Personal Identity 1: Fitting You into your Box

Over the last few weeks I have had some interesting conversations about identity. As I have a little time to think I’ve decided to write a few blog articles about the concept of ‘identity’ as I unpack a few of the main issues we have raised. With a fair wind behind me I may even be able to convince Ruth to add a blog about this given that her psychology doctoral thesis was largely about ‘identity’.

Here come the Goths

20130501-101338.jpgLast week Ruth and I met up with a lot of “Goths”. We went to Whitby Goth Weekend where we regularly go to meet up with friends from our university days. Whilst we are there we help raise money for the Bat Conservation Trust on the bring and buy stall. When we arrived on Friday morning we went to the beach (a particularly Goth activity) where we met our friends. As we walked back up the beach a photographer asked if he could take our picture. We obliged and carried walking up the beach. As we did our friends said “You’re in Whitby for an hour and nothing. Two minutes with Robb and Ruth and already someone has taken our picture”.

As we continued on our journey, we were intercepted on the stairs up the cliff by a group of eight A Level sociology students. They asked a variety of questions about why we were there and what we were doing? It was quite entertaining when we were asked what we ‘did for a living’ – mirth and hilarity abounded as we discovered that two IT professionals were in our group. This is not a stereotypical “Goth” occupation!

The final question in the survey was “how do you feel about the word ‘goth'”? This led to all four of us looking at each other and saying things like “but I’m not really a goth”. None of us really identify as “goth” per se. This lead us to have a lot of conversations over the course of the next 24 hours about what all of this means.

From Whitby, Ruth and I dashed back home for me to be “the vicar”. Sunday services and an APCM were the order of the day. Then we rushed from there into the deepest darkest South of England to meet some new people. We’ve been invited to be involved in the organisation of the Goth Eucharist at Greenbelt this year. Again, the question of “what is ‘Goth’?” was raised by everyone. Am I ‘goth’? What is ‘goth’? Am I ‘goth enough’ or just an interloper? This seems to be the inner existential crisis experienced by most people who are ‘goths’.

For me, the honest answer is ‘no’, I’m not a goth. I don’t think there are many people who say that they are. It is usually something that other people say to identify people. Personally, I usually describe myself as a ‘hairy biker’. I’m often found wearing black and riding a big black Harley with the internal soundtrack supplied by George Thorogood whilst I’m doing it. I listen to heavy metal, have long hair, tattoos and piercings. I’ve been known to dye my hair on occasion. I play guitar in a heavy metal band and have some pretty funky clothing. ‘Goth’ isn’t a term I use to self identify, it is a term that other people use to categorise me.

Human beings like to categorise the world around them. They like to compartmentalise the world so that they can store the information in their brains. This is so that they can take a complicated question and come up with a neat and easily identifiable answer. When the world is presented with a large number of individuals who don’t fit into a category it feels the need to create one. In this instance we have the word ‘goth’, a generic coverall that encompasses just about any type of ‘difference’ and makes it ‘the same’. At Whitby Goth Weekend and the Goth Eucharist you will find Metalheads, Steampunks, Cyberpunks, Rockers, Glam Metallers, Trad Goths, Emos, the ocasional cosplayer and probably some people who just like good old fancy dress. And the world can’t cope with all of these individuals. It needs to find a way of categorising them so that it can go back on with it’s business. We must compartmentalise!

Now of course I have put myself in the position of having written Leonard Nimmoy’s “I Am Not Spock” by asserting my individuality; I Am Robb. To redress the balance, I will continue to write about identity tomorrow and draw the Goth*/Priest strands of my existence together for your entertainment.

*See that? I just identified myself as ‘goth’. See how readily I conform!

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9 Responses

  1. The usage of the word ‘Goth’ is product of late-80s London journalism describing the music/fashion scene in Leeds known at the time as “Alternative”.

    It surprised noone more than the actual people it was supposed to represent who were generally referred to as “Altos”.

    Now I suppose these people are referred to as “trad goths”, and are likely to be finally ageing into the natural patina of decay that so suits the aesthtetic. Ruddy-faced cheery and vibrant youth not being the desired look.

    For all its shortcomings, the word serves a noble purpose, it plants a flag inviting all to come that heed the call.

    I was never goth, I got into the Cult when they put away the eye liner and hair crimpers and got the Les Pauls out.
    (If this was when they died to you – check out The Manor Sessions – the abandoned recordings of Electric done in the style of Love)

    But like Robb, I like the sound of ‘Whitby Goth Weekend’. It’s a cultural hashtag – you pretty much know straight away whether you are going to feel a welcome part of the scene there or not.

    If there is room in your life and lounge for a black candle or purple velvet, you can enjoy the goth experience. Who you are is always more than what you enjoy.

    • Julz – that pretty much sums it up. You are a goth in that everyone else thinks you are a goth whilst not identifying yourself as goth yourself. You listen to The Cult but you also do other things as well. Heck we went to The Cult last year together and let’s face it, everything is improved with a Les Paul!!

      At WGW one of the conversations we had was “they weren’t expecting us to get responsible jobs like Psychologist, Engineer, Journalist and Vicar. They were expecting us to ‘grow up’. We did. But we became grown up versions of us”.

  2. Conformity is an interesting concept but being a clone isn’t appealing: http://youtube.com/watch?v=k9lyT8UUw_I

    It would have been nice to have chatted at Whitby, sorry not to have encountered you on line before hand, perhaps we can talk next time maybe over the football or at the Spa?

  3. Ms Edge has sent me here to investigate your nicking her ideas from Tim’s blog for the third instalment of this series, but being the thorough chap that I am (although not thorough enough to be quite up to date with your musings, sorry), I have started at the beginning.

    I think this is an important discussion

    I think our society is rife with inner existential crises and feelings of being an interloper – I think many people are aching for a feeling of belonging, and are desperately homesick for the kind of experiences of community that produce such feelings.

    However, this may be partly my projecting my experience onto others as if I had to pick a label (like goth, biker etc) that i was comfortable self-identifying with, it would probably be ‘outsider’ (‘you do it to yourself, you do, and that’s what really hurts’).

    I would also like to add that, as we have previously discussed, who you are is always more than even who you are; its who you want to be as well.

    • Outsider isn’t necessarily something we do to ourselves. It is something that can be done to us. When a community is not permeable and constantly evolving it can be almost to flourish within – especially when you are without.

      What an excellent point about being who we want to be. A constant aspiration and yearning to be more is at the heart of most people’s existential crises. How do I become better than I am?

    • I ain’t nicked nowt governor. This is all me. You must have heard it before over a beer. This is a culmination of many beer induced thoughts!

      • I was joking about the nicking ideas. Great minds think the same as me, clearly! 😉

        I would also agree that ‘outsider’ is not necessarily an identity that is self-inflicted, though it can be self-perpetuated, for sure. I have seen both sides of this in myself. And to some extent that can be fine, beneficial even (including to wider society, e.g. in terms of innovation), and to some extent, i.e. taken negatively, or to an extreme (‘I can never be anything like ‘normal’, I am too ‘weird/abnormal’ etc.) it can be negative, harmful, and is untrue. I mean, yes, we’re all different but we’re still human after all (cue Daft Punk soundtrack).

        As you say, Robb, people and their brains have the natural tendency to categorize to be able to deal with things, to a certain extent anyway. I tend to think that’s OK as long as you are aware people aren’t numbers in a spreadsheet and that they are more, and more complex, than any label they might assume or project. I think it’s possible to think of people as being one thing, say a Goth, a Christian, a feminist, or whatever, without seeing them as only that, or as all of ‘them lot’ as ‘the same’. But perhaps I would say that, being of a postmodern generation…

        Anyway, I think I’m saying lots of obvious stuff now so I’ll stop. Enjoying the writing.

      • Carry on!

        You can’t be normal because I am. As I am the normative human, everyone else is clearly abnormal.

    • I just had a peek over Ruth’s shoulder and she is writing a guest post that is a much more in depth psychological perspective addressing your final point.

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