If Health Goth Is a Joke, a ‘New York Times’ Trend Piece Is Its Punchline

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It’s a useful rule of thumb that you can tell that a scene is over when the New York Times writes a trend piece about it — which means that, as of yesterday, health goth is officially over. If that were all there was to it, there wouldn’t really be a great deal else to say about it, but health goth is interesting in the respect that it was officially over before it actually began — in other words, it never really progressed beyond being nothing, its signifiers pointing nowhere, its entire existence a sort of Internet in-joke, a conspiracy of pixels for the amusement of a small number of people.

Seriously:

There’s something perversely fascinating about the devolution of these movements, such as they are: witch house had a definable aesthetic (triangles, unicode) and sound (reverb, general ominousness). Seapunk only had a definable aesthetic (dolphins, dithered pixels, #Splash). Health goth has neither, beyond a sort of amusing, counter-intuitive general concept (goths exercising!). There’s really nothing beyond that — the entire point is that there’s no point.

What’s notable (and entertaining) is that such a meaningless trend, or non-trend, has nevertheless ended up in the pages of the paper of record. Admittedly, even the Times‘ reporting reads as somewhat tongue-in-cheek (“The silhouetted image from Nike of a midair Michael Jordan is shown upside-down… Nike could not be reached for comment”), with an, ahem, healthy sense of the absurdity involved with the whole strange business.

Health goth may have no deeper meaning in itself, but its existence is a reminder that there’s really no such thing as a “scene” — “scene” is generally a label that’s applied retrospectively to draw a connection between artists united only by geography or chronology. Even the most storied of scenes are defined this way: you’d struggle to find anything in common between the music of, say, Talking Heads and the Dead Boys beyond their context and era, but they both fall under the general rubric of New York punk.

In this respect, health goth is an amusing exercise in taking the idea of a “scene” to its logical extreme: it’s not that there’s nothing in common between the bands, it’s that there are no bands. It’s not that the proponents are lumped together under an arbitrary genre descriptor, it’s that there are no proponents. It’s not that the aesthetic is a collection of disparate but identifiable factors conflated retrospectively into some sort of coherent trend, it’s more that that there are no factors at all, just the arbitrary combination of two incompatible trends (lycra-clad wellness and upside-down-cross goth) lumped together for the precise reason that they have absolutely nothing in common at all. It could just as easily have been, I don’t know, yoga metal or Birkenstock lifestyle crunkcore.

It ties in to a trend toward virtual absurdism that you can see in like-minded institutions like, say, The Jogging, the semi-famous, oh-so-2013 art Tumblr that generated no end of amusement for a few months through its presentation of the 21st-century quotidian as art (you can see your correspondent’s contribution here, although I should note that I was only responsible for placing the computer). The idea of trolling the establishment is, of course, as old as art itself, and the whole question of what is and isn’t art ceased to be interesting around about the time that Marcel Duchamp entered an old pisser into an art show under the name Fountain.

But still, there’s something quintessentially 21st century about the idea of a scene that isn’t a scene at all, an aesthetic that exists only as a sort of nebulous Internet presence. Whereas in the past a scene was generally subject to some sort of geographical boundaries, in 2014 there’s no reason even for that — the Internet allows something like this to have adherents all around the world.

In that respect, a New York Times trend piece is the perfect expression of the whole silly idea that was health goth — the very existence of such a piece is part of the joke. Maybe it’s even the punchline. And that, of course, means that writing about it here is also part of the joke, even if it’s a joke that I’m not really in on (and, to be honest, have no great desire to be). Such postmodernism! Health goth is dead. Long live health goth. #pray4healthgoth. Et cetera.