A Study of Gothic Subculture

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Updated 3-12-2009
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Gang Definition  |  Goth Gang?

What Is a Gang?

From "Not My Kid: Gang Prevention for Parents" a pamphlet sponsored by the Utah Attorney General's Office and the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice:

    A gang is a group of people who have a common name, sign or identifying symbol, and who engage in criminal activity. Both males and females from all neighborhoods, races, cultures, religions and economic levels are affiliated with gangs.

From "Kids and Gangs: What You Should Know" by the Salt Lake Area Gang Project:

    A gang is a group of people who hang out together. They usually have a name and a certain color, sign or symbol that identifies them. They also commit crimes together. The name of a gang, their color, or the fact that they hang out together is not the most important part of gangs. What gang members do Is the most important part, and what gangs do is commit crimes. "Gangs" always commit crimes. These crimes hurt people, and may include graffiti, fighting, stealing, and violence. In some gangs, you may have to be beaten up to join.

    There is nothing wrong with kids hanging out together. In fact, there are many positive groups and clubs in the area that you can join. These groups are not gangs, because they do not commit crimes. Clubs like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the Boys and Girls Clubs, local sports leagues and groups in school such as the Unity Movement and Kids Against Violence are good for kids...

Call the 24-hour hotline 1-800-98-MAGIC to reach Mobilize Against Gangs In Communities in Salt Lake for more information about gangs and help for concerned parents.

Are Goths a Gang?

While the image of Goths doing a drive-by shooting is enough to send your average Goth into a hysterical laughing fit, Goths have been called a gang because of some criminal activity that does honestly occur. The criminal activity described by the media includes ritual sacrifices and heavy drug use. However, crime committed by a Gothic stems from that individual's choice, not a gang-like leadership structure or organization that promotes it. There is no initiation to become a Gothic. The fact that you'll find a lot of Goths who wear black means that it's a general preference, not a requirement for being gothic. Sacrifices are extremely rare to nonexistent. If a person makes a "ritual sacrifice," it's usually caused by mental instability, not by that person being gothic or not. While drug use tends to be common, it is not required. Again, it's a matter of personal choice. I do not think there's a significant difference between the amount of drug use by gothics than by any other random group of people. See some of the drug use statistics from those profiled here. Goths do not fit the traditional idea of what a gang is, but there is a lot of uncertainty over whether they qualify because a growing number of teenagers committing crimes call themselves gothic and visibly stand out in their bizarreness. Goths do not commit crime in greater numbers than teenagers in general. Yet because pleasant, law-abiding Goths are not the ones who make the news, people get an inaccurate representation of the whole from the actions of a few.

From The Writing Is on the Wall 1997 Utah Gang Update, "Who Are These Kids? Straight Edge, Goths, and Skinheads" by Michelle Arciaga, Salt Lake Area Gang Project. [My commentary is included in red.]


You've seen them before -- in school, in the mall, in the neighborhood. With the startling white makeup, pitch black or purple hair, and black lipstick, fingernails, and eye makeup, the youth in this area who consider themselves to be "Goths" certainly stand out in the crowd.

The Gothic look is somewhere between a punk and a vampire. Many favor Victorian-style clothes, like those from The Vampire Lestat. Others simply may dress all in black, particularly with boots and lots of silver jewelry. With many, the hair is dyed ultra black, and an attempt is made to have skin as white as possible (dead white, some might say). Partially, at least, this attire comes form an avid fascination with both death and undeath (as in vampirism).

On an Internet site titled There's gothic and then there's GOTHIC, one "goth" attempted to explain the motivation for youth who identify with this movement.

"...True goth has less to do with the external appearance, and more to do with what's inside. Most people see the world through rose-colored glasses.... Goths see the world as a darker place and like it that way. We don't go around wishing for the rain to end, we wait for the clouds to come out and hide the sun... Gothdom transcends that. We embrace the dark, the weird, the bloody and the dead. We don't lie to ourselves. We know the world isn't some happy rose garden... Life is a bitch. It kicks you, it stomps on you, it sucks you in, grinds you around for a bit, and spits you out. Some people might let it get to them... Others, however, learn to deal. We might turn our backs on some things. You might not see us making small talk at some useless dinner party, or sitting around getting skin cancer at the beach, but we learn to enjoy life as we know and see it."

In interviewing local young adults who might be considered "gothic," although they themselves stated that this is only a label, it was immediately apparent that they are not average. These youth were well-read, sensitive, and very able to express their ideas. While they might look strange, there is nothing strange about their motivation to become part of this subculture. Many stated that in Utah, being Gothic is part of a conscious choice. "I knew I would never fit in with the majority culture. As a Gothic, I'm rejecting them, instead of the other way around," one young woman stated.

Goths separate themselves into three groups. [This is incorrect. There is not a separation into three groups although there may be general tendency for one of the three she describes by individual people. Goths are a wide variety of people with different interests and backgrounds.] Some may be involved in witchcraft, Satanism or pagan beliefs, and are fascinated with death. [Witchcraft and paganism have nothing to do with a fascination with death.] Another group likes to pretend or role play as vampires. [Read more on vampires and role playing here.] A third group may get into trouble, literally believing that they are vampires. As with any youth trend, there are different levels of involvement depending on the individual. While many gothics are pagan or Wiccan (witchcraft religion), one young woman I interviewed is LDS. Religion is not necessarily a factor in gothic involvement.

Like the Straight Edge movement, the Gothic movement seems closely associated with music, and seems to have originated with Siouxsie Sioux, (of Siouxsie and the Banshees), who reportedly used the phrase "gothic" in the 80's to describe a new direction the band was taking. [This bit of information was taken from the alt.gothic FAQ. "Entranced: The Siouxsie and the Banshees Story" never mentions that she coined the term, but rather that the music press tagged the band with the term. While Siouxsie and the Banshees was one of the first bands to be called gothic, I do not think she was the one who began the term. Read Origins of Gothic for more.] Several other bands, including Bauhaus (one of their first records was entitled "Bela Lugosi's Dead"), The (Southern Death) Cult, Sisters of Mercy and Fields of the Nephilim were also labeled as gothic because of their practice of frequently dressing all in black, with extremely black hair. [Perhaps more important than how these musicians looked is the different direction they took with their music. See Music Classifications for more.]

Fields of the Nephilim was one of the first "gothic" bands to become really fixated on death, as well. Most of these bands grew out of the punk movement, and the fans also like to dress in black, imitating their favorite performers. Some fans of the "gothic" bands also connected this movement in their minds to the Victorian Gothic revival and Gothic horror novels, and the connection exists to this day. [All of this information is loosely based on fact although not entirely accurate. It was probably gathered from the alt.goth FAQ or some other websites not knowing what information is truly accurate.]

In this area, gothics may frequent "Confetti's", an all ages dance club, or Caffiends the Coffee Bar (connected to Confetti's) in Salt Lake City. These two businesses draw Goths from all over the state on weekends.

Many may ask if this is a positive movement, especially since elements of it are undeniably disturbing. In one interview with officers, a young woman from a gothic group in Davis County indicated that her group had been involved in Satanism and some bizarre sexual rituals. In another case, a gothic in Davis County was involved in a combination murder/suicide. [There are many non-gothic youth who would also fit this description.]

There seems to be some association between the gothic movement and drugs. In Murray, most of the school suspensions which occurred during 1996 occurred as a result of drug use or dealing by local gothics. There are several reports of gothics who are on probation from around Salt Lake County -- although their numbers are far shy of the number of gang members. In most cases, their criminal behavior does not appear to be linked to being gothic, but rather to lifestyle choices related to their personalities and family situations. However, most law enforcement personnel simply do not have enough information about this movement to make a statement on way or another as to any organized criminal activity as part of this subculture. [Most of the reason I began this site was to provide them with more information. There is no organized criminal activity. Any criminal activity is due to individual choice.]

What's With All the Black?

(Favorite Gothic Responses)

  • It matches my soul.
  • My mom makes me dress this way.
  • I'm mourning the death in your family -- Oh, didn't you know?
  • I don't have to worry about color coordinating.
  • I wear black because I'm hiding from "them."
  • I aspire to be a priest/nun
  • It matches my hair.
  • I died.
  • I robbed a mime and black clothes are all he had.
  • All my pink clothes are dirty.
  • Because every day is Halloween.

    (From alt.gothic) [alt.gothic is a Usenet newsgroup]

The Goth Test (Excerpts) [The Goth Test is meant to be humorous, an example of the many ways goths poke fun at themselves. It's not meant to be taken seriously.]

  • Do you have black, purple or white hair?
  • Do you dye your hair?
  • Do you own more eyeliner pencils than pencils?
  • Could you underpin a building with your foundation?
  • Have you been to a goth club?
  • Have you got naturally pointy teeth?
  • Have you worn plastic vampire teeth other than at Halloween?
  • Are you a vampire?
  • Have you ever drunk blood?
  • Do you own a tarot deck?
  • Do you own lots of weird silver jewelry?
  • Do you own mainly black clothes?
  • Do the people you meet on the streets often ask you if you're on your way to a funeral?

    (From www.vamp.org/Gothic)