Core Core: Digital & Cultural Malaise on TikTok

A meme from 2011 starts playing, then a clip of an actor crying in a car. A single tear trickles from an anime eye. Hoards of humans in a sea of urban chaos flit between a voice-over explaining the origins of depression. Welcome to core core. The core, to end all cores.

In Technologies of the New Real: Viral Contagion and Death of the Social by Arthur Kroker, and Marilouise Kroker, the authors opine on the contemporary state of socio-technical malaise and entropy in contemporary culture.

“The disruption of everyday life has created an enormous opening that is quickly being seized upon by monopolistic digital platforms. Consumers have been driven into the waiting arms of Amazon, which happily takes human contact out of the equation for all manner of exchanges. Google and Apple pounce on the opportunity to develop contact-tracing technology, their products edging closer to becoming mandatory, rather than merely ubiquitous. And, in the absence of opportunities for physical human connection, platforms happily intervene, while maintaining practices that compromise user privacy and capitalize on user attention. If platforms were already on the path towards total integration into everyday life, then this very well might be the moment in which they consolidate their power over the imagination.”

What comes of this paradigm you ask? Briefly, an air of social malaise, paranoia, and the deeply unsettling perception of the cultural entropy which permeates our everyday lives. Lana Del Rey spoke of it in her paean to the death of culture in 2019 “the greatest”, a vague warning of the hyper saturation and indifference our culture was edging toward, crooning: “L.A. is in flames‚ it’s getting hot, Kanye West is blond and gone, “Life on Mars?” ain’t just a song, I hope the live stream’s almost on.”

@sebastianvalencia.mp4 Wake up. #corecore #nichetok ♬ original sound – Sebastian V

With our attention spans fried and our dopamine fixes always a swipe away, the very real phenomena of our world become mere abstractions. The many “Cores” of Tiktok are one such manifestation of this seemingly endless abstraction. We all know the ubiquitous « cores » that have permeated the app. There was bimbo core, granny core, cottage core, Barbie core, and indie sleaze (a core by all intents and purposes), all situated around a certain aestheticization and hyper-fetishization of consumer products, comprising vaguely distinguishable personal personas that one might be able to adopt via consumption and hyper-online behaviors. A proxy for personhood in the digital age.

Enter, Core Core. In so many words, core core is simply a core… about cores. It’s aesthetic obsession folding back in on itself. It’s meta-commentary and catharsis. An aestheticized manifestation of the very malaise of cultural entropy, of the incessant hyper-consumption and abstraction of reality by digital technologies. Montage compilations of hyper-consumption, unfettered capitalism, and the maelstrom of warp-speed trends on social media juxtapose the digital vortex with images and audio clips of desperate nostalgia and longing for the real.

Kroker describes the cultural malaise out of which trends such as core core are borne as a response to this vortex of sorts, “the contemporary storm of politics, society, and economy in the era of new communication technologies: unpredictable whirling motions of energy moving in fast circulation, sucking the world into its vacuum by its force of attraction, and then spitting out the difference… All around us today, we can just hear the crash of implosive energies released first by individuals, then whole societies, seemingly giving up on life and making their peace with the death instinct that animates the unfolding story of contemporary technology. Call it what you will – the outsourcing of work in the age of remote communication, the externalization of consciousness that is streamed media, empathy mapping for a society that has projected its emotional life into the silent rustle of algorithms, soft-skin bodies, and waiting for the robots.”

Might core core be the knell of our contemporary malaise? The pointe finale where hyper-reality begins to subsume the individual?

@hudsonfroh1 #nichetok #corecore ♬ original sound – Hudson Froh812

The Kroker’s maintain what really is at stake in this paradigm “is nothing less than the triumph of platform capitalism versus the power of imagination,” and in many ways, core core acts as a rupture of real imagination in the sea of automatized anesthetic digital consumption; a self-reflexive critique which emerges from the confines of the cultural death drive.

, Core Core: Digital & Cultural Malaise on TikTok, Liminul Magazine

Cody is the Editor in Chief and senior contributor at liminul.

He is a photography aficionado, fashion enthusiast, avid Lana Del Rey fan, and lover of all things aesthetically pleasing.

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