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Still gothic after all these years

Part 6

by Ellen Barry, photos by Dana Smith

The goths will inherit the earth, Cusráque is saying, as he looks out at the Birkenstock temple of Au Bon Pain. The signs are everywhere, he says. In everything from couture to En Vogue videos, the society at large is poaching the goth aesthetic. At its own exhibition this summer, the Institute of Contemporary Art proclaimed American culture more gothic than ever. "We are living in particularly dire times -- in a Gothic period of fear, horror, moral disintegration, and indulgence in perverse pleasures," argue the program notes, which accompanied a show full of murder and grotesquerie. "The ghosts of Gothic have returned and are haunting the contemporary soul with their images and ideas."

But it's hard to trace goth back to an oozing center of decay in the American soul. The best-kept secret of goth is this: goth has lasted precisely because it's not at war with society. Goths have jobs. Goth rumbles tend to be verbal or, whenever possible, epistolary. Club managers, besotted, make it sound as if goths barely even litter: they are "more of a wine-drinking crowd," and "unbelievably well-behaved." "On a gay night," says Roman, "it gets a hell of a lot more violent."

If goth continues to thrive, it will not be a sign of the apocalypse, but of the inevitable loosening of social categories in an age that has replaced Howard Hughes with Bill Gates. That, at least, is Cusráque's argument as he rounds up neophytes for the next generation. America's darlings get weirder all the time. Case in point: Dennis Rodman. "Because of Dennis Rodman, that guy who would've beaten me up 10 years ago is going to look at me with respect. Dennis Rodman is a good thing."

Cusraque watches the Tevas walk by, and the plume on his hat dips wisely. If society doesn't make that move, he says, the economy will force it to.

"You remember virtual reality?" he asks. "Well, the guys who came up with that were blatant freaks. And as we go into the 2000s, that's the way it's going. Capitalism is the triumph of ideas. And the people with ideas right now are the freaks."

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