November 2, 2023 | ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT | By Charlotte Maley
When people ask me what my favorite movie genre, literary category or type of music is, I find myself unable to give a satisfactory answer. There is a theme, of course, with all the art I gravitate towards, but nevertheless it is a category with no name. It is an invisible kind of expression that no one seems eager to recognize.
Just as all genres expose a certain human desire, this one unveils a certain type of person, too. The category of art I speak of I will venture to call “Moshfegh Core,” and I’ll tell you why.
Ottessa Moshfegh’s bestseller and award winner, “My Year of Rest and Relaxation,” is a novel about an unnamed woman who tries to sleep for a whole year. Aside from her amoral actions, toxic relationships and refusal to self-reflect, nothing else really ‘happens;’ it is an entirely plotless book in my opinion. “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” is purposely myopic, entertainingly masochistic and humorously regressive. The elusive main character is charmingly anarchic, but more than anything, seems to be in a perpetual and unemotional spiral towards self-destruction.
She is a terrible person that emerges at the end a better woman, not because she learned anything, but seemingly because of how ironic it would be for her to end up “okay” in the end. It is a book which forces its intended audience to sink deeper into their own twisted, dark, psychological abyss, encouraging them to embrace their chronic dissociation and nihilism. “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” seeks to embody the sexy meaninglessness of feminine existence, which is what makes the book’s author worthy of representing the greater genre that I hope to expose.
“Moshfegh Core” can best be described as a type of art that uniquely captures the depressive, rebellious, and feminine rage pent up in the contemporary hysteric nihilist. It is the dark side of a majesty’s manic pixie dream girl, repackaging her from the object of desire to one for possible identification, capturing her mad, promiscuous humanity. “Moshfegh Core” has had a history, of course, just like any other genre.
It began with Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” and Virginia Woolf, then turning to the era of “Girl, Interrupted,” Lana del Ray, and “Jennifer’s Body,” only to end up at the doorstep of authors like Ottessa Moshfegh and shows such as “Fleabag.”
Although Moshfegh Core’s contemporary manifestation is all too influenced by hookup culture, late-stage capitalism and early 2010’s Tumblr, it nonetheless has a long legacy that predates “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” by decades. “Moshfegh Core,” is a genre because it has a past, a present, and surely a future. Like any other genre, it evolves with the times, but nonetheless fulfills the needs of its audience.
A genre which illustrates feminine pain attracts an audience which learns how to cope through characters the genre perpetuates. I understand the draw to what I call “Moshfegh Core” as a desire to make sense of such a challenging placement within the world. Its audience has tendencies to be intellectual, traumatized, feminine people who were sexualized far too young, but were always expected to act strong.
Television shows like “Fleabag,” musicians like Lana del Ray and movies like “Girl, Interrupted” all represent the chaos of this kind of existence and how impossible it seems to heal when you inhabit such a complex positionality. “Moshfegh Core,” as a genre, should be looked at critically for the type of manufactured personality traits it tends to create and encourage, but it should also be seen for the beautiful recognition it gives to people like me and so many others.
By calling attention to and naming, “Moshfegh Core,” I am hoping to invite greater discourse investigating the truths of existence which draw certain people to this genre. Just as we study horror movies, blues music or gothic era literature, we need recognition of the genre that encapsulates the works of Sylvia Plath and Sofia Coppola, or the essences of Beth Dutton in “Yellowstone” and Odette in “Black Swan.”
When a grouping of art makes a category of people feel seen, understood and identified, it is necessary to recognize its overarching themes as phenomena worth understanding and classifying. I want an adequate word to describe what I enjoy when I am asked what my favorite type of movie to watch is. Although I don’t exactly paint a flattering picture of “Moshfegh Core” and its loyal subjects, I don’t think revealing a taste for it is any more embarrassing or intimate than expressing a likeness towards romance films or rap music. We just aren’t used to this one, yet.