The aesthetic category of the last five minutes* is “cursed,” as in the “Cursed TikToks” Twitter account. The original cursed TikTok that I saw floating around was a looping video of a young woman crying abjectly while dancing to a song I didn’t recognize. You have to understand that I’m too elderly to actually understand what TikTok is, but basically it involves these short looping videos, which I think may be key to the “cursed” concept. However, “cursed” has traveled as an aesthetic category to apply to other things that can circulate, especially images (for example, @CursedArchitecture).
— すふぃお@（-46k） (@___sphere) August 29, 2019
As far as I can tell, there are a few things that “cursed” involves:
- the cursed object is aesthetically bad or upsetting—often uncanny or involving a jarring clash of sensibilities (genre flail?) rather than straightforwardly ugly or violent; it may be funny, but if so, then uncomfortably so
- although the cursed object is upsetting, it seems more victim than perpetrator; it is the thing being portrayed that is “cursed,” although, by looking at it, we might ourselves become “cursed”
- its stasis (still image), looping (TikTok/gif), or other intimations of perpetuity are somehow foregrounded (not everything that is static or looping is cursed, but everything that is cursed is static or looping)
- the cursed object usually wears a mask or is on the cusp of animacy (a doll, taxidermy, an animated figure) or inhabits a stereotyped role in a masklike way; in this way, the cursed object’s trappedness is foregrounded; suffering is possible (animate) but escape is not (inanimate)
- Some report that “cursed” is pronounced “cursèd,” introducing intentional anachronism (I haven’t seen this but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true)
It seems clear that “cursed” is the necessary inverse of “blessed” (or “#blessed”), the generic explanation for anything good turned on its head. It is thus appropriate for circulation on “this hell website” in particular (Twitter). Cursed is an anachronistically supernatural explanation for a badness—or ubiquitously visible suffering, violence, and death—that we feel powerless to change. Look at those poor rubber chickens up there, cursed to scream out little streams of water in perpetuity (and there’s nothing we can do to stop their suffering). Cursed images and cursed TikToks are manageably upsetting, the little fort-da game covering over the too many videos of tear gas and police shootings and images of dead migrant children that we see interspersed with dog pictures on the internet.
The rise of the cursed is, perhaps, parallel to astrology’s resurging popularity, a kind of paralyzed aesthetic mindfulness with which we can mark suffering without trying to change it, nor explain it except generically. Mercury’s in retrograde and those chickens are cursed. It is a self-deprecating admission of analytical defeat, occasioned by the cursed object’s overwhelming self-dissonance (the absurdity, for example, of sympathizing with a rubber chicken), and, perhaps, too, an acknowledgment that we cannot analyze our way out of some kinds of terror.
Evoking the supernatural to explain the present in all its modernity is nothing new (Apple’s whole brand is built on it). The cursed as an aesthetic category acknowledges the roughness of late capitalism’s magic.
* According to internet people (see below) it’s actually been a thing for several years and started on Tumblr. Insert how do you do fellow kids gif here.
This essay by Rahel Aima (via Joseph Mosconi) is good.