Shiny Happy Goth Gen-Xers Holding Hands

Two studies I find of some personal interest. The first, from the University of Michigan, notes that Gen-Xers (the generational cohort of which I am a part) is largely pretty damn happy, hardworking but balanced, and optimistic about their lives. The second from an English sociologist who’s been tracking Goth since their teens and early twenties and finds them more committed to their once-youthful lifestyle than kids who are part of other subcultures.

Neither of these I find particularly surprising. Anecdotally speaking, most of the Gen-Xers I know seem reasonably happy and reasonably stable. Some of this may just be because as a general rule I weeded out high-drama people from my life some time ago and most of the Gen-X folks I know are also college-educated and comfortable, but I think there are other factors as well. One, I suspect seeing some of the mess our boomer parents made of their early adulthoods and relationships made us a bit more cautious about our own level of personal stupidity and more likely to consider consequences before we engaged in a course of action. Among other things, I imagine this is one reason why divorce among the Gen-Xers I know seems less frequent than it was in our parents’ cohort.

Two, when you spend most of your late teens and twenties being told you’re recession-era slackers who will never do better than your parents, then your expectations, shall we say, are sufficiently dampened. Everything looks good after that nonsense.

As for the Goth thing, that makes sense to me too, since the genre is pretty much designed to age relatively gracefully. The music isn’t generally specifically about being young (it’s about being mopey, which can happen at any age) and the clothes are black, which you can wear at any age. And it fades nicely into steampunk when the goths want to go crazy and wear brown. Equally importantly, Goth does not require an anti-intellectual pose; indeed, the more you know about Goethe, romantic poets, existential philosophy and the European cinema of the silent film era, the better of a Goth you’ll be.

In short, being Goth is neither inherently about being young or stupid. One can be young, stupid and into Goth. But you don’t have to be. And that helps. Beware Goth’s sullen suburban nephew Emo, however. That’s already not aging well.

28 Comments on “Shiny Happy Goth Gen-Xers Holding Hands”

  1. Oddly enough, I had a sense of recognition when I read this article because I used to go to the same goth clubs as Paul Hodgkinson went to when he was finishing off his PhD and sat in on some of the same parties. I have his book somewhere on my shelf. I’m pleased to see he is still working in the same field.

  2. The second from an English sociologist who’s been tracking Goth since their teens and early twenties and finds them more committed to their once-youthful lifestyle kids who parts of other subcultures

    I simply cannot parse this sentence.

  3. Gen-X though I be, I never went in for the Goth look. Still seems a bit odd to me to see another 42 year old with purple hair, but whatever.

    I will note that I get tired of being in meetings with boomers who still, even now, look over to me and the other Gen X members of the team when they want “the youth perspective”.

  4. @James: Yeah, I think John accidentally the whole sentence there.

    I have a theory that goths, emos and now hipsters were in their heydays essentially two subcultures, the second being shared between them: posers, who would latch onto the biggest subculture that seemed like it was counter-cultural in a desperate effort to demonstrate their specialness. The primary trait of a poser is that they embrace the clothing and the disdain parts of the subculture, but generally don’t adopt, say, an appreciation for European cinema and poetry. This is why each of these subcultures have spent their time being extremely irritating, and why hipsters are currently the internet punching bag that emos used to be. We’re spotting the posers, who are being reflexively counter-cultural without actually adopting any legitimate alternative, and we correctly declare it stupid.

    What’s amusing about hipster posers is that I’m pretty sure hipster fashion is basically an attempt to look stylish on an extreme budget. There’s no aesthetic driver there other than the red-light specials at the thrift store, and it’s been ‘adopted’ by posers because in 2011 the people they believe think mainstream culture is stupid wear glasses with no frames in them.

  5. This makes absolute sense to me. Geeks and nerds and goths were (are) some of the smartest, curious, and most intelligent people I’ve ever known. We read and question and think. We were largely ostracized by mainstream folks when we were kids, which 1) helped up understand ourselves and others better, and 2) made us seek out similar minds and hearts and form long-lasting relationships. We know how precious those relationships are. These traits don’t fade with age, rather they encompass every aspect of our lives and keep us young because we never stop reading, questioning, or thinking.

    At least this is what I’ve observed with me and my friends.

  6. @midnightblooms: Yes, you hit it on the head.

    I wasn’t a goth (but am a 44 year old geek) who did the reenactment thing as my filter (SCA/military). It wasn’t until I got on to Facebook a couple years ago that I really saw the difference in the friends I had from school days (hated that time of course) compared to my friends/family of choice afterwards. Much cooler people in the latter group, all readers and all doing interesting stuff.

    As for the happiness, seems like for a lot of my friends, it wasn’t until we got past our 20’s that we started to settle and be comfortable with our lives. Lots of angst growing up but once we got past that, we’re now aging pretty much drama free. And yeah, not a whole lot of divorce or weird kid stuff going on. Life is pretty good!

  7. Hmm, I feel like I don’t belong *anywhere*. I was born towards the end of November ’45, which made me a tad late to be a wartime baby but too early to be a baby-boomer. Assuming you can quantify such things, I guess I’m about 1-point-something generations earlier (“older”) than Gen-X?

  8. One thought on the divorce thing comes to mind, and that the Gen-X folks didn’t face; the Draft. One wonders how many crash marriages that provoked, and which came to grief.

  9. Boomer here and former flower-child/counter-culturist. I think that any generation who attempts to learn from the mistakes of the previous generation is certainly a step ahead. And I might argue that those are usually the ones who are smarter/more sensitive than your average bear. That said, I also think that boomer youth faced so many new and overwhelming opportunities/changes in culture and were without a lot of the roadsigns that would be available to the generation following them (and indeed to the generation preceding). Finally, I hope that the social networking generation (Y?) will also be able to dodge a lot of the avoidable ‘stupid’.

  10. I’ve always been fascinated at the tendency of older generations to dismiss the younger generations simply because of how they dress. When I worked retail, one of my regular customers, who usually came in alone, came in with his whole family one weekend. His teenage son had spiky green hair, studded dog collar, Samhain tshirt, the works. I smiled at his father and said (jokingly) “I’m surprised you’re willing to let him out of the house like that!” He replied “Hey, as long as he keeps making straight As, he can wear whatever he wants.”

    Amen to that!

  11. “Is it still cool to LARP when you’re 40?”

    If you like LARPing, I’m going to go with “Hell yeah.”

  12. I’ve always felt that the 20-year cohorts for most 20th-century generations are way too large, considering the rapid pace of social change (which, really, is what shapes generational identity) and that 10-12 year ones (with fuzzy boundaries on both ends) make more sense.

    The best breakdown I’ve seen is considering Boomers the immediate post-war boom–1945-55ish–then a separate generation sometimes called Jones (too young for Vietnam, too old to have come of age when AIDS was a factor.) Gen X would start around 1965ish and go up through the late ’70s. Gen Y would be the Reagan babies. And the Millenials would be the Clinton babies. Culturally speaking, that gives a much better proper framing to the cultural touchstones that each generation identifies with. Because honestly, as someone born in 1971, at the height of the Vietnam war, I really don’t identify with someone born during the Kennedy years.

    Something else to note about the boundaries, though: A lot of cultural identity has to do with family generations. So the youngest child of a batch of otherwise-Boomers would probably still identify as a Boomer, even if she were born in 1959 instead. And vice-versa for an older child on the trailing edge of a cohort, with many younger siblings.

  13. Also, I seem to recall reading somewhere a few years ago that today’s parents have less of a cultural generation gap with their kids, because there hasn’t been such a drastic change in the general flavor of pop culture that there was for our parents and grandparents. There are new waves of rock and pop, but they’re not dramatically different the way, say, the rise of rock n’ roll was for parents who cut their teeth on big bands. (Heck, it makes me giggle that many recent bands have adopted/updated the New Wave sound of my misspent youth.)

    Likewise, we as a generation grew up with rapid technological change (and created it, in many cases), so we’ve adapted better to new forms. Our own parents may have been bewildered by video games and computers, but we’re hardly bewildered by the tech and formats our kids are using now, because we’re using them, too. We may covet our vinyl collections, but we’re also ripping them to MP3.

  14. I agree on the 10 year cohort idea. If you were at Woodstock, you are a Boomer. If you were conceived at Woodstock you are an Xer. If you were 10 and remember the vibe of the time and yet were too young for Vietnam your experience is apt to be different.

    I think there is also something to the family thing. I’m an Xer but my parents were born before the war, and their outlook is different.

    Wouldn’t Boomers also argue that they were learning from the mistakes of their parents, just different mistakes? It seems possible to me that every generation may try to correct perceived mistakes of its parents and end up being more like the grandparents, with the WWII generation and the Xers being more of the “get a haircut and a job” variety, and the Boomers and Yers being more interested in “finding themselves”. Combined with the notion that generational cohorts should really be 10 years we have the sine babies and the cosine babies, with each curve having a twenty year period.

  15. I don’t think Goth is about being mopey at all. It seems to be about the funereal, but it’s not depressive (or at least not necessarily so) like Emo.

    I’d’ve been a Goth Kid if there had been Goths when I was a kid. Instead I was just the weird kid who wore black as often as he could get away with it, listened to Orff and Penderecki* (there were NO Goth bands in the 1970s), and was the only one even thought of when it came time to read “The Raven” aloud. (I did it by the light of a skull-shaped candle I already had.)

    A couple of years ago a friend (netname Skwid) took me to a Goth club during a convention. I was about 25 years older than the average age there, but not one person gave me the hairy eyeball, and if anyone thought I didn’t belong they kept it entirely to themselves. I think being accepting of other people’s differences makes it easier to be happy, and my experience of today’s Goths suggests (anecdotes only, not data) that they’re pretty good at that. You don’t have to be skinny to be popular among Goths. You don’t have to be anything except into the Goth thing, and even that isn’t strictly required.

    I like them.

    *WARNING: sound on both

  16. John @ at 2:58 pm wrote: < If we’re going with the trigonometric metaphor, I consider myself more of a tangent baby.

    <segue type=parody style="Pet Shop Boys" accent_required="pun, strained, obvious">

        Although my brain groks trig, not Strine
        I must amend what you’re implying:
        There’s no sense in our denying
              it’s a sin(e) …


    I’m sorry, John, but I’m afraid I can’t secant that notion – people might go hyperbolic.

  17. As someone born in the Kennedy years, I am technically a boomer. Growing up in the 60’s with the rash of assassinations, race riots, war protests, hippies, etc. but too young to have been part of that culture puts you in a nowhere land of ‘which generation are you in?’ And don’t forget Watergate. We learned very young that politics was a crooked game. Maybe we should be called the “Wonder Years” generation? The biggest difference I find between myself and Gen Exers is the amazing freedom we thought was possible as children and teenagers. Then along came Ronald Reagan. Also, the music. What’s now called Classic Rock was new music to us. Being raised on songs like “Won’t Get Fooled Again” shapes your awareness. We were the last “generation” who could still get a decent job out of high school that would support you without a college degree. That may be the only real thing we have in common with earlier born boomers.

  18. A Mediated Life wrote: The best breakdown I’ve seen is considering Boomers the immediate post-war boom–1945-55ish–then a separate generation sometimes called Jones (too young for Vietnam, too old to have come of age when AIDS was a factor.)

    Yes, exactly! I’ve also heard it called the “Baby Bust.” It’s my generation, and I’m nothing at all like a stereotypical Baby Boomer (and, quite frankly, rather resent being lumped in with them).

  19. I was just thinking about the fact that my sibs and I are definitely part of that lower divorce rate. My sibs did pick excellent mates. Only surprising in hindsight, they are both people of good character judgement.

  20. I think that most people who belong to a certain subculture but avoid being identified with the socially imposed label are, ironically, those who define that particular subculture. Be it hippies, new agers, punks, hipsters, goths, emos, otakus or tech geeks they are the people who find certain aesthetics, music and lifestyle interesting and gradually embrace it naturally as their own.

    Posers, on the other hand, are easier to spot. They wave the tag like a flag. They love the media attention they get by it, and instead of taking what their like from the style in question into their life, they make a sudden revision of their persona, consuming in order to carefully emulate the superficial aspects of a lifestyle, thus distorting it into a trend.

    It’s no surprise to see that the “true” goth then live happy and balanced lifestyles. If they carry the details from their younger days to their adulthood it merely shows that their interest in that particular lifestyle is genuine. Most posers, on the other hand, drop the act and embrace a different, more extreme or tame (but nevertheless, dramatically different) fad that eventually transforms to another one. That lack of identity, slavery to fashion and their only constant being change is what really defines them… and they probably lead very empty, unsatisfying lives.

  21. Normally, I lurk. But this: “Beware Goth’s sullen suburban nephew Emo” = WIN! I mean, I cackled at work. How much funnier can Scalzi get, when I CACKLE, people?

  22. I loved this sentence.

    “Two, when you spend most of your late teens and twenties being told you’re recession-era slackers who will never do better than your parents, then your expectations, shall we say, are sufficiently dampened. Everything looks good after that nonsense.

    I got so sick of those darn times and newsweek and other silly “this is what you’ll do articles.”
    Not sure about the lower divorce thing though. We had our share of friends who’ve split and had to navigate those waters in the past 10-15 years. But usually it is with more equanimity than when my wife’s parents did it in the early 80’s (kramer vs kramer) stuff.

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