On a long, meandering weekend walk, it’s always a delight to cross paths with a friendly-faced dog. Or witness a tender moment between an old couple seemingly still as in love as the day they first met. But the vision that gives me the most incredible glow in my heart is that of a ragtag gathering of awkward goth teens - for the purposes of this article moving forward, I will refer to any gathering of these teens as a ‘gaggle' of goths.
This ‘gaggle’ inevitably gives off the pungent air of passive standoffish-ness only goth teens can produce. It would be best if you didn’t go near them. Not for fear of attack or reprisal. Instead, you will never break through the impenetrable wall of "you don’t understand us" energy that hangs heavy in the air like ominous black clouds, even on the sunniest of days.
Before I continue, I want to put in a disclaimer. I use the word ‘goth’ as the broadest of broad brushstrokes to cover an almost incomprehensible number of nuanced literary, aesthetic, art and musical subcultures that could be considered ‘goth’ by the sprawling masses of the uninitiated. From the classic horror aesthetic of Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker's gothic monsters, the pseudo intellectual ‘I love Robert Smith, big hair and eyeliner’ indie goths of the 80s, to the "cut my life into pieces" nu-metallers and jet black cyclops emo kids of the late 90s and early 00s. Each could be described as ‘goth’ based solely on the black dress and make-up styles alone. But it's the extra layer of self-proclaimed and seemingly self-inflicted misery that takes any teen to top-tier goth.
So, should friends and family be worried about our young people, exploring the 'dark side' and forming friendships with the aforementioned 'gaggle'? In the words of Neil Hannon of the band ‘The Divine Comedy’ many a parent has thought,
“That music you play, I'm not saying it's bad, it just seems terribly sad.
Is everything all right?
I'd like to think you'd tell me if something was wrong."
Psychology and music therapy practices tell us that as young people begin to grapple new life experiences, feeling part of a friendship group that engages with literature, art and music considered sad, angry or depressing can help them explore and express those emotions more easily, in a safe and seemingly less judgemental environment. Much like when we listen to a 'break-up' song on loop for a week or cry when watching a sad movie, these 'dark' behaviours don't necessarily make us feel happy. However, they do allow young people to release emotions, plus learn to regulate and more quickly bounce back from the inevitable rollercoaster of ups and downs life will bring.
The more recent ‘dark academia’ and ‘e-boy/girl’ trends show the evergreen appeal and evolution of the gothic aesthetic. In parallel, young people are discovering and reimagining TV shows and movies with strong goth overtones such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Craft and Heathers on platforms like TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. Even the teenage vampire franchise Twilight is having a cult renaissance with the kids who were in nappies when the films initially came out in the late 00s.
So while the regimental dress code and outburst of "you just don't understand!" across the dinner table can seem unnecessary and overly theatrical to many parents, these behaviours allow young people to practice and refine the behaviours that will set them up for a more balanced adult life.
The extreme opposite to the goth life ethos would constantly be projecting perfect positivity. Always happy, always thriving, always looking and feeling great. In recent years this behaviour has become commonly known as 'Toxic Positivity' or 'Tragic Optimism’. We are only just starting to truly understand how this notion of always 'living my best life', so commonly portrayed in shows like Love Island and on social platforms, is possibly far more harmful to young people than the seeming doom and gloom of being a goth.
So, if you see the young person in your life is starting to take on a more limited colour palette in their wardrobe choices - or, the music coming from their room starts to have a more sombre or shouty-shouty tone - embrace it. Support it. Maybe even encourage it. Because, to return to the wisdom of Neil Hannon, you may find that actually, they are a very happy goth.