A couple weeks back, Indiewire’s David Erlich took a deep dive into a cinematic trend he has noticed in 2018: Nicecore. In his words, these are films that are “humane and optimistic,” standing in stark opposition to the current political climate present in the US. He cited movies like Paddington 2, in which an adorable bear finds conflict in trying to save up enough money to buy the perfect gift for a loved one, and Won’t You Be My Neighbor, which tells the heartwarming story behind Mr. Rogers, whom Erlich calls “nicecore in a cardigan.” It’s an insightful piece that gets to the heart of why stories like this are resonating now, and it’s a trend that has become visible in other mediums, too.
One example is in television with Adult Swim’s Joe Pera Talks With You, a show that’s just starting to be talked about widely, with The AV Club calling it a show that will “restore your soul.” Checking out the brief episodes, Pera is a similar gentle figure to Mr. Rogers, with his quiet and simple demeanor played for laughs without making him the butt of the joke.
In contrast, it is the regular world, for all its brash nature, that feels out of tune from Pera’s reality. And the audience is left to wonder if Pera’s view of the world, his desire to both learn and teach, is antiquated or the ideal. (If you want further contrast, Adult Swim’s website offers Oxycontin addiction public service ads before each episode.) And if you think nicecore is only for straight, white entertainment, the uplifting brilliance of Netflix’s Queer Eye argues that wholesome, pleasant programming comes in a lot of packages.
Paddington and Pera aren’t active in their protest of Trump or other darkest timeline events, but they also feel like more than escapism. It’s the same way that Arroyo Seco Weekend seemed to function during its second annual event. Even with a couple wildly opinionated rockers headlining the first day, Neil Young and Jack White, the air of positivity ran rampant during the course of the day. With kids under 10 getting in for free and a delightful low-80s sunny day providing the backdrop, it didn’t feel like the couples, friends, and families that flocked to Pasadena were fleeing the real world. They were providing an alternative to constantly updating Twitter and wallowing in existential angst. It’s a privileged choice that not all people have, there is no doubt about that, but it also felt productive in a way that much of the recent engagement hasn’t.