I first ran across the term “hopepunk” just about a year ago, and more and more these days, it’s the attitude that is helping me cope with the state of the world today.
As I posted on Facebook earlier today, along with the Tank Girl image in this post:
I post occasionally about the #hopepunk idea, and this is the essence of it (what I’ve also seen termed as “weaponized optimism”, which I love).
Yes, many things are horrible. Yes, far too much of the world is shit. And yes, not only can it be better, but we can make it better. And we’ll drag the rest of you with us into a better world, whether you like it or not.
Here’s more on the hopepunk idea, from a few sources. In each of these links, there’s a lot more than what I’ve excerpted here, and I highly recommend spending some time going through them all.
From Alexandra Rowland, who first coined and explored the term:
The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk. Pass it on.
So the essence of grimdark is that everyone’s inherently sort of a bad person and does bad things, and that’s awful and disheartening and cynical. It’s looking at human nature and going, “The glass is half empty.”
Hopepunk says, “No, I don’t accept that. Go fuck yourself: The glass is half-full.” YEAH, we’re all a messy mix of good and bad, flaws and virtues. We’ve all been mean and petty and cruel, but (and here’s the important part) we’ve also been soft and forgiving and KIND. Hopepunk says that kindness and softness doesn’t equal weakness, and that in this world of brutal cynicism and nihilism, being kind is a political act. An act of rebellion.
Hopepunk says that genuinely and sincerely caring about something, anything, requires bravery and strength. Hopepunk isn’t ever about submission or acceptance: It’s about standing up and fighting for what you believe in. It’s about standing up for other people. It’s about DEMANDING a better, kinder world, and truly believing that we can get there if we care about each other as hard as we possibly can, with every drop of power in our little hearts.
Going to political protests is hopepunk. Calling your senators is hopepunk. But crying is also hopepunk, because crying means you still have feelings, and feelings are how you know you’re alive. The 1% doesn’t want you to have feelings, they just want you to feel resigned. Feeling resigned is not hopepunk.
A later essay from Alexandra Rowland: One Atom of Justice, one Molecule of Mercy, and the Empire of Unsheathed Knives:
It’s not about glory or noble deeds; it’s not about an end result because there is no end. There’s always a tomorrow and when the sun rises again, we’ll still have a dam holding the water back. For now. But entropy is real, and dams must be maintained, and it takes all of us to do it, and it’s done by linking arms with the people next to you, by building a community with deliberate intent.
It’s about how the first step to slaying a dragon is for one person to say, probably drunk in a bar somewhere, “I bet it can be done, though.”
It’s about being kind merely for the sake of kindness, and because you have the means to be, and giving a fuck because the world is (somehow, mysteriously, against all evidence) worth it and we don’t have anywhere else to go anyway.
It’s about digging in your heels and believing that one single atom of justice, one molecule of mercy does exist somewhere in the mindboggling vastness of the universe—believing in that, even if for no other reason than fuck you, buddy; fuck you, fuck you, fuck you. I do what I want and this, this is what I want; this is the world I want to live in: One where the atom of justice exists, even if I’ve never seen it myself, even if I’ll never see it.
It’s about doing the one little thing you can do, even if it’s useless: planting seeds in the midst of the apocalypse, spitting on a wildfire, bailing out the ocean with a bucket. Individual action is almost always pointless. Hope and strength comes from our bonds with each other, from the actions we take as a community, holding hands in the dark.
i will say this again: we are all going to die. the universe is enormous and almost entirely empty. to be kind to each other is the most incredible act of defiance against the dark that i can imagine.
From Den of Geek’s New York Comic Con Special Edition 2019 issue: Are You Afraid of the Darkness?
To understand hopepunk as a concept it helps to understand what it stands in contrast to. Grimdark is a fantasy subgenera characterized by bleak settings in which humanity is fundamentally cutthroat, and where no individual or community can stop the world’s inevitable decline. Hopepunk, in contrast, believes that the very act of trying has meaning, that fighting for positive change in and of itself has worth—especially if we do it together.
…It’s believing that humanity may not be inherently good, but we’re not inherently bad either, and that giving people the chance to prove themselves compassionate is a worthwhile choice.
And finally, from Vox: Hopepunk, the latest storytelling trend, is all about weaponized optimism
Depending on who you ask, hopepunk is as much a mood and a spirit as a definable literary movement, a narrative message of “keep fighting, no matter what.” If that seems too broad — after all, aren’t all fictional characters fighting for something? — then consider the concept of hope itself, with all the implications of love, kindness, and faith in humanity it encompasses.
Now, picture that swath of comfy ideas, not as a brightly optimistic state of being, but as an active political choice, made with full self-awareness that things might be bleak or even frankly hopeless, but you’re going to keep hoping, loving, being kind nonetheless.
Through this framing, the idea of choosing hope becomes both an existential act that affirms your humanity, and a form of resistance against cynical worldviews that dismiss hope as a powerful force for change.
Go forth. Be angry. Be optimistic. Be hopepunk. Make this world a better place, whether it likes it or not.