Slobbing out and giving up: why are so many people going ‘goblin mode’?

The term embraces the comforts of depravity and a direct departure from the ‘cottagecore’ influence of early pandemic days

At some point in the stretch of days between the start of the pandemic’s third year and the feared launch of world war three, a new phrase entered the zeitgeist, a mysterious harbinger of an age to come: people were going “goblin mode”.

The term embraces the comforts of depravity: spending the day in bed watching 90 Day Fiancé on mute while scrolling endlessly through social media, pouring the end of a bag of chips in your mouth; downing Eggo toaster oven waffles with hot sauce over the sink because you can’t be bothered to put them on a plate. Leaving the house in your pyjamas and socks only to get a single Diet Coke from the bodega.

Inherent to the phrase is the idea that it can be switched on and off, said Dave McNamee, a self-described “real-life goblin” whose tweet about goblin mode recently went viral. Goblin mode is not a permanent identity, he said, but a frame of mind.

“Goblin mode is like when you wake up at 2am and shuffle into the kitchen wearing nothing but a long T-shirt to make a weird snack, like melted cheese on saltines,” he said. “It’s about a complete lack of aesthetic. Because why would a goblin care what they look like? Why would a goblin care about presentation?”

First appearing on Twitter as early as 2009, “goblin mode” has also been linked by some to a viral Reddit post from a user claiming to secretly walk around their house “like a goblin”, collecting trinkets and “making goblin noises”.

But according to Google Trends, it started to rise in popularity in early February and spiked after a doctored headline attributed a quote with the phrase to Kanye West muse and it-girl of the moment Julia Fox.

“Just for the record. I have never used the term ‘goblin mode’,” Fox later clarified in an Instagram story. The Twitter user who made up the Fox quote as a joke said that while the headline was fake, she believes goblin mode is a very real phenomenon.

“Goblin mode is kind of the opposite of trying to better yourself,” says Juniper, who declined to share her last name. “I think that’s the kind of energy that we’re giving going into 2022 – everyone’s just kind of wild and insane right now.”

On TikTok, #GoblinMode is affixed to videos of everything from “smoking weed alone and getting scared”, to “not taking your meds”, and “hoarding weird shit just in case you run out”. In other videos, it is associated with women wearing no makeup and mismatched sweat suits, speaking confessional-style into the camera.

The trend represents a direct departure from the hyper-curated “cottagecore” influence of early pandemic days, a standout trend of 2020 that included pastel colors, bucolic scenery and the showcasing of wholesome homemaking skills such as baking and embroidery. Cottagecore thrived under the wistful ethos of making the best of what many people assumed would be only a few boring weeks at home in 2020.

But as the pandemic wears on endlessly, and the chaos of current events worsens, people feel cheated by the system and have rejected such goals. Peter Hayes, a Bay Area tech worker who says he and his friends have jokingly called themselves goblins, said the term has taken off as the pandemic eliminated the need to keep up appearances.

“At home there’s no social pressure to follow norms, so you sort of lose the habit,” he says. “There’s also a feeling that we’re all fucked, so why bother?”

On TikTok, #goblinmode is often accompanied by the adjacent phrase #feralgirlsummer. That hashtag has 366,000 views and features videos of users proclaiming to be the opposite of “that girl” – a highly curated aesthetic popular on TikTok in recent years.

There are nearly 3bn views on videos using #thatgirl, many of them show influencers organizing pristine refrigerators full of freshly cut vegetables, making organic breakfasts, and doing elaborate skincare routines. “You have to start romanticizing your life,” they tell us as they make green tea lattes at home.

The trend “sets an unrealistic standard for girls to think that if they aren’t waking up early to exercise, their lives are not put together”, one blog indictment of “that girl” culture reads.

“I have absolutely no interest in being ‘that girl’,” one video with 160,000 views says. “I will never wake up at 5am and drink green juices and be hyper-organized. I will instead be in 4am Reddit holes, Diet Coke first thing in the morning, [and] fistfuls of raw pasta as a snack.”

The wood floor of an apartment is stacked high with a tottering pile of empty pizza boxes.

Goblin mode ‘is kind of the opposite of trying to better yourself’, said Juniper. Photograph: Lorenz Aschoff/Getty Images/EyeEm

Though they do not explicitly use the term “goblin mode”, videos expressing similar ideologies have been rising in popularity. “My body is a garbage can with an expiration date and I got no time for healthy shit,” one with 90,000 views says. “I love barely holding on to my sanity and making awful selfish choices and participating in unhealthy habits and coping mechanisms,” said another with 325,000 views.

The goblin mode umbrella can encapsulate many kinds of aesthetics and behaviors, says Cat Marnell, an author who has been tweeting extensively in recent weeks about entering goblin mode herself.

Although many people tweeting about goblin mode have characterized it as an almost spiritual-level embrace of our most debased tendencies, Marnell says there is “healthy goblin mode and destructive goblin mode”. For her, it embodies a certain air of harmless mischief.

“The power of goblin mode is that it takes over your body,” she says. “It is a scrambling of the brain. It’s when you act crazy, and you enter a very mythological space – you want to jump on the back of a salamander and make trouble.”

Call it a vibe shift or a logical progression into nihilism after years of pandemic induced disappointment, but goblin mode is here to stay. And why shouldn’t it? Who were we trying to impress, anyway? As one #goblinmode audio says: “If you can’t handle me in goblin mode, you don’t deserve me at my slay.”

“It is cool to be a goblin,” Marnell says. “Everyone is so perfect all the time online, it is good to get in touch with the strange little creature that lives inside you.”

All Rights Reserved for Kari Paul

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