The other day, I searched “corecore” on TikTok. The first video shows a parade of young women ecstatically unpacking their fast fashion hauls, overlaid with clips of landfills, an ocean filled with trash, and sweatshop workers hunched over sewing machines. The caption: “Consequences. #nichetok #corecore.”
I refined my search to “recently uploaded.” One of the top videos shows a teary-eyed large man insisting: “I fucking care about people.” Then, a wiry man begging for his car not to be towed: “That’s the fucking thing man, don’t tow it away. I don’t have any money dude!” Images of men crying and little boys working in sweatshops play over a woman’s voice: “The only answer to that is to … kill male babies.”
Another video begins with a dizzying slideshow of men, sobbing or stone-faced, followed by Robert Downey Jr. pleading to a woman offscreen: “Let me feel like the piece of shit I am. Did you love me or not? ANSWER ME.” Then it’s Riz Ahmed as Ruben Stone in 2019’s Sound of Metal: “If I disappear, like, who cares? Nobody cares man! Seriously.” Finally, Jake Gyllenhaal screams at a woman: “Show up? Show up?! I FUCKING SHOWED UP FOR YOU. I SHOWED UP. I WAS STANDING THERE, FOR YOU.”
Technically, corecore videos are just collections of video clips stitched together and placed over music with the goal of evoking any powerful emotion. But search “corecore” on TikTok, and you’ll find the overwhelming majority of videos depict male despair. Less than a year after #corecore first appeared on the platform, it already has over one billion views. #Nichetok, corecore’s even more somber cousin, has over 700 million views. The lighter-hearted #hopecore has a measly 52 million.
Cultural critics have written a flurry of articles celebrating the debut of the “Gen-Z art form,” this new generation’s answer to the Dada era. They’ve lauded corecore for how vividly it evokes young people’s frustration and panic looking down the barrel of climate and capitalist catastrophe. But all this praise overshadows the real message behind most of these videos: the terrifying rates of loneliness among young men and boys, which has led many into depression, suicide, and bigotry. And for some, corecore might only make it worse.
Recently, I shared these thoughts on TikTok, expressing my concern that these viral videos can draw those of us (like myself) who struggle with anxiety and depression into deeper despair. I was met with outrage. Commenters said they found community and affirmation in these videos, and that I shouldn’t discourage men from expressing their emotions.
To be clear, my entire life revolves around the power art holds to share our stories, build community, and catalyze change. I would never want to deny this experience to anyone. But not every community is a safe one. What can happen when suicidal and violent thoughts are met with unquestioning agreement? Look at the comments underneath the most popular corecore videos. People rarely ask, “Are you okay?” There’s little talk about the actual conditions that have gotten us here. The most common comment is a single word: “real.”
Indeed, it’s far too real. Between 1995 and 2021, the percentage of men who reported that they had zero close friends quintupled, from 3% to 15%. Death by suicide has risen by 30% between 2000 and 2018. Men are 3.7 times more likely to end their own lives than women.
Desperation has left increasing numbers of men susceptible to manipulation by right-wing opportunists. Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson, and Theo Von make frequent appearances in corecore videos. They often speak words of encouragement to men suffering from deteriorating mental health, but they also express overt hatred and have blamed our current conditions on marginalized groups.
Even more common are lonely, angry, and sometimes violent male protagonists from blockbusters like American Psycho, Blade Runner 2049, Fight Club, and The Joker. Some monologue about how everyone, especially girls, has rejected them. Others scream at their female partners, their faces contorted in extreme expressions of rage. Once in a while you’ll see a shot from the perspective of a man climbing up a cliff and stepping off.
“This isn’t the real corecore,” some commenters insist, reminding me that the trend began with creators like @highenquiries and @masonoelle, who are fiercely environmentalist, anti-consumerist, and anti-capitalist. This type of corecore includes edits of steaming landfills, pelicans dripping with oil, and mindless hoards of shoppers trampling each other for half-priced sneakers.
But experts have shown in studies that simply consuming doom-filled images actually stops audiences from taking action. Far from inspiring viewers to leap off their couches and charge into the street, these videos retraumatize us and paralyze us in fear.
Many have defended corecore by comparing it to Dada. Corecore’s gloom echoes the Dadaists’ turn to despondency after witnessing the horrors of World War I. Finding little meaning in their world, they embraced an art form where — supposedly — nothing meant anything.
The trouble is, it did mean something. Art critic Barry Schwabsky has highlighted the astonishing racism of Dada. The “sound poems” of Richard Huelsenbeck and Hugo Ball were, according to poet and scholar Jed Rasula, “liberally sprinkled … with faux African lingo.” The collages of Hannah Höch featured ample amounts of Black people’s skin pasted onto White bodies. Celebrated painter George Grosz performed in blackface.
Far from rejecting western norms of logic and order, Dada artists reinforced a colonial cliche: that non-White cultures are irrational and offer a portal to some unknown, ancient magic.
This implicit white supremacy sometimes became explicit. Three years after helping found the Dada movement, Hugo Ball wrote a popular book that blamed World War I and the decline of Germany on the Jews. He wrote it with Carl Schmitt, who soon became a leading Nazi jurist. Italian Dada leader and poet Julius Evola went so far right that the Italian fascists kicked him out of the party for being too extreme. Today, his fans include Steve Bannon and Vladimir Putin.
Declarations of meaninglessness and hopelessness often lead to authoritarianism. Hannah Arendt warned in Origins of Totalitarianism that demagogues are aided by isolation: “What prepares men for totalitarian domination in the non-totalitarian world is the fact that loneliness, once a borderline experience usually suffered in certain marginal social conditions like old age, has become an everyday experience.”
I don’t want to cancel corecore creators. I am furious at the powerful few who have created a crisis of loneliness. Corecore is a canary in the coal mine: a signal that the people who make it, the people who watch it, and perhaps the rest of us, are in grave danger.