What is Corporate Gothic?

As members of Joe’s Writers’ Club club threw the term “Corporate Gothic” around, again and again, I became mystified. I agreed with the consensus – that the literary genre projects something “corporate” in the setting or conflict – and gothic elements like suspense and mystery in the style; yet, at the repeated mention of “gothic”, I paused. I was excited about the project, but I felt dizzy. Pulled into a dream state, I couldn’t explain what I couldn’t explain.

It was a paradox at play, and grappling with a contradiction in terms, I couldn’t understand the meaning of “gothic” because the meaning of “gothic”, I now realize, cannot be fully understood. As I conducted google searches and followed Wiki links, I was trying to solve the unsolvable, explain the inexplicable, and locate a technical definition for a non-technical term. While my exploration resulted in less-than-substantial findings, I did come across some interesting tidbits along the way.

The countless meanings for the term “gothic” include a germanic people, a style of architecture, a typeface, a subculture, a music scene, a fashion statement, in addition to the literary genre! Like the “gothic” typeface, “corporate gothic” has its own font, I noticed, and the slight slant of its tail exhibits the old-world flourish of copperplate. (Download the Corporate Gothic Typeface here.)

The Gothic Secretary

Like the “goth” fashion and subculture, “corporate gothic” denotes a style of fashion that blends vampiric pointy-toed outfits with traditional business attire. While displaying varying degrees of sexuality, the corporate-gothic look challenges and temps the straitlaced dress code, typical of corporate culture. Television characters that feature playful versions of corporate gothic fashion include NCIS science-genius Abby Sciuto and The IT Crowd‘s befuddled employee, Richmond Avenel.

Just as the term “gothic” has numerous definitions, the literary genre goes by several names. What’s called gothic literature, gothic fiction, and gothic horror includes sub-genres like urban gothic, suburban gothic, southern gothic, and American gothic. Wiki lists the origination of gothic fiction as the Romantic Period (the late 1700s). Google defines the style of literature as having “elements of fear, horror, death, and gloom, as well as romantic elements, such as nature, individuality, and very high emotion.” Studies designate Edgar Allen Poe as the “father” of the genre; the constant mentions of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein likely establish her as the mother.

Interestingly, monsters in gothic fiction can be within, without, or both. The monsters that appear in Poe’s texts are often innate, self-destructive impulses. Edward Rochester’s inner torture in Jane Eyre contrasts the flesh-and-blood monster in Stoker’s Dracula. Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde feature both – the inner beast and the outer fiend, as the scientist proves to be more horrifying than his creation. The inner monster in Stevenson’s masterpiece resides in Jekyll, which gives way to the physical manifestation of Hyde.

The gothic monsters in Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park – coupled with the corporate backstory – provide a notable vision of the Corporate Gothic genre. In the movie, eerie mist rises – not around a castle on the hill, but around a corporate-owned island-park, reminiscent of King Kong’s lair. The obsession with perfection of entrepreneur John Hammond functions as the destructive monster within, which gives birth to snarling dinosaur monsters that haunt and torment workers and visitors alike.

In the corporate-gothic film, Alien, mystery and suspense appear – not around a castle or island, but around a ship in space. The corporate back story involves the corrupt “company”. The inner monster, corporate’s unstrained greed, invites the hissing beasts to feast upon those that cross its path. Jurassic Park and Alien both have outer monsters in the sequels, escaping into the larger world and threatening the evolution of humankind! Horrible!

What is your favorite example of Corporate Gothic?