alt.gothic and the net.goths

alt.gothic is the grandaddy of them all. It is the original online resource dedicated to the gothic lifestyle, subculture, and music— accessible from virtually every ISP worldwide, through any newsreader software. Though the actual scope of its influence is difficult to quantify, it is defintely vast and far-reaching.

Though many hate to admit it, this newsgroup is largely responsible for the current wave of popularity gothic music and culture seems to be enjoying. For the first time in history, people who felt a connection to this aesthetic could communicate, support, and encourage their fellows across the planet. Before the advent of this user-friendly medium any number of fledgling goths might have buried their darker inclinations and focused on other aspects of their lives. Any number of elder goths might have talked themselves into believing it was a phase for them to outgrow. Instead, in the saturation of information, the culture began to regerminate (and reinvent itself) online, and it gradually spilled over into a tangible renaissance in clubs and renewed support for gothic bands. The support of peers, albeit virtual phantoms connected by bytes and cables, was enough to turn the isolation and alienation felt by thousands into a sense of belonging. And it snowballed.

In jokes from threads, and the presence of key personalities, gave online goths— self dubbed as net.goths— an identity beyond music and club culture. Phrases like "Nice boots... wanna fuck?" spilled over into bumper stickers and t-shirts, but never lost their connection to a futuristic medium which had paradoxically revitalized a culture fascinated with antiquity. As time went on, its annual real-life gathering (Convergence) became inevitable, because the online goth life became an encompassing outlet for frustration, creativity, and community.

And goth culture being what it is, it wasn't led by narrow minded dweebs with pocket protectors and thick glasses. People like that wouldn't be taken seriously. The leaders were capable humorists and essayists, poets and artists— many of whom eventually started bands or ran nightclubs themselves. They were lewd, savage, decadent, and deviant, in thought and in deed. Yet they had mastered information technology, and many of them had begun to make a sizable income turning their recreation into a livelihood. Recreational spending tended to include luxurious fetish gear, gallons of vodka, boxes full of compact discs, and fistfuls of crystal meth. One might dare to assert that goth grew up online. The people certainly did; one by one, people proud to be goths into their thirties and older began to make their presences felt. They often became luminaries and role models to the younger set, rather than be treated like has-beens— an uncommon phenomenon in standard rock n' roll subcultures.

All the while people were establishing themselves as the second and third iteration of net.goth personalities, something new was happening. People who had a fascination with dark imagery were becoming exposed to goth for the first time not through tape mixes or friends, but online. Some chanced across a goth's homepage and the imagery struck home. Others heard from one person or another about this subculture where the "real-life Wednesday Addams' " and miscellaneous morbid freaks were welcomed, and it provoked a frantic search among newsgroups. Regardless of the method, proto-goths were finding their way to alt.gothic and learning what goth was about by reading it.

One thing which distinguishes the goth scene from the vampyre scene, is that while vampyres pantomime what they wish they could be, goths express what they truly are. To a vampyre, the vampire of legend epitomizes an unattainable sensuality, beauty, and unrestrained carnality, and thus they seek to emulate those high qualities. To a goth, those qualities are epitomized by other goths. There is much less inherent futility.

Now with the net.goths, a new identity was evolving. In addition to seeking all the other attributes which offline gothic culture prized, there was a strong emphasis on good writing ability, the ability to state and back up strong and controversial opinions, provide insights with a biting wit, and to humiliate people with a razor-tipped tonguelashing. All of these qualities became elements of the pecking order because of arguments on alt.gothic. In many ways, gothic culture was evolving gradually towards an emphasis on literature and content— perhaps someday completing the circle which had begun with gothic literature. And it is still evolving.

Today, alt.gothic is a shadow of it's former self. It's best writers have long since abandoned it for mailing lists and other niches on the Internet. The newsgroup is daily flooded with spam and newcomers who spewing such quantities of irrelevant and boring banter, that it is nearly completely useless and pathetic to read. The day when one could read all the new messages has passed into memory, and why one would try to at this point is nearly beyond comprehension. The perfect killfile would nail 95% of everything which flows through it. Attempts to revive it continue, but sadly they have been unsuccessful. It may, in the end, be futile to filter sewer water in the hope of providing something potable.

Commentary by Clifford Hartleigh Low, Wednesday, June 3, 1998.

Photo: Bill / Model: Kit Messick