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Reject Nihilism, Embrace Hopecore: Gen Z’s Decision to Care On Purpose

The internet has been through swings of deep pessimism and blind optimism. This time, the positive outlook is a conscious choice to care.

When we think of nihilism, maybe it's time to put a positive spin on it. Credit: user JesusCrept on r/meirl, Reddit
Credit: user JesusCrept on r/meirl, Reddit

Has anyone else noticed that the internet’s gotten way more hopeful in the past year? Or am I entering my “everything is going to be okay” era?

If you’ve spent any time on social media, you’ll know that the internet can be a dark and pessimistic place. With infinite information at our fingertips, it’s easy to focus on the negatives, and even easier to commiserate with like-minded individuals. Living through a global pandemic robbed many people of their optimism, and the idea of “going back to normal” seems almost alien.

Others, however, have peered down the length of this dark tunnel, and have decided to sprint towards the light.

The phenomenon of “hopecore” has taken many different names in the past – “optimistic nihilism” and “the indomitable human spirit” are two that come to mind – but the core tenets have always remained the same: people are making the conscious decision to care for each other in the face of adversity.

“It’s Rotten Work”

As people, it’s easy to get sucked down a rabbit hole of gloom and negativity. How many of us have a dad or an uncle who’s a little too obsessed with national news? A friend who’s almost unhealthily into true crime? When it comes to social media, we coined a term for this exact behavior: “doomscrolling.” Taking off in October 2020, doomscrolling can be defined as “an excessive amount of screen time devoted to the absorption of dystopian news” and is a habit everyone falls victim to from time to time. I, personally, doomscroll about climate change, but topics such as politics, gun violence, and illness are all fuel for the fire.

Though the expected emotional response to this behavior would be fear or anxiety, many have noted feelings of numbness or apathy instead. I find this especially concerning, as general apathy has been at an all-time high in young adults since 2020, and rarely stands alone as an emotional problem. When we lose our interest in the world around us, what happens to that world? If we no longer care for others, who will care for us?

“Not To Me. Not if it’s You”

One solution to this imminent concern is shockingly simple; we have to choose to care about each other. Whether it’s in a macro sense, like devoting time and energy to solving societal problems, or in a more intimate way, like being a shoulder to cry on, we owe to each other simply what we are willing and able to give.

People have loved each other since the dawn of time, which is easy to forget in the grand scheme of things. The first sign of civilization was a healed femur. Ancient stories detail labors of love, such as the Greek Orestes, written in 408 BCE.

“Pylades: I’ll take care of you.

Orestes: It’s rotten work.

Pylades: Not to me. Not if it’s you.”

Euripides, from “Orestes” (trans. Anne Carson)

This tenderness transcends humanity, too. Fossils from the Triassic era depict predator and prey animals curled up together to wait out a flood. In other words, to care for others is not what makes us human, but what makes us alive.

Hopecore, Web Weaving, Tenderness

Though perhaps it’s just due to my own curation, I’ve noticed several trends over the past few years taking a similar stance. One such trend, “the indomitable human spirit,” experienced its heyday in September of 2022, consisting of TikTok slideshows set to Undertale’s “Hopes and Dreams.” This generally features uplifting memes, facts, and frequently featured the “indifferent cruelty of the universe,” defeated by the titular “indomitable human spirit.” Despite having begun as a joke, many genuinely loved the trend, experiencing a more optimistic outlook on life in general (myself included).

“Web weaving,” too, is an example of this, though often more poetic and a bit more melancholy. This microtrend surrounds written work, both original and quoted, compiled into one slideshow to follow a theme. While some explore grief, loss, and heartbreak, many others look at love and peace, or self-care. The #webweaving hashtag on TikTok updates constantly, so if you have a penchant for poetry, it’s worth your time.

Wait, Why Now?

So, what is it about the past few years that has gotten people jazzed about tenderness again? I believe it’s because of the awful circumstances of the 2020’s, not in spite of them. When the world shut down and everyone fell victim to isolation, we began working harder than ever to combat loneliness.

I still remember that at 8PM, all of my neighbors would stand in their backyards and howl with each other. People were drawing hearts in their windows, thanking healthcare workers, dropping baked goods off for their friends and neighbors. When circumstances are comfortable, it becomes easy to slip into solitary, perhaps unhealthy habits. It’s when things start to get dark, however, that we find ourselves truly craving connection.

Screenshots and cover art of various movies and games, all of which have hopecore and optimism as a central theme.
Night In The Woods, IF Games. The Good Place, dir. Michael Schur. Everything Everywhere All At Once, dir. Daniel Kwan

Are you interested in media dealing with themes of hope and compassion? Here’s a short list of my favorites!

Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022): a hugely awarded and recognized film about the multiverse, family, and taxes. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re missing out.

Night In The Woods (2017): a 2D platformer video game following a college dropout and her return home. Deals with existentialism, mental health, and a spooky Appalachian town. Also, everyone is an animal. What’s not to love?

The Good Place (2016): This 4-season show follows a group of recently deceased individuals as they explore the afterlife. Addresses themes of morality, human connection, and how to be good in a bad situation.

Written By

M. Risley is a flash fiction writer and University of Colorado graduate. When not writing for Trill Mag or submitting creative works to journals, they can be found crocheting, playing tabletop RPGs, or tenderly holding their cat, Beetle.

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