobic, and so on, and let me tell you, Internet: I have been in and out of the goth subculture for nearly twenty years (granted, I could make the argument that I’ve been interested in Mod subculture aspects and tropes for longer, like one of my favourite bands as a small child was The Who, but it’s safe to say I’ve had an active role in both subcultures for literally decades), there are relatively few, still puttering around here and there, who are more “elder” than myself (most of whom, like myself, are no longer limiting themselves to the label of “goth”, except when it seems suiting), and while certain attitudes are prominently frowned upon by many, especially the artists who are often credited with building the subculture (or at least giving it its foundation), there is also no shortage of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, and so on within the Gothic subculture. Hell, most of the fashions necessitate either a bourgeoisie income if one lacks some hell of DIY skills. I’ve seen just as many goths (though, to be fair, usually young ‘uns) throw around “The Big N” in Los Angeles as I did in Virginia, a friend of mine who’s a Goth/Industrial DJ semi-recently cross-posted a blog entry from Coilhouse lamenting how the average Industrial music show, and specifically naming Combichrist and their fans as some of the biggest offenders, as little more than a bunch of dudebros in black clobber objectifying women and crying “No homo!” as they smear on marketed-as “guyliner” —after all, can’t use anything with the same debossing on the pencil as your girlfriend uses, lest someone think you’re queer! (as an aside, Digitalis, factually, points out that Industrial is a genre of dark alternative music that evolved alongside and often crossing-over with Gothic rock –something I see very few “purists” who favour deathrock or gothic rock ever acknowledging, though I think it’s more plain ignorance than revisionism — it was certainly a degree of ignorance when I was a dumb kid who insisted that “Industrial and Gothic/deathrock never had anything to do with each-other until some time in the 1990s”), there was once a YouTube account by some relatively popular Denver-area goth-industrial guy who –while his videos were pretty well-made little short films– were steeped in thinly-veiled homophobic commentary, especially his anti-Emokid series in three parts which seriously went so far as to “jokingly” advocate curb-stomping “those fags in Death Cab shirts riding Vespas”, (I don’t know if the account still exists or if the videos are still up anymore, and frankly, I found it so disgusting at the time that I have no interest in looking it up again). If you’ve been reading this shit I write here for forever, then you’re probably aware that when I came out as FTM, every friend I lost was from the Goth scene, and no, not all of them were in or from Michigan, when you have a relative “big name” NYC goth/deathrock DJ telling you “can it, Lady” after you explain in a LiveJournal comment to please use male pronouns, and an ex-friend from an LA band that’s existed in several forms since 1987 is sending you several MySpace nastygrams to tell you that you’re basically garbage over this, and you hear from the grapevine that yes, there’s a certain Midwesterner who decided to try and add that to their smear campaign against you (which few people ever took seriously, but still…), then you start to realise that the goth/industrial/deathrock scenes are NOT wholly anti- all these assorted “-isms” that it’s ideally supposed to be. Hell, I recently found a Tumblr dedicated to calling out shitty behaviour, it’s far from perfect (and arguably “ableist”, seeing as how much of that blog is in text-images that are impossible for someone with computer equipment for the blind and low-vision to read —cos we all know there are never goths with visual impairments, am I right? [coughs]), so clearly I’m not the only ass-hole who recognises this problem.
Frankly, I know the gothic subculture to have some pretty widespread problems that while, ideally, would not go unchecked by anyone in the scene, and would certainly become a big black mark on someone who seemingly has gained such “cred” as to have a recognisable name within the scene, and when I worked my way through that chapter, I couldn’t help but think that Raven Digitalis, as well-meaning as I understand this was intended to be, was just sugar-coating it all for the sake of appearances (like I said, I’ve been into this since the early-mid 1990s, I remember the Columbine shooting [which yes, in reality had nothing to do with Goths, but we sure as hell felt the weight of the world in its aftermath], and Fairuza Balk’s character in The Craft, and I’m conscious enough of current media to acknowledge that the relatively “positive” or at least sympathetic media portrayals of the Gothic subculture from the last twenty years can be counted on one hand, and the negative portrayals still outnumber by several times as many) and thus giving the bad behaviours in the scene a pass to go on as usual, since only maybe a handful of overzealous SJW kids on Tumblr want to even address these problems, and I’ve never seen a single one of them address it in a manner that will actually make the more reasonable people reflect on not just their own potential for bad behaviour, but that which they might’ve let slide for fear of rocking the boat or hoping that some-one else would call it out (don’t confuse this with a “tone argument”; there are seriously ways to say things, even without clear anger, that will absolutely shut down any reasonable discourse with people –like, any “reductio ad Hitlerum” comparison that more often than not paints the speaker as histrionic and simply failing to understand the nuances of human experience). I mean, I guess it’s nice that, as a white, cisgender guy in the goth scene, especially as a relatively prominent DJ and photographer in one of the “flyover states”, he has been the ideal person he expects the scene to be, and presumably to the best of his knowledge, so have others in the scene that he knows, and it’s nice that he’s writing this in hopes of explaining this ideal to people who may be relative nubs, but I dunno, I’m just a little bothered by what I see as a failure to address the fact that there ARE these problems in the scene that need to be called out rather than given a “No true Scotsman” sort of pass that absolves people of the responsibility to calling it out: After all, if Jacob von Eldritch throws around “The Big N” and says that trans people aren’t the gender/s we say we are, then he’s not really a goth, so true goths have no responsibility to call out his bad behaviour —cos that’s how that fallacy is often applied, when you bring up the genocides and conversion by sword commited in the name of Christianity, there are always way more vocal Christians going “oh, well, see, no true Christian would do that sort of thing, so I don’t have to address it!”. We all know that’s BULLSHIT.