The Wes Anderson Trend And TikTok’s Tendency To Forget About Context

Words by Merryana Salem

By Merryana Salem, 20/4/2023

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The latest trend on TikTok sees people film videos of their day-to-day activities in the distinctive and brightly hyper-symmetrical style of indie director Wes Anderson. While it’s not my place to poo-poo anyone trying to romanticise their limited time on this planet, something’s bugging me. 

TikTok is known for dancing, recipes, influencers, ozempic and aesthetics. Whatever you’re into, it’s guaranteed there’s a TikTok-driven aesthetic subculture to match with the suffix “core”. There’s cottagecore, e-core, dullcore, weirdcore, cleancore, mermaidcore, kidcore, glitchcore and dreamcore just to name a few — all built around adherence to an aesthetic for its own sake.  

Enter Wes Anderson core, a new trend being spread around TikTok where users film their daily activities in the style of a Wes Anderson film, complete with Alexandre Desplat’s score from Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel 

TikTok Turns Lunch Breaks And Even War-Torn Ukraine Into A Wes Anderson Movie

The first video that kicked off the trend saw user avawillyums filming themself taking the train in the perceived style of Anderson’s films. “You better not be acting like you’re in a Wes Anderson film when I get there,” the caption reads. Inspired by that video, Ukrainian TikTok user Valerisssh filmed her own poignant Wes Anderson-styled daily vlog among the rubble and ruins of the ongoing war in Ukraine.  

It took off. There are now hundreds of videos showing people doing everything from visiting their in-laws, to grabbing burgers on their lunch break, or holidaying in Paris — all tinged with the “style” of Wes Anderson. But what is the style of Wes Anderson?  

If you answered this question with these TikToks alone, you’d conclude that Anderson’s style prioritises oversaturation, symmetry, a stilted stop-motion quality, and a general whimsification of the everyday just for whimsy’s sake. 

Except, it’d be reductive to compress Wes Anderson’s distinctive cinematic style into these twee tableaus. Often, the formalistic, artisanal, anachronistic quality brought to Anderson’s films by his long-time collaborator cinematographer Robert Yeoman is actually all about enhancing the pathos, the darkness underlying the stories. 

TikTok Is Ignoring Wes Anderson’s Dark Side

Many of Anderson’s films concern themselves with serious themes of grief (The Darjeeling Limited), suicide (The Royal Tenenbaums), narcissistic parenting (Fantastic Mr Fox), and the inherent failure of institutions to protect humanity. Even The Grand Budapest Hotel, the film where this WesTok trend sourced its soundtrack, is about escaping the rise of fascism prior to World War II. For all their fanciful presentation, these meticulously constructed facades are just that. The whimsical images are the wind up to the gut punch that is the film’s emotional pay off.  

Anderson’s most staunch critics argue that his body of work prioritises style over substance. The politics in Anderson’s films certainly leave much to be desired. Critiques of Anderson’s tendency to ignore social realities of race, gender, and class in favour of picturesque settings have been levied at most of his films. While the ignorant aspects of his work shouldn’t be ignored, outright denying substance in the filmmaker’s work is a strange claim. 

This is what rankles me about this TikTok trend. Apart from the video filmed in Ukraine, which packs plenty of pathos by its own virtue, these videos do what Anderson’s critics have claimed of Anderson — reducing his aesthetic to a style with little to no substance.  

Apologies, but this is an ongoing personal beef I have with TikTok trends. These trends often rely on a reductive decontextualisation of art, songs, film, television purely for their aesthetic “vibes”. With the help of viral sounds or filters and clips, the art is repurposed and stripped of its meaning so users can show off their outfits, holiday destinations, personal milestones, or dancing skills.  

Is This All Just Harmless Fun, Or Is TikTok Shredding Art For Clout?

The oddest example of this was when a line from the penultimate episode of Bojack Horseman became a viral trend. The line in question was, “It’s the way it is, you know? Everything must come to an end; the drip finally stops… there is no other side. This is it,” originating from a scene where protagonist Bojack is considering suicide. But that didn’t stop users from jumping on the trend, using the sound while documenting their happiness at graduating, moving out, or getting married – unaware of the dialogue’s original meaning. 

Of course, who am I to deny people their fun? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t secretly enjoy most of these trends. Even the Wes Anderfication of TikTok has me marvelling at the creative production people are capable of with just a phone and a friend. Art has always been repurposed, collaged, and sampled across all mediums.  

Still, TikTok seems to be built on this form of context collapse, for better and worse. People use the art of others, without consideration of its intended meaning, in the problematic pursuit of going “viral”. This has already landed users on the app in hot water for stolen dances, songs, and even an Indigenous woman’s moko kauae traditional face tattoo being appropriated into a filter 

The Wes Anderson core trend is not harmful and or insidious in any way. It’s still an example (however wholesome) of TikTok’s tendency to encourage the decontextualization of art and culture for clout. Hopefully, more trends in the very least take the cue, and credit the art they’re trying to emulate.  

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