Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Propaganda Magazine and the birth of the übergoth.

 If you were a goth in the 1990’s you probably remember Propaganda.  It was a low budget, black and white magazine that was vital to goth culture in America. 

Between the music reviews and adverts for cassette singles of up and coming goth, industrial, and punk bands, there were gorgeous models lounging on tombstones, entangled in fishnets, or resting (one would hope) peacefully in exquisitely fitted coffins.  Pale and slender with heavy lidded eyes and languid postures, these exquisite creatures inspired a generation. We saw them laid across the page like freshly cut lilies and projected ghostly and dim on the walls of countless club nights and after parties. For better or worse, they were guideposts to what we were supposed to be.

Back in the day, or more appropriately, the night, Propaganda was the only guide we had to help us navigate the dark waters of our personal weirdness, and many of us still have stacks of back issues hidden away like nostalgia landmines waiting to go off the minute we open that box in the back of the closet.

In addition to helping create the American gothic subculture, Propaganda defined the way that goth was supposed to look. There were two basic styles in Propaganda, fetish and aesthetic, but in the real-life subculture, there was much more going on. Post punks and early goths came in all shapes, sizes and colors. We took our cues from glam, punk, horror, and metal – taking what we liked from wherever we found inspiration.

Before the carefully curated images in Propaganda, goths expressed ourselves differently. It wasn’t just attractive people in poet shirts draping themselves over tombstones (Dave Vanian being a delightful exception) there was also HUGE hair, bright colors, and the many of the trappings of the Punk movement from which we were still emerging. I will NEVER stop loving huge, colorful deathhawks. Sorry...not sorry.

The advent of Propaganda, with its focus on decadence and fetishism added refinement to what had, before then, been a riotous melting pot of ideas and inspirations, but it also gave people the idea that there was a right way to be gothic, and that people who weren’t pretty enough, pale enough, or slender enough were somehow doing it wrong. Early photos show goths of all shapes and sizes, and I was struck by how much fun they all seemed to be having. Post Propaganda goths weren’t dour and joyless, but they did take themselves more seriously.

It was during the 90’s that I first noticed how strongly goths were embracing the concept of gatekeeping. Suddenly everyone had gotten the idea that people who were less informed about music, fashion, and the Vampire Lestat, were clearly poseurs who were bringing the tone down for all us*

Some of this attitude came directly from people's interpretation of Propaganda, although I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the malign influence of Steve Strange during his tyrannical reign as enfant terrible of London’s new romantics as another factor. It got so ridiculous that here was a point in the 90’s when just stepping into a goth club was like being thrust into an all fake vampire production of Dangerous Liaisons. (I still have my fangs and folding fan).

It has only been in recent years that we've started to step back from the idea, that in order to be properly gothic one has to fit a specific set of physical and philosophical characteristics. Goths can be any age, shape or color, and as much as I love the little collection of nostalgia bombs, I have to acknowledge that sometimes the things that bring us together, are also the things which push us away from each other. Propaganda was vital to the development of our subculture, but it also contributed to the rise of the übergoth

It's time to step away from gatekeeping and exclusion, and embrace people with new ideas and outlooks. If we are to continue to thrive as a subculture we should be welcoming new people into the fold, not complaining because these kids today are calling it “emo” and getting it all wrong.

* Never mind the fact that the “tone” of which we speak consisted of dancing around to songs about beers, queers and steers and having incredibly dramatic meltdowns because we couldn’t face the harsh reality of last call.


1 comment:

  1. This was a really thoughtful and interesting article, especially from my perspective as a younger goth from the UK.

    The way that magazines end up not only recording the zeitgeist but defining what does and does not belong to a subculture has been on my mind a lot lately in relation to the now-defunct Gothic&Lolita Bible - after the magazine started in 2001, lolita's trends became more and more brand-led and less DIY because it was brands that were paying for the ad space. I don't think this was necessarily a bad thing, just like I actually like Propaganda's definition of "goth" for the most part, but it did cause a change in the evolution of the scene.