Graceless: a Journal of the Radical Gothic is a Creative Commons-licensed magazine that frames radical social change through an unflinchingly dark lens. For years I’ve carried an affinity for dark and gothic culture, and I appreciate the work Graceless does to bring the loose collection of subcultures into political and social discourse.
While I have deep reservations about the anarchist leanings found in many pieces in the one issue that has been released, I have enjoyed stepping through the perspectives it collected and the editor, Margaret Killjoy, has expressed an attitude of ideological agnosticism that I appreciate: “I can’t say I agree with every word written by every contributor, but that is part of the point: we have no desire to present to you a single solution, no desire to sell you an ideology. We’ve only a desire to invigorate people who want to question our society and find their own answers.” There is a remarkably rich collection of content in the first issue.
A highlight for me was “A Radical’s Guide to Spooky Music”, which highlighted political lyrics of bands associated with the goth movement and mentioned some surprising bits of history, such as the existence of a Public Enemy and The Sisters of Mercy tour.
I was also impressed with an interview with musician Unwoman, in which she spoke of genre and gender in a way that is close to my own thoughts on both.
Genre and gender are connected, I suppose, in that I firmly believe we have the right to choose what traits and labels we take on without being judged in the slightest. The fact that society in general looks down on or fetishizes people who have gender reassignment or otherwise reject Western gender roles will never cease to amaze me. Like, seriously, how does this threaten you? The fact that the new mainstream news story is that it’s okay to be gay as long as you get married and settle down is frustrating, as is the need to state that being gay isn’t a choice. What if it were, don’t we have the right to choose, isn’t any healthy lifestyle as valid as the others? What if I want to be a boy one day and a girl the next, or to complement a bustier with a lovely moustache, without going any deeper into my motivation than “because I feel like it?”
One thing that’s changed since I started calling myself Unwoman ten years ago is that I’m thinking now, if gender and genre aren’t limited to one choice, you don’t need to rebel against making choices. If you’re allowed to pile on the genre tags for a song, calling it “cello rock, electro-blues, chamber pop, steampunk, goth” (which bandcamp.com allows) and if you allow yourself to pile attributes of the traditionally feminine and masculine onto your identity, there’s no need to reject either the idea of genre or the idea of masculine/feminine. In fact playing with extreme traits from different genres and genders can be quite fun.
“Dressed To Kill: Illegal Dandyism” was a fascinating look at the intersection of fashion, politics and counter cultures. Accounts of the Zazous and Schlurfs’ opposition to Nazis were new for me and added to my appreciation of fashion as a force against fascism.
It was their ironic and sarcastic comments on the Nazi/ Vichy rulers, their dandyism and hedonism, their suspicion of the work ethic, and their love of “decadent” jazz that distinguished them as one of the prototype youth movements to question capitalist society. One fascist magazine commented on the male Zazou, “Here is the specimen of Ultra Swing 1941: hair hanging down to the neck, teased up into an untidy quiff , little moustache à la Clark Gable … shoes with toothick soles, syncopated walk.” At that time, Jazz was mostly associated with black culture and thus went directly against the Aryanization of culture that was happening in Vichy and the rest of Nazi-occupied Europe. The authorities attempted to shut down their clubs, making use of fi re codes and other pretexts to harass sympathetic bar and café owners. Th e Zazous were forced to to keep on the move, finding new places to meet and dance, including in cemeteries late at night. When Vichy ordered Jews to wear the yellow star of David, the Zazous added it to their wardrobe as both a fashion and political statement, putting “Zazous” in the center of the star.
[Schlurfs] adopted sexually ambiguous mannerisms and listened to black American-inspired swing jazz in late-night clubs that were underground both literally and figuratively. Unlike the Zoot Suiters or the Zazous, they did not have a uniform look per se, but prided themselves on creating their own outrageous DIY fashions based on noir, science fiction, and German expressionism. The men were even said to wear their hair long and “girlish” and don dark lipstick, “looking like vampires on the streets of Vienna” according a scandalized and disgusted Nazi corpsman in a letter home. Despite the Schlurfs’ resistance to Nazi ideology, once even burning a Hitler Youth Training Center to the ground, their repression continued even after Austria’s liberation. The Schlurfs were not fi ghting for Austria or some return to bourgeois Viennese conformity, but to live their lives as they saw fit.
When we say “radical,” we are not speaking of a specific ideology, but we’re also not talking about politics like who’s gonna vote for whom. Radical means, to us as well as the dictionary, “affecting the fundamental nature.” We’ve as little interest in mainstream politics as we do in mainstream culture. We’re looking to transform our society and our lives on a fundamental level. And while we are not interested, as a journal, in promoting one specific methodology, our focus is broadly anti-authoritarian and probably tinged with left and post-left ideas. We are staunchly opposed to fascism and rightwing politics in general.
Everything dark belongs to us. When we say “gothic,” we don’t mean to speak to a specific little sub-category of a genre. Musically, we mean industrial, gothic, darkwave, coldwave, neo-folk, powernoise, alt-country, EBM, futurepop, black and gothic metal. We mean genres that don’t exist and we mean music that hasn’t been made yet. We’ve interest in the occult and we’re interested in the cold, dark of atheism. We’re interested in the Romantics and of course, the gothic.
The Radical Gothic
The radical gothic is the acceptance of the world as it is—dark and horrid, full of wanton cruelty—without denying the world as we might make it: dark and beautiful.
The radical gothic rejects the myth of consumer identity, that our purchases—or what we wear—define us. But at the same time, it recognizes that aesthetics are a valid form of expression.
The radical gothic is the acceptance of responsibility that grants us the freedom to define ourselves, our own lives and our own society.