What Is Wrong with the Social Media Trend ‘’Dark Academia’’
Let me just visualize a classic example of a typical ‘’dark academia’’ for you. Just imagine this. You are currently in a dimly lit library and it is a gloomy day. You are busy taking aesthetic pictures of books than reading your half-read Jane Eyre. You are wearing an elegant turtle-neck and ankle pants with a neutral mute-shaded trench coat. You spend most of the time, scrolling through your Instagram and liking all the aesthetic ‘’moodboards’’ associated with Dark Academia. Well, you clearly fell into the trap of romanticizing elitism.
What Is This ‘’Dark Academia’’, Even?
The previous example might be helpful in understanding the trend but what exactly it is, after all!
Dark academia is “an aesthetic,” a set of tropes, clothing styles, media properties, and visual themes collected by mass consensus and continually revised.
In plain words, the trend has become the ‘’Modern Renaissance’’. From Classical Literature, art, poetry to Renaissance paintings, gothic architecture, and Romanticism. I think this trend can be viewed as how the online community ‘’captures’’ the aesthetics of a humanities major. An aesthetic picture of a copy of Macbeth, a cup of coffee, and a random quote from a random book written in a convoluted Calligraphy, just for increasing your Instagram followers will not be helping you with your real academics. The response to this trend seems to be very delusional on social media, like it would be good if that person actually ‘’reads’’ Macbeth, instead of just photographing the books in order to make it ‘’dark academia’’. Talking about the places where you can ‘’follow’’ the trend, it mostly revolves around libraries, coffee houses, museums, etc. The rise of themes like ‘’dark academia hobbies’’, ‘’dark academia outfits’’, ‘’dark academia rooms’’ somehow depicts the obsession and romanticization over the ‘’elite-scholastic-environment’’.
On the other hand, have you ever thought about how did the social media trend of Dark Academia come into the limelight, recently? Well, the New York Times Style section brought it to focus, most probably in June 2020. Yes, Of course, the app called Tik Tok showed its magic and made many short looping videos of it and increased its fame.
Pinpointing the ‘’Bads’’
Can you recognize or feel that something is really wrong in the picture? Even if you cannot pinpoint, you can see the words such as ‘’pile of musty obscure books’’, ‘’androgynous scholars’’, ‘’fascination for the mystic’’, ‘’reading Keats at 3 am’’. Well, these phrases are not at all problematic individually, but the problem lies in the over-fascination of the terms ‘’humanities’’ and ‘’academics’’. Aesthetic pleasure is what we like at the end of the day, isn’t it?
During the Renaissance, as we know anthropogenic approach emerged, and humanities as a subject was given more importance. The epoch was a revival of classical learning and among them, literature, art, and architecture were the most noticeable ones. It gave a more individualistic view of a man. The romanticization over the Renaissance art and literature just to bring back the essence of it, on social media might sound very fancy but it lacks representation.
Being Euro-centric, it focuses only on Ancient Rome and Greece and it does not promote any other race or color. The idealism as the Dark Academia shows is very wrong. The problem lies in the fact that Dark Academia tries to convey that Eurocentric literature and languages are superior to any other literature or language. The trend has absolutely no diversity. I’m NOT against ‘’aesthetic vibes’’ but the way people have stereotyped the academic field is something very misleading. Ph.D. students do not always have to consume caffeine in order to pen down their thesis. Categorizing and conventionalize academic students, their behaviors and activities through some Classical and Renaissance aesthetics should not be given any limelight.
Talking about representation, we seldom associate women with Dark Academia, except the outfits. I mean I want to witness women of all ethnicities and sexualities, not just white women in messy hair and turtle-necks! More women in academics are very necessary and important. Moreover, it excludes neuro-divergent people and they should have got a chance to participate in the trend but as the trend goes against them, they cannot. Dark Academia has proved to be an exclusive club kind of something, where only white upper-class male shows their elitism, rooted in British Colonial culture. This needs to stop ASAP.
Male representation and elitism play the biggest role in the trend if you have noticed. The meme given below might give you an idea. If you don’t understand, let me help you. These are four names of typical books/movies you would associate the term “elitism” with Dark Academia the most, and the joke is very lame. So, let’s move on then!
Can we please talk about caffeine addiction! Lets us analyze the first image, again. Words like, ‘’drinking your sorrow away’’ and ‘’sticky sweet drops of vodka’’ proves that it idealizes and promotes the drinking problem as well as admits that mental health should be ignored. An unhealthy behavior should never be promoted.
Dark Academia idealizes the notion that you stay up engaging in obsessive, depressive behaviours, consuming cup after cup of caffeine and tearing through books like a 4th-year student trying to write citations to their thesis simply because you can, because you enjoy reading and learning and knowing.
Anyway, it’s high time we think outside of tweed coats, realize that how “aesthetics" makes things pretty and fancy but romanticizing and idealizing Eurocentric literature or any other cultural stuff is not okay. If we talk about literature, in particular, Oscar Wilde and Emily Dickinson have become quite famous in Dark Academia. The trend also has a tendency of focusing only on Classics but reading YA, Fantasy, Sci-Fi are equally necessary, it gives us perspectives about culture, people, language, and society. As someone said, ‘’every book is a classic to someone’’.
Besides the criticisms, there are few good points which should be noted. Like, nowadays History and Literature major academic students are thought to be ‘’less intelligent’’ as compared to STEM graduates. Adding to that, Science and Engineering majors are so-called ‘’superiors” and humanities research are not framed as ‘’real research’’. Dark academia has revived ‘’the romanticizing view of art for art’s sake’’. This trend is trying to spread the importance of learning literature and history in today’s generation. Shakespeare is very relevant even today and I think the trend is doing wonders in this regard. Ancient Greek and Latin as subjects of linguistic study seemed to fade away but this trend really revived them.
Now creating Dark Academia as a sub-culture needs some changes. The existence of every gender/race/color/ethnicity/ should be there. Aesthetics should be created through culture and representation, not through some upper-class American man reading Milton. Diversity is what must be there. The same goes for paintings, architecture, and art. A space for the non-hegemonic identities should be made and EVERYBODY should be able to participate in the trend, no matter what social, cultural, and economic background they hail from. Every culture is unique and should get to show its aesthetic sensibility.
- Krishnakumar, Tanvi. “Dark Academia: The Toxic Cultural Paradigms Promoted by a Dark Academic Aesthetic: Her Campus,” September 21, 2020. https://www.hercampus.com/school/ashoka/dark-academia-toxic-cultural-paradigms-promoted-dark-academic-aesthetic/.
- Everything to know about the “Dark Academia Aesthetic” Trend. Accessed September 22, 2021. https://www.lofficiel.at/en/pop-culture/dark-academia-aesthetic.
- Quiring, Ana. “What’s Dark about Dark Academia.” Avidly, March 31, 2021. http://avidly.lareviewofbooks.org/2021/03/31/whats-dark-about-dark-academia/.