There was a time, not long ago, when, pretty much anywhere in America, you could pick up a whiff of Djarum Black clove smoke and follow the wafting aromatic trail to an alley where a group of chubby corsetted girls caked up in mime makeup and skinny boys in lacy black ladies’ undergarments clustered around a pile of crushed out kretek filters and debated the finer points of the latest Switchblade Symphony album.
The American Goth was a magnificent paradox of a creature, at once completely self-aware and completely oblivious.
Every detail—from the precise black of the eyeliner, be it Black as Hitler’s Heart or Black as the Devil’s Butthole, to the gauge of the chain connecting the nipple clamps was intricately mussed over, fussed over, and seemingly designed to elicit the maximum possible amount of ridicule.
The goths were extremely important to me when I was in high school, as I imagine they were to a lot of people. They made themselves so visible, so intentionally, extravagantly, and ostentatiously weird, that those with a predilection for fucking with weirdos had absolutely no choice but to focus their energy on the goths. They saved the other nerdgroups a lot of stress and we repaid them terribly; instead of thanking them, we joined in on the slaughter. They were just so easy to mock; it wasn’t even sport.
Last September, a law banning the sale of flavored cigarettes went into effect. Great idea, I thought. Anything to keep kids from smoking. But as I read more about it, I found that cloves fell under the ban as well, and for the first time in years, I thought about the goths. I imagined them scurrying from convenience store to convenience store, under the PVC-melting August sun, stockpiling cloves for the long drought to come, and for perhaps the first time ever, I felt a twinge of sympathy for the goths.
And then I thought about something; besides the weirdo with fangs that hangs out at our karaoke bar, I haven’t seen a single living, breathing, Doc Martened, cold-blooded American Goth in years. Sure there are shades and hints around–in the adopted Victorian sensibilities of those glorified cosplayers the steampunks; in the Twilightist movement’s romanticization of pale, dowdy teens; in the angular haircuts of a thousand eye-linered poppunk bassists. Bad cover versions, every one of them a watered-down echo of the real thing. I wonder, are real goths facing extinction, or have they just gone underground with the mainstreaming of their proclivities?
Because I can’t imagine a world without them.
I believe they’re out there somewhere–a crowd where every girl looks like Gene Simmons, every boy, Marilyn Manson’s geeky younger brother, sharing a twenty dollar pack of imported Indonesian cloves and shielding a new generation of nerds from life’s harsh realities.