On several nights over the past few weeks, I’ve sat down and attempted to write out my feelings about Healthgoth. Yeah, that thing. You may have read about it recently, in Globe and Mail, The New York Times, The Guardian, and even Esquire for goth’s sake. And if you know me you probably forwarded me the link saying, “check this out!” and “thought of you” and “heard about this?” Yeah. I heard about it…. sometime in 2013, when I first saw the HealthGoth Facebook page. I thought it was a joke. I still do. Only now, titans of media are anointing it as a legitimate thing. And that Facebook page has, like 20K followers. Every time I saw a new article, which seemed to be popping up daily, I would guffaw. Don’t these reporters realize they are being bamboozled, ala Lamestain scandal of 1992? It’s just a couple of friends obsessed with black athletic wear and some sarcastic goths having a larf with hashtags, non?
Then on December 17 I got an email. Subject: THE OFFICIAL HEALTH GOTH FITNESS MANIFESTO VIDEO RELEASE. Now, apart from the fact that any press release that uses ALL CAPS is generally promoting the worst music/product ever, this one was particular hilarious. To start: the accompanying photo, of a gang of randoms wearing black and posing at the gym. It looks like a spoof, some skit on Portlandia. Then this:
“Black Nike 5.0’s? Check. Black Under Armor long sleeve shirt? Check. Black Mesh crop top? Check. Welcome to Health Goth, a lifestyle trend that combines dark sith lord purveyors and the health conscious into one.”
Lifestyle trend. Riiiiight. I did not click on the video. But a lot of people did, many of whom kept forwarding it to me. I was starting to feel really angry about this. Because to me, this had absolutely nothing to do with Goth, that thing I love. But then I thought, who the hell am I to decide what can and can’t be goth? Sure, I did literally write the book on it, but I’m hardly the St. Peter of gothdom, judging who can get in through the gates. Although, I’m pretty bloody sure most of my Goth pals would agree that hiring a publicist to pimp your work-out video and promoting Nike is most definitely Not Goth.
OK then, deep breath. Let’s spend some time with this. Maybe I have it all wrong. I quickly realized that there were two distinct factions in this Health Goth story: Johnny Love, the Chicago DJ who also uses the name Deathface, is the “tastemaker” and “figurehead” (in the wording of that press release) behind that video. He maintains the site healthgoth.com, where he mostly sells T-shirts that appropriate logos of big corporate brands into more “goth”-friendly messaging (Example: I Just Can’t) and promotes taking back the gym from bros. Then there are three guys from Portland who run that Healthgoth Facebook page. Mike Grabarek, Chris Cantino and Jeremy Scott are artists obsessed not with benchpressing but the aesthetics of sleek, shiny, futuristic fashion, mostly black but sometimes white, sometimes work-out gear but sometimes not, plus some kink I’ve never heard of — wearing your nice new tracksuits/shoes into the shower or pool and filming yourself getting soaking wet for other dudes who are into that. OK. Each camp claims to have invented this Health Goth thing. And they hate each other, of course.
At this point I’m pretty sure this has absolutely nothing to do with Goth culture as I know it. So why does it bug me so much? I went back to this great book I had read a few years ago when I was trying examine my bias against hipsters. Hip: The History by John Leland taught me plenty about black culture in America, and how hip and race are intertwined but not so much about why I got annoyed by the PBR-swilling beardos in my neighbourhood, beyond a reminder that the standard “get off my lawn” posture, which signals nothing if one’s own futile attempt to cling to hipness by dismissing everyone else as fakes, is as old as hip itself.
I try to keep those feelings in check, in general. And in terms of Goth, I’ve never been one of those “Elders” who gets mad at the younger generation for not bowing down to the same records I grew up on, or having the same interests. Take the Goth Lolita girls. On the surface, we have very little in common. They don’t listen to goth rock music at all. I don’t see them out at horror movies. So they prefer to consume anime and aren’t afraid to wear tutus? I’m cool with that. Because I see in them, in their home-made outfits, in their world of elaborate tea parties and extreme girlieness, a polite resistance to the dominant Western youth culture. (Not to mention I appreciate their obsession with Victoriana, which is Goth Style 101.) They are creative, DIY, outrageous, and committed to making the world a more interesting place. They do more than just sit at home and regram other people’s photos, in other words. Or the GHE20G0TH1 club scene in New York. It’s not my scene, but it is a scene, with real creative people doing something in the real world. I feel less kind towards the crap bands operating under the Goth banner the past 10 years. (You know, that awful synthpop that’s like the power metal of goth – a joke some people take waaaaay to seriously.) But even they don’t make me angry. I just choose to listen to other things. So, again, why are the Health Goths pissing me off?
Because it’s not punk rock. That’s why. Both Love and the Portland trio are fetishizing products. And that’s it. That’s not culture. That’s not any kind of lifestyle I can get behind. What are they actually creating, or contributing? (Both parties do make music, but it seems unconnected to their HG pursuits.) One guy is just a fitness nut who is promoting himself and his cheap shirts with shockingly bad graphic design under the guise of anti-corporate rebellion. The others are just providing a steady scroll of eye candy on Facebook. Granted, the high-tech, far-out fashions and design they post are pretty drool-worthy (I’m all for more people dressing like we live in the Matrix/the Grid/that awesome Interpol video for reals) but how does posting/liking/sharing photos to corporate brands (however artfully composed) make a “community” worth celebrating in the New York Times? In this interview, they expound on Health Goth as “a hybrid of aesthetics we’re plugged into, including elements of biotechnology, sportswear, fetish culture, extreme cleanliness, dystopian advertisements, and rendered environments.” I should like these guys. They’re promoting clothes that are sexy and far-out and men who shave. But oh, look, Grabarek, Cantino and Scott have had meetings with Adidas. Because you know, that’s for sure about art.
Goth, for all its permutations, was never about buying shit. Certainly not expensive designer shit. Which is why all those tabloid headlines screaming, “Rihanna/Jennifer Lawrence goes goth” are so ridiculous. (I particularly love the Lorde goes goth ones. Lorde IS goth, people.) It’s not a costume. It’s not a commodity. It’s not a trend. It is a subculture. It is a lifestyle. One with dozens of different looks and outlooks. You want to adopt the G-word to sell a product, to promote a business. Go ahead. I’m not the boss of you. But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t make me throw up in my mouth a little. As for all those media outlets jumping on Love and his fitness manifesto? Screw you for playing into the idea that Goth by its very nature is somehow opposed to being healthy, making Health Goth such a surprising and titillating topic for you. Goths are just people. Some like to work out. Usually in their ratty Joy Division shirts or ill-advised Converse or maybe even some new Adidas their parents got them for Christmas or, most likely, the same boring work-out clothes everyone else is wearing. Some of them even play team sports! Whatevs. #notnews [Edit: As my friend Stephanie, a goth who runs, put it: “I find the whole health goth thing annoying because it perpetuates the stereotype that goths are so precious and pretentious that we can’t even work out without draping ourselves in lace, rivets and eyeliner.” Exactly!]
When I started running, I certainly wished there were more black shoe options. But after finally watching that “OFFICIAL” goth fitness manifesto video, I think I’m fine with my pink runners, thanks. Gonna lace those up, crank some Nitzer Ebb and go shake this whole HealthGoth thing off. Peace.