Leah Bush, 38, a doctoral student in American studies and anthropology at the University of Maryland in College Park, watched the proceedings from her Baltimore home. Since 2014, Bush has chronicled the rituals of his ancestors in the Gothic community of Maryland. His argument is that “participation in the Gothic subculture presents an alternative to aging by culture”.
In other words, there is a better, more gothic way to grow old and overcome life’s many challenges. This is an assumption that Bush pursued in her masters thesis, and last year she began attending virtual gothic parties in a final round of fieldwork before defending her more doctoral thesis. late this year.
Bush’s emphasis on “ancient Goths” makes her unusual in the specialist world of Gothic studies – just as her academic good faith set her apart in her side concert, which until the pandemic involved playing the guitar for one. 80s gothic rock band and black waves performing on the east coast.
As Bush and his Gothic Studies colleagues explain, the so-called ancient Goths – who came of age with music decades ago – have a sort of lifelong road map that does not exist for them. fans of younger musical genres.
To begin with, there is the subculture’s deep reverence for the ancient. “In music, the emphasis is not on youth,” Bush tells me. “These are more universal themes. Lyrically, it casts a wider net than most pop music. For some reason, one word from Cure comes to mind, the opening of Cure’s “Pornography” album: “It doesn’t matter if we all die. “
“The Goths value experience and history. … And that makes them more reflective about the aging process, ”says Lauren Goodlad, professor of English at Rutgers University and co-editor of the book“ Goth: Undead Subculture ”. Creepy Victorian dolls, haunted chalices, the collected works of Baltimore’s own Edgar Allan Poe: Gothic icons take on the patina of age.
Bush’s research subjects confirm this. There is the veteran Goth-ster who is also an Anglican priest – and sees little contradiction between the two appeals. “Jesus,” he asserts, “was the most counter-cultural figure who ever lived.” There’s the married woman who kicks off a second act peddling the sinister accessories of Gothic fashion: black leather jackets for men, dark velvet dresses for women – and vice versa (Gothic bars are second after clubs. queer in their acceptance of androgyny and gender play).
Another Bush informant, a prominent DJ of the Baltimore darkwave scene named Neska, praises the Goths’ willingness to explore emotions like sadness and fear. “I think [darkness and light] completely balance each other out, and I think they’re both necessary to be a full person and live a life. … If there was no darkness, we wouldn’t appreciate the light.
Bush says his hometown of Baltimore is a harder Gothic city than New York or DC Unable to ‘have it all’, many older Gothic friends of Bush – mostly in their fifties – had to choose between continuing their path in the Gothic nightlife or pursuing goals like higher education and parenthood. Some have chosen to prioritize their Gothic families. “Their life is not perfect. No one is. But they seem happy with the choices they made, ”Bush says. “I think Goth is a way to keep people happy.”
“Happy Goth” may sound like an oxymoron – but that’s the point. Bush argues that the Goths’ success in aging has a lot to do with their ability to juggle opposing, seemingly paradoxical energies. Take the emotional intensity of the Goths: while off-putting to some, the Goths’ willingness to exploitDark feelings such as hopelessness, sadness and hopelessness, rather than suppressing them, may prove to be healthier in the long run, Bush says. Equally vital is the Goths’ ability to find humor, irony, and beauty in so-called “ugly” sources, such as the flowers that grow near a cemetery or the absurd frailties of the aging body. In a culture, for example, that already treats older women as scary, why not own that and become the most fabulous Grand Lady of Darkness the world has ever seen?
According to Bush, the most important element of the subculture is a strong sense of community. Goths feel united in their embrace of difference: as one older Goth puts it, she’s grateful to have a scene “with people my age and maybe a little older, who still live by their own.” conditions, where they said: I’m older but still wanna go out, still wanna listen to wild and crazy music, still wanna sound weird. “
Bush believes that same community spirit will help the Goths navigate their way through the terrors of the pandemic. What she discovered, while walking the virtual gothic nights of the world, inspired her: “We are finding new ways to connect.”
Indeed, as DC’s Virtual Cryfest began to calm down, the mood was sort of both dark and light. As a farewell reminder, the DJ put his cat down and played “Fire in Cairo” by The Cure: “Eastern hollows catch / The dying sun / The night follows / The silence and the dark … / And through the darkness / Your eyes shine. “
There was death on the set list that night, and a lot of stuff – but there was also dance and pageantry and life. “It was literally the best hour of my week. Thank you, ”wrote one participant as the crowd bid their final farewells.
David Walter is a writer in New York.