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Why we share our passions: it's all about belonging
Alfred Hitchcock or John Carpenter would have loved it. We had planned a sunny, springtime break in Whitby. But as we drove into the piquant Yorkshire resort where Bram Stoker imagined Dracula unsheathing his fangs for the first time on British soil, a thick mist rolled in from the North Sea. And there it stayed for two days. High above the town the ruined abbey became an eerie silhouette — jagged walls briefly glimpsed through swirling murk. The infamous 199 steps curving up to the graveyard where poor, sleepwalking Lucy succumbed to the Count’s fatal embrace seemed as sinister as footsteps in a deserted street. The mournful moan of a foghorn added to the sepulchral aura. If the Flying Dutchmen had stepped ashore that afternoon, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised.
Then I saw them, looming out of the mist. Hundreds of ghoulish figures in black or funereal purple, their faces as fey as natural yoghurt, their hair as black as Whitby jet, their garb impeccably mid-Victorian but with transsexual embellishments. Fabulous creatures, of every shape and age, gliding through the streets as if summoned to some great vampire ball round the gravestones.
Curiosity overcame me. “What are you?” I asked one. “A Goth,” he replied with a twirl of his mail-order cane and a proud swish of his M&S cape. “But why are there so many of you?” I persisted. He looked stunned by my ignorance. “It’s Whitby Goth Weekend,” he said. “Check out the website.”
Of course, as soon as the obvious is pointed out you see clues all around. Twice a year Whitby goes Goth-mad. Shops, pubs and B&Bs put up “We Welcome Goths” signs. The Whitby Gazette organises a Journalists v Goths football match. Hotels host sales of Goth-gear: lashings of black eyeliner, fishnet stockings and silky corsets . . . and that’s just in menswear. Bands with names like Zombina and the Skeletones descend on every venue. There’s even a Goth Service in the parish church, with Goth music instead of hymns and a priest preaching a sermon on “self-harm”. I presume he was against it.....
......Of course that’s partly because the Goths, in spite of their efforts to project themselves as Satanic bloodsuckers, corpse-botherers and insatiable sexual deviants (not necessarily in that order), are actually a pretty nice bunch.......
Even so, for a bluff Yorkshire community such as Whitby to welcome so warmly this invasion of weirdly-garbed outsiders is a shining example of how society ought to work all the time. If we want to build a harmonious world, the grip of “tribal mentality” on our thoughts and deeds is not something we should be trying to break. History shows that to be impossible. Instead, we should be encouraging people to gravitate towards tribes that bring communal joy to their members without harming or antagonising others. It’s when there are no benign tribes around that people drift towards the more unpleasant sort.
A thriving civilisation is not a homogenous monoculture imposed from above. That was tried in Russia and Germany in the 1930s. It’s the reverse. It’s a society that glories in the multiplicity of a million grass-roots idiosyncrasies, a million creeds, a million nutty hobbies, freely and flamboyantly expressed. Goth Weekend was a reminder that, even in an age of increasingly prescriptive “ consensual” politics, nobody does eccentricity better than the British, or accepts it more cheerfully. It was a joy to behold — if only by accident, and through a dense fog.
Read it all, and the next short article by Richard Morrison where he continues this theme of unity through diversity after his encounter with some enthusiastic birdwatchers on the way home from Whitby. I am not a Goth, although I have Goth friends (and they are indeed lovely) but we love Whitby.
And remember, from above
"A thriving civilisation is not a homogenous monoculture imposed from above. "
Whitby Abbey (in daylight, beware!)