Dark Culture toward Brightness
Dark Culture toward Brightness
  • Park Bae Hyewon
  • 승인 2009.05.10 19:10
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 Recently, the film 'Bat' has been a talking point, with its release date coming soon.  The reason why 'Bat' is attracting the public’s interest is that the director, Park Chan Wook, who has received much recognition in the world film market, expressed his expectations of it.  The film 'Bat'  is a story about a man who is not only a priest but a vampire.  Vampires were traditionally regarded as only Western characters but now it is not unusual for even Koreans to perform as them.  This means the Gothic culture of medieval times in the West has become familiar in modern Korea.

Goths of the Middle Ages

“Goth” is a trend which has sublimated Gothicism as a modern style.  That is, it is necessary to comprehend Gothic culture patterns in order to understand Goth.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word Gothic stems from the Goth tribe from northern Germany who invaded Rome in about the fourth to sixth centuries A.D.  Actually, it was not the Goth tribe who created or propagated Gothic culture because there was a vacuum between the Goth’s invasion and the birth of the Gothic pattern.  Nevertheless, if you read books written in Europe before the 16th century, you can find the word Gothic used as a symbol of barbarism.  At that time, the word invoked malice to accuse the tribe which ended the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations.  

When you hear the word Gothic, it may naturally bring to mind a style of architecture.  Actually, “Gothic” was first used to describe architecture word rather than a style of literature or painting.  The distinctive point of Gothic architecture is the steeple of the Catholic Church extended sharply towards the sky.  This steeple has not only religious meaning as an emblem of God’s salvation but also an aesthetic meaning which created the unique Gothic atmosphere.  When we see Gothic churches, we can see a vertical movement which defies the law of gravity.  In that moment, we may feel uninhibited freedom and dignity.  Before the appearance of Romanticism, the Gothic style was estimated disrespectfully.  However, during the Romantic age, Gothicism started to express people’s individuality and become the center of attention in literature.  In the 18th century, as rationality abused monarchy’s tool, Romanticists stressed the dignity of individuality rather than rationality in society.  They thought that the medieval age had been filled with individual thinking and imagination because they at that time people could not be suppressed since they only focused on God.  For this reason, Romantic writers wrote in the atmosphere of the Middle Ages; the representative work of this period is ‘Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus’, now known as ‘Frankenstein’ (1818), by Mary Shelley.

From Gothic to Goth

At this point, you may have doubts.  Medieval society was very serious and grave because the age was overpowered by Catholicism.  Then how did Gothicism come to be represented as Grotesqueness in the modern age?  Literature published during the Romantic Age used the Gothic atmosphere as background and invoked the Gothic mood of uncontrolled dignity.  This unique Gothic atmosphere delivered dreams and phantasms to the public who had become tired of classicism and rationalism.  The attraction of castles and medieval structures decorated with depressed furniture and ornaments created the modern Gothic image which became so popular.  This image creates tension and horror.  It is the representative image of Gothicism and established the Goth movement which originates from Gothic sensibility.  Regarding this problem, Chris Baldick, a professor at the University of London, said “the bother of the word Gothic is that it actually refers to an anti-Gothic pattern.”


Goth in the Media

The typical product of Gothicism seen in the media is the vampire.  Starting with <<Nosferatu>> (1922), the first film in the vampire genre, various Gothic films which imitated that movie appeared repeatedly over the years.  The more modern representative works are <<Edward Scissorshands>> (1990) and <<Interview with Vampire>> (1994).  In the early 90’s, the Goth trend was merely creating horror, dread, and panic, but from 2000, the Goth trend merged with Fantasia.  From this merger, another Gothic sensibility has been revealed.  The <<Harry Potter>> and <<The Lord of the Rings>> series of films are good examples.  This trend is a product which reflects the public’s desire to overcome the alienation of being human with mysticism and surrealism.  There are other examples in not only foreign media but in Korean media.  The sitcom <<Hello Francesca>> and the radio program <<Ghost Station>> are representative.  In the case of <<Hello Francesca>>, through its unique setting in which characters are not human but vampires, it ranked as the top-rated prime time TV program.  The vampires in this sitcom look selfish at first glance, yet the more the audience watches the sitcom, the more one can see the irony in that the fake family of vampires has more humanism than that of other real families.  In the case of <<Ghost Station>>, Shin Haechul, a Korean rocker, is in the chair, calling himself the Devil and making the listener feel humble.  Although the show received a warning from the Korean Broadcasting Institute and had to change its frequency four times, thanks to its broad fan base the program could continue.  The show gained tremendous popularity by treating social issues with frankness and a malicious tongue.

Edmund Burke, a political theorist in England, explained Gothic culture’s aesthetic value in two ways.  The first is ‘traditional beauty’, associated with classical cultural patterns.  The second is ‘majesty’, which originated with wildness, horror, and fear.  He says that the reason why Gothic patterns containing dream and fantasy, fear and tension are prevalent in modern popular culture is related to modern society.  Modern society, which isolates humans and disorganizes relationships, feels helpless and vain.  In the empty reality, people feel nostalgia and look for traditional things like past happiness.  The Gothic satisfies people’s nostalgia thorough its traditional beauty and simultaneously, it offers escape with dark spirit and majesty.



Slip on Goth


The typical fashion style of Goths can be explained as funeral costume, being black in color, and tight-fitting. In addition, using ornaments such as gauze stockings, accessories shaped like skeletons, and piercings are also typical of Goth fashion. This fashion trend started to spread among rock bands in the early 1970’s. However, the trend is spreading to the general public as celebrities follow the Goth trend. It is interesting that when Gothic style is applied to fashion, it is often fused with the Punk * style. This can be seen directly when you see photos of a Korean popular singer, Lee Hyo-ri’s second album. Her Gothic ring emblazoned with a cross is matched with a Punk ring and hobnail boots. You can also find the Goth trend even in makeup. Specifically, SMOKEY makeup emits a dismal aura which emphasizes the eyes using black and other dark colors. This makeup pattern is gaining popularity because it is not
limited to Goth fashion but matches all fashion style. The Gothic pattern called ‘dark spirit’ may seem strange and unfamiliar but the Goth trend is already prevalent in modern life. Then, why do people pursue Gothicism even in Fashion? Susan Sontag, American critic,stated that the most effective sex appeal is opposing one’s original gender. She also said that Goth fashion can be a routeto maximize sexual presentation because it emphasizes femininity in males and masculinity in females.

Generally, people wonder if Goths are Satanists because Gothicism deals with dark atmosphere and supernatural stories. Strictly speaking, the Goth trend and Satanism are different. Gothicism is not a religious organization but merely the pursuit of a culture of darkness and blackness. The Goth admires dark and mystic sensibility but does not have a relationship with any religion. If the hippies** send messages of love and the punks express their anger about society, the Goths just respect  individual uniqueness and reflect it in darkness. Catherine Spooner, English literature professor at Lancaster University in England, values the social effect of Goths’ gatherings, saying “The Goth and Gothicism offer a chance for a conversation about the anxiety and fear which occurs between humans and society

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