Post-Millennial Gothic: Comedy, Romance and the Rise of Happy Gothic
By Catherine Spooner. (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017. 232 pages). ISBN 9781441101211
Though as a rule one should never judge a book by its cover, Post-Millennial Gothic’s purple, black and red Alice Marwick-designed jacket is arguably an exception. Amongst the brambles that frame a full moon are a series of familiar pop culture silhouettes – Tim Burton’s Mad Hatter, Stephanie Meyer’s Edward and Bella, even Julian Barrett and Noel Fielding’s The Mighty Boosh logo – accompanied by a black cat, a voodoo doll, a bat and a raven. The design, colour scheme and imagery are all in-keeping with the trend in Young Adult fiction, fashion and children’s toys of the last decade or so for the Gothic inspired: Post-Millennial Gothic would sit comfortably in the ‘Supernatural Romance’ section of any high-street book sellers. That the popularity of series such as Meyer’s Twilight, LJ Smith’s The Vampire Diaries and Charlaine Harris’ The Southern Vampire Mysteries has had a significant impact on popular culture is undeniable, visible not only in ratings and sales but on the shelves of stores such as Hot Topic, in online fan communities and dedicated conventions. Yet these series – in particular Twilight – have been the subject of significant criticism, disregarded as frivolous fiction for teenage girls and therefore of no merit.
Post-Millennial Gothic, Catherine Spooner states in the introduction, ‘agrees that Gothic is no longer where it used to be, but rather than lament its passing, seeks to map its new territories.’ Spooner’s aim is not just to justify the study of texts such of those featured on the cover, nor is it necessary to argue their worth – a text does not have to be ‘good’ for it to be culturally significant and worthy of study. Indeed, as Spooner notes, much of the ire and concern surrounding these texts mirrors critical responses to the Gothic fiction of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, rooted in their existence as ‘female’ texts. The dismissal of Twilight as ‘bad art’, a frivolous novel written in the wake of a dream, arguably makes it a Gothic text – despite the fact Meyer in many ways uses the Gothic only as an aesthetic marker and not as a generic convention. Meyer’s vampires may not be Stoker’s, but the phenomenon surrounding them in popular culture during the late 2000s and 2010s means they cannot and, as Spooner suggests, should not be ignored. The question of Post-Millennial Gothic is not so much why we should read these texts, but how.
Post-Millennial Gothic, according to Spooner, ‘is a deliberately provocative title’. To declare Post-Millennial in 2017 might be considered premature. Spooner argues that the cultural anticipation and anxiety in the lead up to the millennium, alongside a number of specific cultural events in the late 1990s and early 2000s (such as 9/11), caused such a dramatic cultural shift that it justifies the pre/post distinction. In the fiction and culture of the post-millennial period, Spooner identifies what she terms the rise of ‘Happy Gothic’: a shift towards comedy, romance and even whimsy, and demonstrates how in these ‘new territories’ the Gothic has become a tool for a new kind of self-expression and exploration, rather than a reflection for societies deepest fears and anxieties.
Spooner has cast her net wide: over its eight chapters Post-Millennial Gothic explores a range of topics, focusing on Gothic lifestyle, aesthetic, fashion and subculture as well as literature, film and television, with each chapter divided into clear sections. Though there are some sections that felt as if there could have been much more to say (one gets the impression that Spooner could have easily made each chapter its own book), Post-Millennial Gothic is well rounded, accessible and very readable study that arguably succeeds in its mission statement and more.
As popular culture continues to embrace – or appropriate, as some critics would suggest – the Gothic aesthetic then arguably this movement must become ‘worthy’ of academic study and attention. Spooner presents a concise argument for why the ‘celebratory strain of Happy Gothic’ is worthy of study and how we might read it, laying solid ground work and hopefully encouraging further study.
Review by Lauren Nixon