'Goblin mode' is the latest in a long line of lifestyle-based aesthetics to go viral on social media before trickling down into irrelevancy. Some last longer than others. In 2020, people were obsessed with abandoning their city homes for rural outposts in which to play cottagecore. Spring 2021 saw the 'new year, new me' rhetoric rehashed as 'that girl', its proponents waking up before the sun to drink green things and wear matching workout outfits, mostly to journal rather than exercise. Most of these trends are based on appearance: the emphasis is less on the act itself and more on how you look when doing it, which is fine – we all like things that look nice. Until we don’t.
They’re calling it a mode? I have been living a goblin existence for the best part of five years.
What is goblin mode?
Goblin mode is a rejection of anything aesthetically pleasing. It's the idea of lying supine in your space, relishing your own comfortable (or uncomfortable) mire. Instead of self-improvement, it is a regression into a cavernous hole of caring about nothing at all. It is unfair not to distinguish between the OG goblin mode (OGGM?) and its more recent calibration as reported in the mainstream media. Unlike 'that girl', goblin mode was instigated by a fringe group of people posting what could be described as anticapitalist content that showed a rejection of mainstream ways of existing. These are people who for a long time have been disinterested in what others think and who operate online in the vein of shitposting. Many Twitter users have insisted that they’ve been goblin since before it was cool.
Perhaps inevitably, goblin mode eventually moved above ground, was caught by the TikTok algorithm, and the trend emerged. Now we see videos of girls, mostly attractive and thin, confessing to the camera (while looking hot) that they eat raw pasta in the middle of the night and mess up their sleep schedules by bingeing Netflix or Reddit. It gives 'I'm not like other girls' energy. Some Twitter users have pointed out that these are signs of clinical depression and although that could be true, pathologising all behaviour that is not inherently self-improving as mental ill health is another example of how productivity culture is deeply entrenched in today's society.
To me, and within the crip communities I reside in, goblin mode is a natural state of being. Crip, short for crippled, reclaims the slur used historically to discriminate against disabled people. This is not to say that all people with disabilities will relate to goblin mode, but for those of us who do, it is both a political stance and a way of existing. Crip communities organise around disability justice, lobbying for societal and legislative change that seeks to force non-disabled people to view the world as we do and fights to obtain actualised inclusivity instead of surface-level change. It has been spearheaded by activists such as Patty Berne, founder of Sins Invalid.
Crip communities often embody goblin mode because there is often no choice not to. I am writing this in the same outfit I have been wearing since last Sunday, my hair is over a week unwashed and, truly, I stink. I do not tell you that as a badge of honour, to prove how goblin I am. It is simply a regular occurrence in my life as a disabled person, working and living amid the often hellish landscape we are all trying to navigate. But there is a distrust that surrounds disabled people. Stereotypes of benefit scroungers, lazy citizens and the rest have real-life repercussions in the way that others, particularly the state, treat us. To be dishevelled at an appointment with a doctor is to assume it is only your mental health in crisis. To keep a nocturnal schedule and binge television shows is opening yourself up to suggestions that getting a job might be a better way to spend your time.
In crip culture, there is often no time for grooming and false pretences. People talk about their bodily fluids, their desire to die and their aching surgery wounds before they offer their name. We often can't dress up to meet on Zoom, we might appear unkempt and we have no qualms about admitting to our Deliveroo usage. Crip activists work hard online to ensure we do not feel shame for relying on Amazon; they shout down those who say using single-use plastic when we're too unwell to cook is the reason the planet is dying; they attempt to find nuance in blanket statements by asking: What about disabled people? They quell the anxiety in most of us along the way.
There is a shame associated with being unable to attain the unattainable goals promoted by aesthetic trends of the past. There are many think pieces on the negative impact of 'that girl' on the rest of us girls and how goblin mode is providing an alternative, an anti-girlboss route out of self-improvement. But who gets to join in? I haven’t ever publicised my goblin mode, except in private groups with online disabled friends. I keep up appearances as a good, working, disabled woman on my social media, mostly to ensure I retain work as a member of the precarious gig economy. Perhaps, then, I am part of the problem. I do not shout loud enough about my sloppiness; something in my disabled nature holds me back. Goblin mode is described as a mode for a reason. You can "switch it on and off", as one person told The Guardian. However, my goblinness is less of a mode and more a state of existence, survival, a way to get by.