Russia is silencing its own people while offering ‘immoral’ humanitarian corridors to Ukrainians
The horrors surrounding the Russian invasion of Ukraine are hard to miss – as the tragedies increase, so do the views on TikTok videos. Amidst the trauma of this war comes a form of “warcore” content that we have never experienced before. Starting out as a term defining a fashion trend, it seems that the aestheticization of war is now coming in video form.
Fashion’s problematic warcore movement
Originally invented by vogue in response to the 2019 men’s fashion shows, “warcore” was used as a term to describe fashion’s reaction to, or perhaps a reflection of, events around the world. In the middle of a year who had the murder of a journalist jamal khashoggia worsening of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, a worsening Trump Presidencya world #Metoo Movement and disturbing climate change impact, you could say there was a lot going on and fashion followed suit.
“This variety of warcore clothing can be said to reflect the violence, chaos and widespread anxiety in the world at large. Athleisure, gorpcoreworkwear and streetwear are all obvious antecedents, what’s new is the sense of survivalism,” Vogue writer Steff Yotka Explain. With such an affirmation, one must wonder to whom such “survivalism” is addressed. The “reflection” of the era by fashion is perhaps in fact only a co-option of a struggle and an aestheticization of war.
In 2019, Troy Patterson wrote on trend the new yorker where he highlighted the 1996 work of the critic Suzy Menkes in The New York Times in which she noted “the link of fashion with the war [as] problematic” and suggested that the industry’s “looting of blood-soaked references” may seem “grossly abusive”. Such an analysis may be applicable beyond the realm of warcore fashion in current cultural reactions to war, or more specifically the Russian invasion of Ukraine, online. This is where performative activism, an obsession with graphic content and “aesthetics” converge to create TikTok-like warcore.
Patterson’s words ring as true today as they did in 2019: “Now, in an age of endless war, reckless consumerism and great social stratification, all bets are off.”
The rise of video warcore on TikTok
SCREENSHOT spoke to a Ukrainian citizen on the day the current Immediate Offense began – February 24 – and revealed her perspective on the sinister “reality TV” element of the war against her people. “The last two weeks have become particularly tense. People are different all over the world, so there have been various reactions to the situation,” she said.. At the time, she then shared that she felt “doomed” by the situation, wishing more was done to help the country.
“I feel like the whole world is watching, sympathizing and can’t do anything. It reminds me of times when everyone was watching squid game. We’re like the next reality show for people.
And a reality TV show it seems. In the strange dystopian-like world we live in, the biggest war to hit a European nation since World War II is watched ICT Tac. This is of course not the first time that social media has been used in times of war; made clear by writer Gugulethu Khumalo for SCREENSHOT in his article Following the Tigray genocide, here’s how African youth are redefining politics on TikTok, the role of TikTok in Africa and the use of Facebook in the Arab Spring were cited. The arguments for the positive use of social media in disseminating information to the masses are undoubtedly valid and true – it helps to break down the censorship of some major news outlets or governments to show people the obvious reality on the ground . However, what is surfacing today has become a bit more than that.
The “aesthetics” of war has moved beyond the menial realm of clothing and developed into a deeply intriguing, and ultimately tragic, online cultural phenomenon. A far cry from the typical wartime content we’ve seen appear on social media, a movement is editing grueling, painfully traumatic and violent moments into short, music-dominated trailers.
Perhaps made with a good intention at heart, and perhaps even an element of motivation or encouragement for those affected by the horrors of this invasion, such clips do the trick. It’s a strange part of emotional discourse online that rightly aims to spread as much support for Ukraine as possible, however, there’s something insidious to be said about the individuals who edit real horrific events in a hard-hitting montage.
These are real Ukrainians with real a trauma that lives its life filmed for the likes in one, much like the SCREENSHOT Ukrainian source quoted, squid game–as “reality TV show”. Speaking of squid game, in an article by Jack Ramage titled Why are we all so obsessed with death game TV? which seeks to address the immense popularity of the genre, the writer amply explained that there is very little research to better understand such phenomena, but said that “horror can be a satisfying experience of” unrealism – the pleasure of knowing, for a fact, that everything is wrong anyway.
This time, however, it’s not fake, it’s real. But it seems that large groups of social media users haven’t figured this out yet. Users used footage from other crises, such as that of a Palestinian woman, and mislabeled her as from Ukraine – with nearly a million likes on the video, this raises serious concerns. Instead, TikTok users turned legit bloodshed into romanticized one Call of Duty–like the game (COD) they play on TikTok with the ‘Ghost of Kyiv‘ as their player of choice.
It’s ironic that I wrote such a statement alluding to COD before I came across a comment on the video above, with over 30,000 likes, which wrote, “There’s no way this won’t become not a COD mission.” Yes, that’s a real comment.
Our society’s disturbing infatuation with being an observer of murder, war and violence may have played its part in our general desensitization to war itself and its impact on human beings – especially for those of color, in the Middle East and Africa, whose similar experiences with war do not receive the same support, empathy or respect.
Not to mention that there are real dangers in getting immersed in the warcore side of the internet. It’s not just those well-meaning videos aimed at sharing the news or rightly defending Ukraine and its freedom, others with ulterior motives also have access to such tools. Reports have surfaced that the Russian powers are also pushing their own tactics in this “digital warfare” using fake Ukrainian social media profiles to promote its propaganda. Despite some backlash from social media platforms that aimed to block Russian activity, these trenches filled with online trailers run deep.