Archive for goth

Questions to Ask Before Joining a Coven

Posted in Culture with tags , , , , , , , on January 29, 2015 by vprime

nancycraft
Ladies, these days there are more and more options for harnessing dark forces to your will. While you could seek mastery of the invisible realms on your own, consider the potential benefits of joining a coven. For one thing, coven-based rituals have a greater chance of success since the group effort magnifies the power of everyone’s intentions. Coven work is literally empowering! Your fellow witches are a wonderful resource for learning hexes, bindings, and fun ways of styling your hair for those summer music festivals. Besides, nothing can beat the sense of sisterhood to be found when you and twelve of your besties connect around a bubbling cauldron, just basking in the song of the whippoorwill, the light of the moon and the cries of that persistent newspaper reporter. The right coven can do wonders for your flying ointment, your bread, and your social life, but first you’re going to have to do your research. There’s nothing more awkward than finding yourself the odd witch out in the middle of a crucial Walpurgisnacht when you assume everyone wants honeycakes but half of your coven is gluten-free! Getting to know as much as you can about your potential coven before you commit can save you a lot of time and heartache. Here are some questions that can help you in your search for the perfect coven.

1. What is the coven’s mission statement? Will there be the opportunity for great workings beyond the traditional milk-souring, storm-raising and enaction of mandatory female hiring quotas?
2. Is this a coven where I can materially improve my life through the application of dark powers, or one of those deals where we all just dance around at the Equinox?
3. Does the coven maintain an official grimoire? What are the standard procedures followed should the grimoire be discovered and used by a group of horny teens just out for some fun in an old cabin in the woods?
4. What kind of women do you allow in? Are they cool, or will I have to put up with a lot of conversations about “juicing”?
5. What sort of recruitment efforts does the coven engage in? Are they open to avenues beyond knitting circles, book clubs and ads in the back of MS Magazine?
6. Does the coven operate any of the usual business fronts, such as beekeeping, herbalists or eyebrow threading salons?
7. What are the duties of the High Priestess outside of consorting with the Great Goat and maintaining the coven’s Instagram feed?
8. How are targets and sacrifices identified? Is there a lottery to which coven members can add the names of potential victims or does the coven rely on nosy men stumbling in from the outside world?
9. What is your dress code? Are rituals performed skyclad, in robes or pantsuits? If robes are required, do you provide them? Is there an official outfitter the coven prefers? Are there regulations governing diadems, coronets or other headwear?
10. Where will Sabbats and Esbats take place? If on remote islands, groves or crossroads, will nearby accommodation be available at group rates? How will transportation be handled? If by spectral horses, does the coven have an insurance policy in case of accidents?
11. What is your approach to Necromancy? Is summoning dead musicians for the purpose of, say, dinner party entertainment frowned upon?
12. Who supplies ritual items to the coven? Are there multiple sources for potions, phials and tinctures? Which of the preceding are created in-house? Is there quality-control oversight of the raw materials to ensure the freshness of toads, bats and grave dirt? Does the coven use poppets? Are the wicker men built by coven members or outsourced to contractors?
13. Which sorts of animals are approved familiars? Are there exceptions made for really really cute cats that do this neat thing with their paws where they can hold a little piece of kibble between them but happen not to be black?
14. Can we just, like, talk about shoes for a bit?

Advertisements

Etsy Finds: Tetrad Edition

Posted in Clothes, Etsy, Fashion, Jewelry with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2014 by vprime

I return to you now at the turn of the tide, or something Gandalf would say. I’ve been consumed with my latest project, Baby Prime. Baby Prime is nearly a year old now, and it’s taken all this time to start getting some of my time and sanity back, but Baby is doing fabulously and I’m still shuffling about, gibbering and shedding hair as per the usual.

April begins a astrological/-nomical phenomena known as a Tetrad. This is a series of four lunar eclipses in a row. Astrologically, eclipses can set off crises in your life in the house in which the eclipse falls. These trials are often painful or stressful yet necessary for growth. So, we’re coming up on a set of four little personal apocalypses. For more about where you can expect your life to explode, see here. Perhaps you may be able to defray the Goddess’ wroth by robing yourself in her protective sigils.* Here are some examples:

bloodmoon pendantThis blood moon pendant by Out of Space Jewelry reflects the image of the darkened eclipse moon. Hang this around your neck in the hopes that in seeing her reflection, the Moon will briefly take pity upon you and confine her ill effects to an easily solved and inexpensive household issue, like running out of laundry soap.

lunar dressThis lunar jersey dress by Shadowplay NYC reminds the universe: “I’m a Moonchild. Do not fuck with me, dark powers.” It’s made of cotton jersey, and so sensible for the upcoming heat of late spring and summer. The dress can be worn several ways, either as a short dress or a long tunic. It’s sewn so that it hangs asymmetrically. I recently got one of these dresses in a different print from Shadowplay, and it fits more like a long tunic. I love their cosmic prints. Try wearing this to your Esbats for an extra moon-boost.

lunar calendarThis stylish lunar calendar by Thorburn Collective will help you keep track of the moon’s phases.

lunar amuletThe Lunar Amulet for Ceremonies of Intention by For Strange Women is a series of perfumes attuned to each new moon of the year. This version comes in a brass locket with faceted onyx representing the dark moon. There are some really stunning perfume lockets in their shop, like this one and this one.

phase earringsFor proper lunar protection, you’ll need silver. These hammered silver moon phase earrings by Aurora Shadow should fit the bill. Moon phases seem to be A Thing right now, from shirts to nails to cellphone covers, and I’m not opposed to this.

pyramid candleIf all else fails, pull out your pyramid of power candle (by Artisan Witchcrafts) and do whatever banishing rituals you need to get your shit back together.

Those are my words of advice. Do with them what you will. And that shall be the whole of the law etcetera etcetera. My hope is that I will return with something more substantive soon. Thank you.

*Disclaimer: I’m not a witch, Wiccan, neopagan or any sort of left-hand-pathfinder. I just really love the trappings and language of the occult, as I’m sure many vaugely Gothy folk do.

Spellbound: BDSM in Gothic Fashion

Posted in Clothes, Culture, Fashion with tags , , , , on August 10, 2012 by vprime

A Brief History

If Malcolm McLaren hadn’t been running a bondage fashion shop, one can wonder if punks would have chosen some other apparel to shock middle-class sensibilities. The prevalence of bondage gear as punk—and later, Goth—signifiers has its roots partially in McLaren’s desire to promote his shop (then co-owned with Vivienne Westwood). But looking beyond the capitalist reasons why bondage fashion was associated with the punk movement, there are a number of symbolic meanings expressed by the choice of bondage as fashion. Westwood has been influential in shaping postmodern fashion, an aesthetic that embraces “clothing and imagery that appear dirty, ripped, scarred, shocking, spectacular, cruel, traumatized, sick, or alienating.” The youth of an economically ravaged, crumbling former empire walking the streets in collars, leashes and pants with strategically-placed straps and buckles designed for immobilization aimed for shock, spectacle and alienation. If Nationalism is Romantic (and I do think that it is) then punk used a harsh anti-Romanticism as a political and sartorial weapon. Bondage as fashion confronted several social myths. Gavin Baddeley, in the book Goth Chic, claims that “punk’s self-appointed thought police  . . . associated sexual dominance games with sexism and the hated middle classes.”  In laying bare the power dynamics of romantic-sexual relationships, bondage gear made visible the tension between power and romance underlying hetero relationships. Bondage fashion brought society’s dirty secrets out onto the streets. It revealed the former empire’s decadence, cruelty and hypocrisy. Wearing bondage gear was a sign that the wearer wasn’t buying in to the mainstream’s romantic narrative and their role therein.

Ironically, punk has historically been a subculture that prizes certain active virtues assumed to be masculine—freedom from authority, toughness, self-sufficiency—yet males (and females) embraced bondage fashions that in BDSM circles often denote submissiveness such as dog collars, wrist cuffs, and padlocked chains. These fashions paired with aggressive metal spikes, combat boots and hard, gravity-defying hairstyles. While punk music for the most part embraces an aggressive, anti-authoritarian and occasionally nihilistic perspective, there is a connection between submissive BDSM signals and the punk message. Portraying oneself as bound, restricted, beaten or oppressed reflected the real economic and social state of the youth in the U.K. (and to a lesser extent, the U.S.) during the 1970s. The Sex Pistols declared there was no future.  X-Ray Specs more overtly mocked youths’ social position with the lines “thrash me, crash me, beat me till I fall. I wanna be a victim for you all” in “Oh Bondage up Yours.” This sentiment gets to the heart of the punk use of bondage fashion: while it demonstrated the wearer’s sense of alienation, it also confronted the passersby with their own complicity in a system that kept them in slavery to its useful social and economic fictions.

Anti-Ordinary

Archaic Smile Sticker

As Goth mutated away from punk it kept the latter’s resistance to the mainstream.  In many ways, the practice of rejecting mainstream values shaped much of Goth’s preoccupations; from alternative spiritualities (Wicca, Neo-Paganism, Left-Hand Paths other forms of magick) to alternative sexualities. While punks also availed themselves of fetish fashions, Goth embraced these is sometimes unironic ways. As part of an expression of allegiance with everything shunned by the dominant culture, fetish and bondage fashion fit neatly into Goth’s system of valorizing the shadow side of the collective psyche. In a great post on what’s wrong with conflating the BDSM-fetish scenes and the Industrial music scene on the Industrial Anti-Oppression blog, Strigiform writes “from what I understand, industrial was not always associated with fetish, latex, women making out for men, etc. It was associated with pushing boundaries and counter cultures which I am sure at times included BDSM.”  As with Goth, alignment with marginalized or underground groups and practices was sought as a rejection of the mainstream. The (at one time) difficulty of finding these items of clothing  further imbued the wearer with subcultural credibility, as this formed a visible barrier to purchasing a Goth wardrobe from your local department store. However, Goth’s orientation toward more feminine values colored the use of sexualized clothing. For example, the corset—which by the late 20th century had ceased to be underwear and become fetishwear—exaggerated the natural shape of the feminine body in resistance to the dominant culture’s ideal of a very thin, athletic, less fleshy female shape. The corset suits bodies that have some adipose tissue to compress and shift, and Goths of all sizes enjoy the benefits of this severe restriction. The corset, preferably with steel boning, tightened to reduce the waist by up to four inches, also forces the wearer upright. Its weight and rigidity encompass the wearer like armor. A common refrain found on buttons, t-shirts and stickers marketed to Goths proclaims “Tight? Of CORSET is” or some variant thereof, claiming the difficulty and occasional discomfort of corsetry as a signal of subcultural pride.

A Note on Corsets

A brief digression here on the comfort, or lack thereof, of corset-wearing. Modern corsets may give that Victorian hourglass shape, but they are made quite differently and are designed to be worn primarily as outerwear, not underwear. Aside from some extreme body modifiers, the 15-inch waists Victorian medical literature warned about are not prevalent. Keep in mind that those tiny-waisted women of yore were put into corsets in childhood and constantly wore compressive garments as they grew. Think of them as having bonsai waists if it helps. A modern corset can be quite comfortable for a long evening. The lacing can be adjusted so that the wearer can take full breaths. Some people can bend and dance with no problem. I have trouble bending at the waist when I wear one, but that’s easily accommodated. There have been times that I couldn’t wait to get out of my corset; one being when I made the mistake of wearing an underwire bra underneath—remember, everything gets pushed up—another when I went for a corset fitting right after eating a broccoli omelet. Nothing bad happened, it just made my stomach hurt after 10 minutes.

The Meaning of Masochism

BDSM fashion symbolically represented the Gothic embrace of romanticized pain, masochism and the taboo, forbidden or occult (L. occultus “hidden, concealed, secret,”).  This, I believe, also explains the prevalence of Catholic imagery and symbols such as crucifixes and the more bloody depictions of martyrdom; imagery of pain and suffering appeal to a perspective that seeks the sublime through darkness. Catholicism has a particularly vivid and rich tradition of encouraging the aestheticization of pain, with many examples of beautiful artwork depicting the death and suffering of saints. Bondage fashion is another way to wear reminders of pain. Gothic masochism tends to embrace pain as entwined with pleasure, at least psychologically. Piercings, tattoos and other body modifications are also visible signals of pain turned into beauty.  However, masochism cannot be taken as a literal pursuit.  Alongside the Gothic celebration of symbolic masochism, there are the appealing dramatized and ritualized aspects of fetish/BDSM images. The Gothic aesthetic is nothing if not dramatic, and BDSM imagery often involves ritualized violence and power as sexual psychodrama. Even though there is some overlap between Gothic and BDSM circles, it would be a mistake to assume that because a Goth is dressed in a black latex catsuit she’s indicating any interest in flogging random men who cross her path. The drama of power as expressed through fashion is the primary interest more often than not.

Here is the greatest misunderstanding outside Goth circles. Bondage and fetish fashions, though not worn with punk’s confrontational intent, are symbolic of a perspective that embraces aestheticized masochism, not necessarily literal BDSM interests. In Paul Hodkinson’ Goth: Identity, Style and Subculture, many of his interviewees mentioned being irritated by people who assumed their Gothic fetish fashions were sexual advertisements. The post from Gothic Confessions above testifies that Gothic fashion is still being misinterpreted. Even the code of conduct at NYC Goth club Absolution addresses this:

“Will you find someone at ABSOLUTION to satisfy your fetish? You could, but that is not the main topic of the night so sitting around all night waiting for someone to spank or trample you might prove frustrating. If your main goal is to satisfy a fetish, you may have better luck at a party which lists fetishism as one of its main topics.”

Gothic dating sites seem full of men who have no interest in Gothic culture, but will leeringly write at length about how they’ve heard Gothic women are “freaky” and “will do anything.” The conduct code at Absolution goes on to explain

“A word about fetishists who are “carpet men”(guys who like to lie down on the floor and get trampled): You are welcome to come in and lie down on the floor in the hope of being trampled, but you cannot lie down in front of the bar at my club. I realize this is the area where people are most likely to congregate, but that makes no difference because we need that area accessible to customers. The truth is that if you employed the services of a dominatrix to satisfy your “trampling fetish”, you’d be spending upwards of $300 or more for a single hour of her time. You are gratifying your fetish for $10 or less at my club for many hours, so you get what you pay for,” further demonstrating that Goths are often assumed to be some sort of brigade of volunteer kinky sex workers.

In my next post, I want to address how class dynamics fit into this picture, as well as covering what I’ve come to see as increased conformity to mainstream gender roles.

I Was a Vampire Roleplayer

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on April 23, 2012 by vprime

If you, like me, grew up in the 90s, then, you may have been lucky enough to experience the wonderland of strange lipstick colors, DIY hair dye jobs, techno music and vampire role playing games. If you were not so fortunate, come now and hear the un-shocking truth about vampire roleplaying. Let me tell you of a time before Twilight and MMORPGs when the games were on paper and vampires were sexy but never sparkly. The game of choice was Vampire: the Masquerade. V:tM could be played as either a tabletop dice game like Dungeons and Dragons or a Live Action Role Playing (LARP) game. Produced by a Georgia-based gaming company White Wolf, V:tM had several subtitle-happy companion games such as Werewolf: the Apocalypse, Mage: the Ascension, Wraith: the Oblivion, etcetera. All these games shared a universe known as the World of Darkness, which was described in several of the source manuals as a “Gothic-Punk” world. The universe created by White Wolf was compellingly peppered with mythological references, obscure vocabulary and interesting alternate histories. In short, it was like crack to the sort of nerdbrain that thrived on Joy Division, etymological dictionaries and Bulfinch’s mythology.

One of the things that made V:tM more interesting than a typical hack-and-slash role playing game was the focus on building characters. As a vampire player, your character had two archetypal personalities, your public persona and a private, concealed personality. Rather being defined by a character class (what you character does) and alignment (good or evil) you could decide to be a Benefactor/Predator or a Scientist/Martyr. Your character belonged to a Clan which dictated what sorts of vampire powers you’d have. Clan affiliation also dictated your weaknesses. For example, the Toreador Clan were your basic Anne-Rice-style fancy lad vampires, making lots of art and devoted to beauty. One of their powers was the ability to emotionally manipulate people around them—think stage presence—but their weakness was that they could fall into a paralyzing fascination in the presence of beautiful artworks or people. Your vampire powers operated on a system of finite willpower points. I think this system would be a wonderful one to implement in real life. As in “I’d love to have the salad instead of fries, but I’m all out of willpower points today, so . . .” Willpower points were regained by sleeping, feeding or other actions dictated by your personality type. In the live game, the powers operated inelegantly. For example, if your powers made you invisible, you’d cross your arms over your upper chest—hands touching shoulders—and everyone would have to pretend they didn’t see you creeping around. Even worse were the intangible powers, which would lead to dialogue like this:

“I just used my powers to make you do my bidding.”

“Oh, okay. What do you want me to do?”

“Go over there and ask that girl if she’s got a boyfriend.”

“Sigh.”

Since most of the people I played with were in high school, our characters’ concerns fell often into one of the following categories:

  1. Being sexy and mysterious.
  2. Shoving it to The Man.
  3. Killing each other. Preferably with explosives.

These goals took some doing to act out in a suburban park or in one of our back yards. It was hard to be sexy and mysterious when your mom drops you off for the game. Even harder than that was convincing all the people loafing around on your back porch that they’ve just been in a hellish explosion. LARPing with your school chums also led to plenty of awkward moments when trying to decide if the person talking to you was the kid from math class or Destructo, the Undead Viking. Generally, you’d just ask if they were in character, but by the time people started feeling comfortable slipping out of character, the game would devolve into a night of hanging out in a parking lot.  

The live-action game usually ran like a chaotic play about a deranged city council. A major premise of the game was that vampires engaged in a conspiracy to control humanity and conceal their existence from same. An easy plot was to call a meeting about some outlier whose sloppy feeding habits were threatening to reveal the existence of vampires. It’s hardly surprising that the game attracted a lot of Drama Club members highly devoted to acting out their awesome vampire characters. At live action games, the players tended to dress the part—lots of black leather jackets and thrift-store black lace dresses—and to put on British-ish accents or Enunciate. Dramatically. And crisply. The system required a folded up sheet of characteristics and powers you had. This was kept on your person and consulted when an interaction required you to engage in verbal conflict with another player. In the case that your attributes or powers were matched to your opponents, you could decide the matter with a round of rock-paper-scissors overseen by the rule-enforcing Storyteller. (I guess that by then, people had figured out that Dungeonmaster had other connotations.) Imagine, if you will, the tense confrontation between a rebellious young punk and the be-suited stiff representing the repressive social order. The harsh words and open contempt. The powerful deciding throw of rock versus scissors.  

The post-Columbine hysteria about the sinister practice of Vampire LARPing led to a brief spike in the game’s popularity before an almost total loss of media interest in the game. For those of us who played, the fear was totally misplaced. We weren’t keying ourselves up to be psychopaths. We were just escaping into a world where we could be glamorous and powerful. Monday morning would shuffle us back into the system, but Saturday nights we could rule the world.

Etsy Finds: Non-Lame Skulls Edition

Posted in Clothes, Culture, Decor, Etsy, Fashion, Jewelry with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2012 by vprime

As difficult as it may be to believe, skulls were once considered reminders of death and emblems against vanity and not just cutesy motifs for an Avril Lavigne-branded sweater. The image of the skull in art traditionally reminds the viewer of inevitable and impending mortality. These Memento Mori tell us, the viewers, that death comes for all. Seems like an incompatible thought to emblazon on disposable consumer goods, though to me, the trend of cute, quaint skulls smacks of our collective attempts to defang mortality. The cute skull is intended to say less to the viewer than it reveals about the wearer. It tells others that you consider yourself edgy or wish to appear mildly threatening without diverging too far from the mainstream of consumer values. Yes, I am including Ed Hardy here, as the rhinestone skull may be the worst offender when it comes to trivializing and kitschifying death. I’m also willing to acknowledge that kitsch is part of the humorous flip-side to Goth’s funereal overtones—“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” was recorded as a joke, after all—and the cute is often a necessary chaser to the morbid. However, I tend not to lean toward this aesthetic of cute skulls, candy witches and swirls of pink in my blacks. By the same token, I’m not about to go all Mortiis and armour myself in the darkest darkety dark of serious darkness. I prefer to walk a line that takes me near the abyss without setting up camp at the bottom. I’ve been thinking of this look as Classical Morbid. It’s part Trad Goth, part Corporate Goth. All that being said, the skull is still a compelling image that is a staple of Gothic fashion.  I’ve found some examples on Etsy that retain something of the heft of the Memento Mori.

Yes, I know what I just said about rhinestone skulls, but this jacket from Urbanhardware transcends the usual rhinestone skull in its wonderfully shaded and detailed execution. The closer the skull to the complexity of the anatomical image, the more visually interesting it becomes. The jacket’s use of velvet and lace are also an elegant touch. I love this sort of “Death is a Dandy” fashion.

Subtlety is key with the understated Goth look I’ve been pursuing lately. I have a tiny silver skull necklace very similar to this one by Etco. A tiny pendant like this can give a surprising flash of your morbid sensibilities without announcing itself too overtly.  Mine is on a fine silver ball-chain. I like wearing it with a quartz pendulum or a tiny silver wax-seal medallion.

This basic white stoneware skull made by Leigh Leigh Pottery would look great on top of a stack of leather-bound books. It’s a higher quality material that won’t remind you of styrofoam Halloween decorations. A basic ceramic figure such as this one also strikes me as less kitschy than a skull candleholder.

There’s no doubt, etchings are classy; just ask dead hottie, Albrecht Durer. This print, available from Tiger House Art, framed in an ornate black baroque frame, would make a great elegant Goth touch to any room. I have this print in my writing/sewing room.

I hope this has demonstrated a few ways to reclaim the skull from irrelevance, etcetera.

Music For a Monday: Switchblade Symphony

Posted in Culture, Music with tags , , , , on December 19, 2011 by vprime

Now that the world is (finally) safe for 90s nostalgia, I find myself dipping back into the bands I listened to then. Switchblade Symphony seems to embody a certain 90s alt-girl (or should I say grrl) aesthetic that lodged itself in the nexus of all that was cool. There were two girls (and some guys, but, whatever) with dreaded hair making spooky music whilst dressed in tattered thrift-store rejects. They looked vaguely like early Courtney Love only with lots more piercings and they had a comic book that was something like this:

I owned this comic, but now I cannot recall what it was about. An abusive dad or something? It was very of the time when girls wanted to tell the patriarchy to fuck off by wearing shredded wedding gowns. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there, the point is that SS took a goth twist to the riot-grrl look, but lyrically, they were less invested in politics than in potentially spooky things happening to children. One of their albums was titled after the children’s book Bread and Jam for Frances, a reference that really never made sense to me considering how menacing some of their songs could be. By menacing, I don’t mean aggressive and threatening, but frightening or unsettling like “Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark.” Here is an example, a song which uses nursery rhyme and the sounds of a toy-like piano to create dark atmospheric effects:

The ‘Goth’ label stuck to them in part because that’s how their label Cleopatra promoted them. I always thought they were one of those unclassifiable sorts of bands like Rasputina or Medieval Baebes. Their first album, “Serpentine Gallery” had plenty of Goth club crowd pleasers, like these:

Switchblade Symphony moved away from these synth-goth sounds later, experimenting with scratching, different vocal techniques and less club-friendly songs.

Switchblade Symphony split in late 1999, which seems perfectly appropriate somehow, since I have such heavy 90s associations for this band. Tina Root is now performing under the name Tre Lux. Her website has samples of several covers she’s done, including the fully awesome but sadly overlooked Information Society jam “Pure Energy.”

The “Labyrinth” of Desire

Posted in Culture, Movies, Music with tags , , , , , , , , on December 15, 2011 by vprime

Labyrinth is a strange film, combining adolescent fantasy with grotesque puppets; starring one of the only pop stars to attain legendary status in his own lifetime. The plot poses several unanswered questions, like what happened to Sarah’s mother and why goblins would be interested in stealing a baby and turning him into a goblin. I recall being mesmerized by this film as a child, finding the magical world of the labyrinth utterly convincing even down to the moss blooming with human eyeballs. There was something about Bowie as Jareth that was not repellently scary as Gene Wilder was in “Willy Wonka” but certainly wasn’t welcoming and cuddly. Many see this story as one of a child coming to age and learning to put aside the selfishness and fantasies of childhood, but I think that’s not what the film conveys at all. In fact, I think this film is showing us a young woman’s attempts to escape from the stifling constraints of domesticity.

The domestic environment in Labyrinth is every bit as stifling and terrifying as the most forbidding of the goblin landscapes. As in the fairy tales that Sarah consumes, her mother has been replaced by a stepmother. Sarah’s mother is never acknowledged in the film except as images in Sarah’s bedroom. She’s a silent icon, a form without substance. As she exists mainly in photos and newspaper clippings praising her acting roles, she belongs to the glamorous and immortal world of the image—as does David Bowie. The importance of images, appearances and surfaces in this film can’t be emphasized enough. The very word ‘glamour’ originally meant a spell or enchantment, especially one that produced an illusion or transformation in appearance, and was used to denote a specific form of deception practiced by fairies. Michael Jackson was rumored to have been considered for the role of Jareth. Thankfully, this did not come to pass. While Jackson was certainly familiar with illusion and altered appearances, he would not have been able to channel the threatening edge that Bowie displays here. Jackson, for all his performative acumen, was at heart too sentimental and childlike to make a convincing villain.

In Sarah’s initial tale, before the goblins take Toby away, she says that the Goblin King has fallen in love with her. So had he? Why does he come when she summons the goblins to take the baby? I believe that the movie conceals Sarah’s frustration and entrapment. From the opening scenes, we know that Sarah often has to care for her brother. In the absence of a social life, she constructs fantasy worlds in her free time, becoming the sort of heroine she could never be in reality. The reality of her life is a screaming baby, a father who barely has two words for her, a stepmother who subtly undermines her (“A girl should have dates at your age.”). In her fantasies, she’s admired and strong. Jareth, upon initially offering her the crystal ball, says that such an item is not “for a girl who watches a screaming baby.”  This suggests that Jareth find this domestic life to be beneath Sarah. As a reflection of her fantasies, Jareth is affirming Sarah’s belief that domesticity diminishes her.

Bowie’s presence infuses the film with queer desire that makes for an unsettling dynamic between Jareth and the barely teenaged Sarah. Much of this sexual subtext is surely due to Bowie’s own mystique as an androgynous, polysexual pop icon. The film makers must surely have known what they were doing when they costumed Jareth in leggings that left very little to the imagination, a frilly blouse, dominatrix gloves, heeled boots and a crop. Bowie’s Jareth is an alien creature. Even without the Spock eyebrows and Stevie Nicks hair, Jareth has a coldness wedded to seductiveness that conceals his motivations. Does he really want to keep Sarah’s brother, or is this a way to lure her into his world? As a goblin, Jareth is not quite a man. I use the term queer above because, while there is sexual tension in some of the scenes between Jareth and Sarah, it’s unclear whether that desire could be described in the terms of a heterosexual romance. In part, Sarah wants to be Jareth—with his power to bend others to her will. The presence of the baby throws a Freudian wrench into the works, as it clearly represents the potential consequences of Sarah’s sexual desires. Yet Jareth’s interest in the baby also suggests that like many an androgynous male pop icon before him, Jareth is a “safe” recipient for Sarah’s lust. He can’t make a baby of his own, so he won’t impregnate Sarah, giving her access to sexual desire without fear of consequence. Throughout the movie, Sarah has to shake herself from Jareth’s enchantments to recall her mission to save Toby. The masquerade ball scene is my favorite example. In this clip, Sarah is obviously captivated by the opulent world Jareth has created for her. In other reviews I’d read in researching this post, Jareth was painted as a bit of a Humbert Humbert for his interest in Sarah. I think this scene clearly shows that Jareth is exactly the sort of object of desire Sarah would conjure from her imagination.

As Jareth and Sarah reach their final confrontation, their exchanges take on a more overt dimension of desire. The M.C. Escher-influenced scene shows us Sarah lost in a physics-defying world that Jareth navigates with ease. The lyrics to the song here “Your eyes can be so cruel, just as I can be so cruel,” foreshadow the language of domination and submission that comprises Jareth and Sarah’s final exchange. Sarah has had to fight not just the illusion of the labyrinth, but her own urges to surrender to this world of surfaces to get to this point. She’s had to consciously reassert her filial duty to get to this confrontation. As Jareth sings, “I can’t live within you,” we see Sarah’s panic at being confronted by a side of herself that is cruel, sterile, asexual, domineering and looks great in a leather vest. In re-watching this, I was struck by how genuinely despairing Jareth looks at times as Sarah comes closer to her goal.

The final scene banishes the baby to the sidelines yet again. In an oft-repeated line, Jareth tells Sarah “Just fear me, love me, do as Isay, and I will be your slave.” This line, while certainly appealing, makes it unclear just what sort of power exchange Sarah would be consenting to. While it sounds unhealthily obsessive, it does accurately describe the sensation of being in lust.

Sarah completes her repudiation of her fantasy world in the line “you have no power over me.” Note, though, that Jareth does not disappear, he simply transforms and lurks outside Sarah’s window as the film ends. Jareth is still there, and, one can imagine, still the center of Sarah’s psychosexual world. Despite herself, Sarah has allowed herself to be reintegrated into the domestic sphere, however, her fantasy life is still very much present and still asserting itself, as the fantastical creatures of the Labyrinth rejoin her in her bedroom.  So while she will maintain the façade of the “girl who cares for a crying baby,” her inner life is safely concealed. It seems less like Sarah gives up her fantasy life than that she learns the necessity of concealing it.