The TikTok trend looks right into the abyss of the internet, in an attempt to romanticise our reality – but can it really help to soothe the constant content-ification of our lives?
Look, we’ve all been there. That point in the night where your face is lit only by the blue light of your phone, screen flashing video after video like that Sarah Paulson meme. Your only concept of time is the mental note you make that, if you fall asleep now, you’ll still get at least x hours of shut-eye. You’re pretty sure no one’s died from that amount of sleep yet, but the next hour will still be spent Googling confirmation. And so the doom-scrolling continues.
Even if I hadn’t spent a half-decade working in social media, the accelerated proliferation of the internet in the same time span means that even the average person is still very much plugged into the same ceaseless matrix, despite every new report that we are all worse off for it. What once was envisioned as a utopian space for sharing, learning, and democratising power quickly turned dystopian in its omnipresence, cracks turning into fault lines only made more apparent with every aspect of life going online during the pandemic. Big Tech owns and sells our personal data to the highest bidder, uses it to manipulate real-world politics, incite violence and polarise divisions in our society – and yet, through it all, we can’t seem to stop scrolling. Faced with our bleak, overexposed, oversaturated, always online existence, the sense of nihilism is hard to escape. #corecore, the TikTok trend of editing together dissonant internet clips as if they were a trailer for a dreamy coming-of-age A24 film, is our latest attempt to romanticise this reality – but is it more a symptom of, rather than balm to, the constant content-ification of our lives?
With over 1.2 billion views across the hashtag at the time of writing, it’s clear that #corecore resonates. Described variously as the “great art movement” of our times, or simply something to scratch the itch of our collective 2am brains, what started as a niche video editing style aptly trending under #nichecore has expanded exponentially beyond these limits. Blending together contrasting images and sounds, #corecore edits are designed to evoke a mood. An access point through the desensitising, constant loop of algorithm-led feeds and For You pages, it seeks to make an otherwise numb audience feel something for once – if only for the duration of Aphex Twin’s “QKThr”.
The principle itself isn’t new. It’s human nature to seek meaning: since we have been able to articulate thought, we have questioned the purpose of life, with an entire philosophical field dedicated to engaging with the existential crisis of living. As our means of communication have developed, so have our responses to the world around us. Splintering into a multitude of mediums, our search has taken us deeper through layers upon layers of accumulated, increasingly fragmented content. The veneer of inspirational quotes and aspirational, curated photos on platforms like Tumblr and Instagram has chipped away to reveal the blur of Gen Z lensed photo dumps and frenetic TikToks shifting focus to the more candid chaos of reality. Rushed get-ready-with-me videos and story times recounted at breakneck speeds are weirdly pacifying in their attempt to keep pace with the overdrive of the ever-churning content wheel that our lives have become.
‘It makes no sense and yet all the sense in the world – all at once’
#corecore hits pause on this, or at least dials down the noise from a cacophony of autoplaying videos in our feed. Faced with the entropic endpoint of media production and consumption, it synthesises sound bites from podcasts, film clips, and random viral videos into something strangely cohesive and at times daringly positive. Like Evelyn looking into the eye of Jobu Tupaki’s collapsing black hole everything bagel in Everything Everywhere All At Once and choosing to invert this darkness (yin) into the symbolically opposite positivity (yang) of Waymond’s googly eyes, it makes no sense and yet all the sense in the world – all at once. In this way, it is probably the truest distilled representation of the absurdity of our reality, and the closest acknowledgement we have of the current state of our collective consciousness. Our lives have become content, that much we know, but #corecore speaks this language, reaching through the endless spirals of conflicting discourse, to give us space to step out of the matrix, observe, and gain a rare moment of perspective.
Rooted in themes of loneliness, isolation, and disconnection, #corecore is able to reflect the dystopia we live in through a refracted mirror, finding the layered light that coexists within these darkest of depths. Showing what cannot be articulated, it is the evolution of a human instinct to find reasons to survive for a generation that has never been more aware of imminent extinction. Together with #hopecore videos restoring our faith in humanity, it acts as an (albeit brief) salve to the state of the world right now. True, like all art forms it can be manipulated to present any perspective, so while it was initially established with a similar anticapitalist throughline as its artistic antecedent Dadaism, as a product in an inherently capitalist structure, it can be corrupted. Its power as a tool to offer an objective outside view of these systems in order to critique them largely outweighs these instances, though. Not much can cut through the clutter of our daily lives like pure #corecore can, providing an outlet for the artistic expression of all the complicated, confusing feelings that come with being alive at this point in time. For that much, at least, it is valuable. Nothing makes sense, but for those like 30 seconds of suspended reality, it doesn’t matter – we’re no longer numb.