Slut For the Void

A Look at Contemporary Social-Media Preoccupation with the Abyss

void illo
Illustration By: Crystal Marie Garcia

void

adjective

  1. (in speech or action) ineffectual; useless

  2. completely empty

noun

  1. an emptiness caused by the loss of something

abyss

noun

  1. a deep or bottomless chasm

– a wide or profound difference between people; a gulf

 

*   *   * 

By: Annyston Pennington

In Christopher Nolan’s 2014 deep-space thriller, Interstellar, the film’s team of graphics specialists and world-renowned physicist/executive producer Kip Thorne worked to replicate a realistic black hole. This team ladled theoretical equations into their computer system like alphabet soup to be swirled around until translated and were presented a black sphere with halos of astral light, as seen in the film. Gargantua, they called it.

Kids scare each other in grade school with the thought of black holes, of our sun collapsing into itself only to swallow our blue orb and its eight companions like a handful of M&Ms. The black hole is Nothingness contained within the shape of…something. Compared to the void of space, this something is terrifying and confusing, hitting a little too close to home in that our lives can often feel empty while simultaneously too much.

With films such as Interstellar, pop culture fascination with space—black holes, the void, and multidimensionality—has translated into a social media phenomenon of flirting with “the void.” According to the way “the void,” “the abyss,” and other similar language has infiltrated online meme culture as well as serious discussion, we young people are pretty enamored with emptiness—or at least the idea of it.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 12.22.30 PM

This interest has manifested in very millennial-specific ways; text and graphics posted around social media websites reveal a mixture of humor and social/personal criticism. Sometimes posts specifically name “the void” or “the abyss.” Other times content revolves around contemporary adolescent life with vague nods to nihilism or existentialism, pick your flavor.

Compared to the void of space, this something is terrifying and confusing, hitting a little too close to home in that our lives can often feel empty while simultaneously too much.

There is a wealth of psychological and cultural possibility for what could motivate the online trend. This bizarre new-world emo allows us to express legitimate fear, anger, and anxiety through an ironic and often exaggerated expression of apathy or nihilism. The void is a comfort, a blank slate, a soothing lavender balm rubbed over everything that sucks so much, so constantly. Born into an era of global war and economic crisis, many in our generation are overcome with disillusionment, feeling we are not only isolated but ineffective. Millennial response to trauma is not all gloom, though. If social media can be given one credit it has been to foster an environment ripe for the creation of a cultural ideology that is less atheism and more aesthetic.

The adoption of the void is not the expression of an ideology so much as a coping mechanism for millennials facing the difficult internal process of maturing during a shitty socio-political climate. The trend may appear like posters are apathetic, cute in their drama, but with a closer look, the motivation for the void trend is entirely the opposite. The void trend proves that, in spite of loss and isolation we continue to choose feeling too much, being too much, and expressing too much over Nothing.

Some of the most popular online posts about the void combine aspects of existential crisis with contemporary pop culture, a Dadaist collage of nonsense, humor, and meta-commentary. Just searching “the void” on Tumblr offers a glimpse into this phenomenon: mash-ups of Beyoncé lyrics with Nietzsche quotes, ironic sexual interest in the void, and astrology. Internet culture requires reference as well as a focal point of universality.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 12.23.46 PMThe creators of these posts, and the trend that compels them, reveal that in order to best express the inexpressible you must first make it accessible. The millennial generation deals constantly with rejection and minimization of their experiences, particularly those who are also part of marginalized groups. Websites such as Tumblr and Twitter often draw members of marginalized communities because of the immediacy of long distance connection as well as the option of anonymity. It is easier for women, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and so on to express their interests and hearts with the safety physical distance affords. Social media platforms also allow these individuals to find people like them, while they may be isolated where they live.

Where “the void” comes in to all of this is the apparent universality of the sentiment of feeling ineffectual in speech and action. Often online posts concern “screaming into the void,” “falling into the void,” or some variation of succumbing to it. Though these phrases are mostly utilized in ironic contexts, they express the frustration of being ignored. This suggests that the people who use these phrases are often drowned out or dismissed by a louder majority.

However, some users of this language may be less progressive in their motivations. With much of social media, we use our online presences in order to construct an identity, whether an exaggeration of or contrary to how we are IRL. The void trend is no different than other fleeting internet phenomena we may use to ingratiate ourselves with a desired crowd. As pure aesthetic, the void trend loses much of what makes it interesting: the back-handed adoption of the “lazy millennial” trope, the commentary on isolation in a globalized economy, the irony.

However, can we ask much more of an internet meme? Expecting an online trend to encapsulate the sentiments of a generation is a lot of pressure on something that means nothing to people on the outside. While it feels that there should be better ways to express yourself than through an online identity, maybe even the desired aesthetic of the tragic millennial is a survival mechanism. When your middle-aged Facebook friends/ professors/ your great aunt are posting articles like “Millennials: The Greatest Generation or the Most Narcissistic?” (The Atlantic) or complaining about your senses of entitlement and sensitivity, it’s hard not to internalize that what you say anScreen Shot 2016-01-29 at 12.23.51 PMd think are inconsequential. Social media platforms provide a place to express these suppressed feelings without the pretense of being a “damn millennial.”

Perhaps the void trend is co-opted for selfish reasons rather than a political message, but who cares? Though it is important to be critical of what we post online and what purpose it serves, at the end of the day, the void trend, like any other, is a joke. It is not a joke in the sense that the phenomenon can’t be looked at seriously, rather it serves the purpose of connecting people through a common sense of humor–or at least self-deprecation.

As millenials continue to engage in current issues and social/political discourse via social media – even if they are sharing memes and bad astrology too – it is apparent “those damn millennials” do, in fact, care.

The political leftism of this generation in general is less astounding than young adults’ continued capacity for empathy and compassion in the face of war, police violence, rape culture, and the myriad of deaths and disasters that have constituted the most trending hashtags from 2012 to now.

The void trend is just one facet of a larger phenomenon of using apathetic language and philosophy ironically. While we may want to “scream into the void” as we watch the latest news updates, this is only a temporary expression of an overarching to desire to, finally, rest. We arrived in a world geared for war, economic downturn, and ready to discredit us for showing up tired when we’ve been running from the start. We share experiences and emotion in whatever language is available to us. We find solace in darkness, in stillness, in quiet, in things immovable and untouchable when our lives are ephemeral, violent, and too bright.

We find solace in darkness, in stillness, in quiet, in things immovable and untouchable when our lives are ephemeral, violent, and too bright.