Goth's Dark Empire by Carol Siegel

Goth's Dark Empire  by Catherine Scott ~ Completed March 20, 2015

Goth's Dark Empire by Catherine Scott ~ Completed March 20, 2015

As I mentioned in my discussion of A Bang, a Whimper and a Beat by Karen Collins, I completely love it when I find academic studies of "non-academic" or subculture things that are important to me. I came across Carol Siegel's work when I heard that she'd written a book that not only discussed industrial music, but Trent Reznor, the man behind Nine Inch Nails. I proceeded to track this e-book down with a ferocity that is only seen from me when it is about Nine Inch Nails, Marvel fanfiction, or a new piece of technology.

Happily, this book did not disappoint! Siegel positions herself as a cultural historian, and I think that's a good way to describe what this is - a cultural history of the goth subculture which, for better or mostly worst, came to the forefront from many misconceptions about the Columbine shooters. I was "vaguely goth" in high school, but I am sensitive to defending it now (even though I don't identify with the subculture) as a lot of the music I do like is associated with it and gets lumped in with the misconceptions. I've actually blogged about this before, about the dangers of stereotyping people based on the music they listen to. 

Siegel looks at the goth subculture as a way to resist cultural forces of sexual normalcy, including the various values placed on abstinence, goth male masochism
(including Trent Reznor) and Poppy Z. Brite, femme masculinities, and Asian-American goth masculinities.

I love the way that Siegel draws comparisons and connections between artistic works, the goth subculture, and music that I listen to (sometimes daily!). It made me look at works I'd taken for granted in whole new ways. For example, in her discussion of Revolting Cocks' cover [video not safe for work] of Rod Stewart's Do Ya Think I'm Sexy? (a cover which is, incidentally, on heavy rotation on my phone), Siegel frames the subversive effects of this reworking:

The Revolting Cocks give this insipid song the send-up it deserves in a cover version filled with ominous Industrial noise, a hint of seemingly terrified shrieks following the line “Relax baby now we are alone,” and hilarious substitutions for the stupidest lyrics, like “gimme a buck so I can buy a rubber.” Guest vocalist Trent Reznor’s alternately leering and panting vocals and his sardonic phrasings twist the song’s original mood into something dark and strange. But the heart of the cover’s darkness can be found in its suggestions of the changes in the physical circumstances of casual sexuality in the eleven years between Stewart’s disco days and the song’s release. Today a young person bent on casual sex is more likely to be preoccupied with getting a condom than with calling home to tell lies to a concerned parent, and her sex partner is more likely to be apologetic because he’s “out of KY jelly” (as in the Revolting Cocks’ chortling rendition) than because he has no milk or coffee, as in Stewart’s original. But more importantly, the reason for these changes, the reason that flesh can no longer meet flesh in an innocent, naturalized atmosphere where “all the birds are singing,” is that every sexual encounter now carries with it the threat of disease transmission. And this implicitly accounts for the transformation of the happy bopping of Stewart’s song into the groaning, crashing, mechanistic dissonance of the Revolting Cocks’. Notable, too, is the later song’s lack of moralizing and its refusal to offer any alternative to what it depicts as the near-death experience that bar pickups have become. In classic Goth style, it shows us today’s horrific sexscape and then makes the very horror sexy and delightful.
— Goth's Dark Empire by Carol Siegel - Chapter 1 - Perils of the Pure: Goth Cultures and Abstinence Programs (taken from the e-book)

Siegel takes a song that I listen to often and enjoy and gives it context within the framework of industrial music and goth culture. Her work is also peppered with gems about subjects that I did not expect before reading the book - I didn't expect to read one of the best arguments against abstinence-only sex education I've ever read in a book about goths!

Anything involving Trent Reznor is going to be close to my heart, but this book earned its place on the "reread" list for the future.


Character (50%): Similarly to A Bang, a Whimper and a Beat goth culture itself fills the role of a "character," making this appeal factor strong for me in this work. Additionally, Trent Reznor's influence is seen throughout the whole work - indeed, Siegel states at the start that she enjoys his work. I sought this book out in my ongoing quest for any academic works about Nine Inch Nails, and enjoyed seeing this take on his own artistic works.

Language (50%): This is another work wherein I specifically enjoyed the academic tone, and enjoyed reading something dense and scholarly about a subject personally close to me.

Since this is a survey as opposed to an argumentative non-fiction work, story is not a main appeal factor for this work. Setting does not play a role in why this book appealed to me, either.