Weirdcore and Traumacore: What's the Connection?

#aesthetics #atmosphere #postmodernism #weirdcore #sublime

In one of my earliest posts, I analyzed the weirdcore aesthetic and claimed that it represents a type of immanentized sublime produced by capitalism. More fully, I said:

“In the case of weirdcore, we see something slightly different. There is a combination of fear (eerie/weird) and enjoyment (nostalgia), but it is not the same as the transcendence of the sublime. Instead, weirdcore conveys a truncated and flattened 'outsideness.'(...) The outsideness creeping in on us is a hyperreality of postmodern capitalism, in which the production machine of industry, mass consumerist reproduction, and omnipresent media culture — and especially the internet — have created an eerie rhizomatic “outsideness” of space (both virtual and physical space) that conditions our material environment. Notice, for example, how often in weirdcore the image barriers bleed together, giant dark patches consume space like a black hole, singular text phrases are divorced from meaningful discourse, and objects are deterritorialized from their original context. These common elements of weirdcore art are the basic factors of postmodern hyperreality: everything is deterritorialized from its original context and placed into the organizing structure of capitalism, social media is breaking apart discourse into incoherent soundbites, and there is a looming dark presence of de-subjectivizing ambiances all around us.”

I encourage you to read the full article if none of this is making sense to you.

Recently, I was listening to a weirdcore music playlist on YouTube. However, the playlist was not simply weirdcore but incorporated other related aesthetics, such as kidcore and traumacore. The connection between traumacore and weirdcore struck me as interesting, and I realized that my previous theory about weirdcore as an immanentized outsideness of a postmodern sublime might explain the relationship.

On Aesthetics Wiki, traumacore is defined as follows: “Traumacore is a type of aesthetic imagery that delves into the themes of abuse and trauma (particularly sexual trauma or CSA) along with cute visuals to give the whole aesthetic a 'bittersweet tragedy' feel. Mental, emotional, and spiritual abuse are also common themes in traumacore. Traumacore in general tends to be more focused on trauma experienced in childhood, explaining the cute visuals, although adult trauma can also be covered. Many people turn to these images to help them cope with the pain they suffered in the past.”

Full article. Warning: topics of abuse, PTSD, and other trauma-related topics:

In many spaces throughout the Internet, traumacore and weirdcore often bleed together, so much so that different weirdcore forums now have strict policies against posting anything traumacore related. The relationship is born, on the one hand, from their similarity in form. Both utilize a type of haunted, surrealist, dreamy nostalgia permeated by an early-2000s cyber-surrealism. In the case of traumacore, the content within the form, such as the text or images, takes on themes of traumatic experiences. Imagine a glitched-out gif of a CRT television displaying Halo 1 footage with text that reads “Mom isn't coming back.”

In addition to the similarities in formal quality between weirdcore and traumacore, I think there is also a connection via the haunted outsideness of an immanent sublime. An experience of the sublime is an experience of something that combines beauty and terror in such a magnitude that the excess of experience has difficulty being fully registered within one's consciousness. The example I always turn to is that the sublime is like standing on a cliff looking down at the Grand Canyon. It's overwhelmingly beautiful, but there is also a fear that if you fell, the canyon would kill you — not to mention the feeling of finitude compared to the massive size of the Canyon. Weirdcore separates the sublime from its often theological or natural components and instead places the sublime within postmodern capitalist landscapes, such as a McDonald's play place.

Similarly, traumatic experiences bring when them an “excess” that the brain has difficulty integrating. In many ways, trauma can 'break apart' the brain. Or, put another way, the brain breaks apart the registration of the experience into smaller chunks and then 'tucks them throughout one's unconscious and body so as to avoid experiencing the excess of horror all at once, which would be too overwhelming. This is why many individuals struggle to fully remember all the details of their trauma encounters and why many go into the freeze response during a traumatic event. Likewise, this gives trauma a feeling of both outsideness (via the external event of trauma) and insideness (the trauma lingers within oneself). In a way, it's a haunted outsideness of an immanent sublime, albeit a dark and horrific one.

The way in which weirdcore is a surrealist non-sequitur art form, or 'breaking apart' of narrative and coherent meaning, coalesces with the feeling of 'breaking apart' experienced in trauma. This is not to say that people with PTSD or who undergo traumatic experiences are intrinsically broken people or damaged goods. Rather, trauma has a way of disrupting our cognitive faculties and resisting integration into the psyche, which is captured surprisingly well by traumacore's utilization and appropriation of the weirdcore aesthetic. Traumacore shows how these weirdcore spaces are not only found within dead shopping malls and abandoned indoor parks, but also haunt our own psyches as well.

Finally, I will end on a positive note. I want to reemphasize that trauma does not make one intrinsically broken or damaged goods, despite how one might feel. Given my theological background, I will end with a quote from chapter 3 of Image and Presence: A Christological Reflection on Iconophilia and Iconoclasm by one of my favorite theologians, Natalie Carnes:

“The cross breaks brokenness by showing that brokenness—sin, violence, torture, death—cannot exclude God’s presence. At one level, the cross announces an absence. It sounds an absence of health, vitality, power, and, in the case of Christ’s wounds, an absence of flesh. Crucifixes, having a dead corpus, even declare an absence of life. Yet by these publications of absence, the cross makes, at another level, a powerful proclamation of presence. Churches, homes, and individuals fill their lives with crosses to mark the ubiquity of divine presence in the world. To put a cross on an altar, whether by painting one on it, like Grünewald’s Christ, or setting one nearby, as Catholic canon law requires, identifies the cross with the proclamation of Christ’s presence in the liturgy of the mass. The cross’s status in the Eucharistic liturgy underscores the way divine absence is bound to divine presence. On the cross, where the negation of the Image would seem to go too far—to overtake and vitiate, rather than unlock, presence—that negation is itself negated. The negation of negation celebrates a new presence, whereby God is present even in death.” (Carnes, page 88)