There has been a debate going around the web surrounding the commercialization of goth. I would like to briefly address this idea within the context of lower-class participants in the subculture who feel goth has become an unaffordable lifestyle due to its supposedly expensive aesthetic. Since we each do our part to keep the scene inclusive, I hope the questions posed and topics addressed in this three-part series will launch constructive discourse.
With social media it has become increasingly easy to sell products to the masses and of course, sellers have taken notice of this. In relation to the scene, many goths on Instagram and Youtube are being sent clothing to advertise big brands. As Youtube is a platform created for the outspoken, we can find many users who were young goths in the 80s and/or 90 addressing this subject, most of the time expressing discontent. Just take a look at Angela Benedict or Cemetery Confessions. Goth’s new stage is worth critiquing, especially for those of its previous era.
Considered the height of capitalist ideals, the question is really whether or not it is stripping away goth’s original DIY culture. Provoking more backlash than Hot Topic, exposing one’s extensive shopping list has become a taboo of sorts amongst those who wish to maintain however you might define the subculture’s purity. Take a glimpse at any #goth on Pinterest, Tumblr and even Twitter (which ignited the #gothgoth tag so that actual goths could recognize each other) and you will find that it has mostly become a trend of sorts: Models in black clothing, flawless makeup by non-goths who simply want the look without the label, ripped jeans = punk…if you don’t know the type, some use goth looks as a means of attracting subscribers without knowing that it was a music based subculture. When I say this I am speaking of tags #goth on image based platforms (as mentioned above, Pinterest, Tumblr…).
Now hauls. By definition, a haul is a quantity of something that was stolen or is possessed illegally. We have since dropped its original meaning to designate “a large quantity of stuff”. Companies use self-proclaimed goths to advertise an aesthetic. The fear people experience due to hauls comes from its lack of substance (i.e. forgetting its musical base, DIY culture, other practices). So, when sending goth influencers clothes, accessories and whatnot, there is the expectation that they will give positive reviews in order to establish a relationship with the brand and keep obtaining products.
I have noticed that there are three types of hauls:
- Brand hauls: the person buys and receives products to review. These reviews generally consist of try-ons and basic information about how the piece fits and feels. Sometimes this is a “dialogue of sorts”, a way of interacting with fans.
- Informative hauls: the person primarily purchases their own products while occasionally receiving content from brands. They review the product in detail with the intentions of telling the audience which pieces are of better quality and worth purchasing.
- Thrift hauls: The person uses dollar store, thrift store and cheap 5€ to 1€ website hauls, “what’s in my closet” videos or blog posts, examples for outfits according to season…all in order to give the audience inspiration to be creative.
In a sense, all of these hauls are inclusive and have both their advantages as well as downfalls. I will cite a few Youtube names to give an example. Please understand that this is not a rank. Each type of haul contributes to the scene in its own way, whether they’re simply enjoyable to watch or provide useful content:
- Brand Hauls: Hello Batty, Toxic Tears, Drew Disaster
- Informative Hauls: It’s Black Friday, Angela Benedict, ReeRee Phillips
- Thrift Hauls: Drac Mackens, Of Herbs and Altars, Amy Nekrotique
Note: These are categories I personally came up with in order to break down the question. They are subject to change. Feedback is good!
A Youtuber going by The Goblin Queen briefly touched upon hauls in a chat with Tabitha Lessek and mentioned an intriguing fact. She stated that goth Youtubers get significantly more views with hauls than any of their other videos. This attracts an audience and helps them grow a bigger fanbase. This in mind, it seems that hauls have the potential to be promotional. In this case, critiquing the relation between hauls and materialism becomes slightly more complex – though I would not say it is a case by case scenario for we are talking about three categories of hauls all contributing to the same gothic whole. Back to the pros and cons…they are absolutely debatable. This is what I have found:
Brand Hauls are a certain way to help goth Youtubers amass a bigger audience. Though what is and is not affordable is relative, they often feature pieces which could be considered expensive for those struggling in life. According to most comments on these videos, however, the viewers do not express envy but extreme enthusiasm over these reviews. I have two personal theories on this. The lower-class audience enjoys placing themselves in the shoes of the Youtuber. They imagine a life of decadence where these “unaffordable” pieces (again, subjective) are at their reach. The second theory is that they take inspiration from the haul in order to create their own pieces or modify what they have. There really is nothing better than cyber window shopping in order to spark DIY inspiration. The downside is that when the channel is composed mainly of hauls with perhaps an unboxing in between, it could come off as extremely materialistic. It seems that these are the ones most goths worry about, believing them to be superficial. With this I hope that Brand Hauls sound slightly more three-dimensional than imagined at first glance. Then, there is the whole idea of voyeurism in Youtuber/viewer relations as well as judgement and guruism… But that’s aside the point.
Informative Hauls require research and knowledge of brands in order to be truly informative. Viewers gain something from these in that they become aware of which product is most likely to fit and last. Additionally, they can add their opinion of the product in the comments in the event that they own the same piece. However, unlike the Brand Haul, the sense of imagination slightly decreases due to its realness. For those with little money, these can help in the sense that they may someday have one of these pieces for themselves. It could be a curiosity watch too, but it mainly seems to be that the Youtuber simply helps to understand quality products. This can be especially useful for those who are crafty and make their own pieces from scratch. Overall, informative hauls come off as more serious than Brand Hauls, going in-depth and elaborating on the piece’s functional details. They are more technical than frivolously fun. Lower class viewers may have split decisions in terms of which they prefer.
Thrift Hauls, oddly enough, seem to be the least popular of all three haul types. Popular in the sense of how many are included in a Youtuber’s channel. Though some channels are dedicated to thrift stores, when it comes to the spooky side they’re just a little sparser. That aside, watching a thrift haul is pretty fun. In this category I include the cheap hauls such as “under 10€ hauls” and “outfit ideas”. These continue the circle of DIY ideas where viewers can connect with the content creator to give them advice and inspiration in return. It seems that this fits within the original nature of the goth subculture in addition to breaking the cycle of the lower class being unable to express themselves due to the fear that they need to buy “actual goth clothing”. Check this previous post for dressing goth when you can’t afford clothes.
What we have gathered here is that all three hauls are dependent on mood. Consuming this type of media is not inherently detrimental to the scene, nor is creating it so. What needs to happen is both balance and transparency. Letting the viewer know about sponsored content should be in tandem with an honest opinion. There is no blame to be had on channels which appear materialistic, as it is the viewer’s decision to choose what they intake. But, being upfront as a creator is of the biggest importance (the Youtubers listed in this post do provide a disclaimer about sponsored content and leave links under their videos). What perhaps is bothersome to those questioning the role hauls have in the subculture is the lack of DIYing. Thrift Hauls as expressed above are not nearly as popular as your standard Punk Rave, Killstar or Dolls Kill haul. This has less to do with Youtubers and more to do with social media itself and the effect it has on users, a topic we will address in part two.
In addition to the little amount of DIY, it seems that what goths fear most is the obliteration of the scene through the lack of exchange in terms of music: that the scene may cease to become a lived experience and instead be replaced by an online presence used as a barometer to determine participants’ “goth level”. While hauls may give the impression of superficiality, it is mainly due to the fact that there is very little variety in terms of what the viewer consumes. If the three categories Brand Hauls, Informative Hauls and Thrift Hauls were each highlighted equally, then perhaps the scene as it is now would feel more welcoming to those who cannot afford even the basics.
In the second part we will be discussing social media and its effect on younger goths just entering the scene. Please leave constructive comments and thoughts on how you view hauls! Remember, this is a place of discussion. You are entitled to your own opinion so long as it is not destructive or hurting anyone else.
A brief disclaimer: As a cartoon I cannot proclaim myself a goth of an era of my choice. According to my creator, however, I am not a walking talking early 80s/90s goth, but was based off of the crazy cartoonists’ participation in the scene limboing around the late 90s and feeling its full repercussions in the early 2000s. I was of the time where Google ate AltaVista, Ask Jeeves was a reliable source, MSM caused parental finger waves and firstname.lastname@example.org was the prime way (next to hotmail) to receive those wonderful digital e-cards from a very, very distant relative. My first experiences of goth came from lurking on LiveJournal, Geocities’ last days and Blogger’s prime time in the web bubble. Most importantly, I found Gothic Charm School, my official “awakening”. Essentially, my creation came from a reader-writer-artist and mad doctors’ acid reflux of the overlap between the late 90s and early 2000s when commercial goth was at its heyday.
 Piece here includes clothing, accessories, jewelry, and miscellaneous products such as makeup or hair accessories.