When I first heard the word “hopepunk,” my reaction was simple: That is a terrible name. What is punk about hope? Is it one word or two? Why must it be so hard to say? But after I read Vox’s viral breakdown of the idea-cum-movement, which uses the word 68 times, I became desensitized to it. And then I fell in love with it.
“Hopepunk is part of a wider cultural and storytelling trend toward optimism and positivity in the face of bleak times,” writes Aja Romano for Vox, citing “a weaponized aesthetic of softness” and “a mood of consciously chosen gentleness” as examples. You may be wondering what the hell that even means, to which I would say: That’s not very hopepunk of you, but I’ll explain in a minute.
Coined by a writer named Alexandra Rowland in a 2017 Tumblr post that solicited over 50,000 notes, hopepunk “says that genuinely and sincerely caring about something, anything, requires bravery and strength” (Rowland’s words). If a point of reference helps clarify, hopepunk is said to be the opposite of grimdark, “a subgenre of speculative fiction with a tone, style, or setting that is particularly dystopian, amoral, or violent,” like The Dark Knight or Breaking Bad. As a mode of storytelling that grew increasingly mainstream post-9/11, grimdark speaks to a population steeped in fear. Hopepunk, meanwhile, centers around people who refuse to be swallowed by the cynical view.
It’s, how do I say this, more hopeful. It feels distinctly 2019 in that it speaks to our current mood of “everything is terrible” as well as our desire to label — and spread and commodify — anything amorphous. Memes, for example, have served this purpose for years. They communicate something that’s otherwise a little wishy-washy, like introversion or FOMO, and make it into a universal in-joke (how very hopepunk).
But what tickles me most about hopepunk — and I don’t mean this facetiously — is its categorical vagueness. What the hell is hopepunk? In her 3,000+ word write-up of it, Romano refers to it as “a mood,” “a spirit,” “a definable literary movement,” “a narrative message,” “an existential act,” “an aesthetic,” “an emphasis,” “a sense,” “a form of resistance,” and “a philosophy.” She also addresses several times that what she has just written is vague, and then continues on anyway. It’s this kind of perseverance and disregard for brevity that I find to be distinctly hopepunk, and therein lies the beauty of the movement: its exemplars are positively boundless.
Oat milk? Hopepunk. Jesus? Obviously hopepunk. @round.boys? Please. Earnest memes, self-care, Bon Apetit’s YouTube channel, gratitude journaling, Hope Floats, teddy bear coats, chia pudding, Timothée Chalamet, This Is Us, non-prescription glasses, having a baby, ASMR, exercise classes where you just stretch, Tracee Ellis Ross. These things have nothing and yet everything to do with each other: They are hopepunk.
Hopepunk can be as political as you want it to be (see: pleasure activism), or it can just be a slideshow of cute animals. That kind of breadth and depth? Damn, that’s hopepunk.
Add your own examples below.
All photos via Getty Images.