A critique of K-Hole’s “normcore.” After differentiating normcore from the common misinterpretations (which have culminated in the “Dress Normal” Gap campaign), the author of the eflux essay, Rory Rowan, goes on to argue that normcore fails to accommodate the sociological realities of power and overlooks the obstacles to K-Hole’s utopian proposition of continually blending in. (Inclusion and exclusion are not mere matters of personal effort.) Also, normcore is entirely consistent with the demands of neoliberal subjectivity that one be continually adaptable.
insofar as they fail to contextualize Mass Indie in relation to broader socioeconomic or political forces, K-Hole misses an opportunity to examine the demand for differentiation in the domain of pop culture in relation to wider patterns of neoliberal subjectification … Indeed, by defining Normcore in relation to adaptability and empathy—both admirable traits in and of themselves—K-Hole risks framing their solution to chronic differentiation in terms that replicate rather than challenge the ideological Trojan horses of neoliberal subjectification. It is, after all, the same ideological framework that insists on an adaptive labor force and the economic importance of affects such as empathy, that channels subjectification into the isolating vectors of differentiation.
The pressures of both fitting in and developing a personal brand remain strictly the individual’s problem — stress and risk imposed on isolated individuals whose atomization is perfected in social media. It is still work, whether you are working to be different or working to be the same. Conforming requires as much effort as striving for uniqueness.
Social media has made this work a source of profit for platform-owning companies, and this has provided an incentive for maintaining isolating individualism in the face of the potential collectivities that connectivity could foster. Rowan writes:
Although K-Hole claims that today, individuals must find their communities—and K-Hole associates Normcore with this process—no details of the forms of community that might be found or produced through this individual search are offered…
Normcore is best understood as a coping mechanism to help individuals deal with the stresses of differentiation, rather than a means to address the wider social conditions that demand it. In such an individualist account of social relations, there is not much need to address the contents of social norms.
The work of forming collectives in social media is often captured by the platforms that facilitate them; meanwhile the platforms continually refine their interfaces to encourage re-individualizing — with scoreboards and metrics and so on particularly, as well as personalized, big-data-driven reshaping of the social reality users see on these platforms.
But of course, that doesn’t mean people should stop doing the affective labor necessary to build and sustain relationships, collectives. Empathy is exploitable but necessary and nearly unpreventable, just as is cooperation inside capitalist-controlled workspaces. Belonging is still the only solution to not belonging, even though it is in danger of being commodified, subsumed to capitalist processes of production for profit.
Rowan ends on a note of embracing antagonism in the name of a new normativity: Find enemies rather than worry about fitting in; deal with the realities of power by seeking to wield it. Don’t interpret the world; change it, etc. Presumably this would foster collective subjects unified by their shared objects of contempt. The danger is that this admonition too can be neoliberalized, so that all feel obliged to fight a war against all, at an increasing pitch of paranoia.