An English Major’s take on Dark Academia

Photo by Patrick Robert Doyle on Unsplash

I have a love-hate for Dark Academia. What started as a quiet trend on Tumblr, soon took its aesthetic vision to Instagram, Pinterest, and now, it is a trend that is becoming increasingly popular. From videos on “how to turn your bedroom into Dark Academia” to “Dark Academia lookbooks”, to “how to be Dark Academia”, the movement has taken over the internet. And while I appreciate anything that inspires a love for learning, I have a mixture of feelings about this trend.

You see, the “Dark Academia aesthetic” existed for decades, perhaps even centuries, before someone coined the name and turned it into an online trend. It existed in the Arts & Humanities university buildings, art schools, music schools, bookstores, and in the cafes where people passionate about philology, literature, and art would gather to discuss their view of the world. As an English major, I lived the aesthetic during my Bachelor’s degree. But more importantly, I lived its essence, the passion for learning, for creating, for studying architecture, and analyzing paintings, and writing essays about literature. I have fond memories of geeking with classmates and teachers about how weird we were in this pursuit of knowledge.

There is something to be said about the era of social media. It seems to prey on the things that were popularly mocked or simply ignored; it swallows them, corrupts them, and spills them back into a monetized product where the people who mocked or ignored now become the leading voices of the movement. I say corrupt because nowadays my feed is full of people making disclaimers about how they align or don’t align to the “core values” of Dark Academia; I see posts about the classist side of Dark Academia, about the racist side of Dark Academia; I see the neverending discussion about whether people follow the “Dark Academia principles” or “just the aesthetic”. I have even seen several posts on the rules, yes, rules, to follow if you want to be Dark Academia.

And this is where things get messy, and quite frankly, upsetting. It upsets me that there are all these rules about something that people have been doing for years and no one even cared about; it upsets me that people who never gave two cents to learning or to the humanities now preach of this new-found aesthetic; it upsets me that everything remotely academic is being relabeled as Dark Academia. You may call me a hypocrite because I share my Instagram photos with the hashtag Dark Academia and you’re right. I am a hypocrite. I will not apologize for writing to a niche where I can find people that I resonate with. I guess that what upsets me is that all of the minority, underground styles that have been disregarded, at times insulted, mocked, etc., become pointless trends.

Moreover, what seemed to be a community about learning, studying, and discussing the humanities, is now less about learning and more about marketing. It is less about thinking and more about following.

I loved the pre-social media era, where people would put more thought into their “aesthetic” not to please an audience but to make a statement about themselves. It was risky and fun and it gave people a unique character. Call me an idealist but I miss the good old days where you could find goth shops in an area of the city, or where a particular bar was famous for having people that enjoyed a specific style. Nowadays it feels that everyone is jumping on every possible trend and adopting every aesthetic to keep up with the views, the algorithm, the influencer… I miss the days where people would follow their passion because it was their passion. I feel people have lost their identity to social media trends. And this is why I have a problem with Dark Academia. Because while I love the originating idea behind it, I now feel hesitant every time I encounter it.

In any case, I have discovered incredible people thanks to the movement; people with whom I resonate with and creatives that inspire me. I guess that, as with everything, it is all about finding the content that brings value in a world of noise. So, for all dark-academics, scholars, learners, or however you wish to identify yourself, be happy in whichever style you thrive, but make sure that it is truly what you like. If it is, then yes, with Dark Academia you may have the time of your life.

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