TikTok's Dark Academia trend criticised for 'whiteness'

The successor to cottagecore has been called out for not challenging the status quo

The fashion and lifestyle trend of Dark Academia which revolves around classic literature from Europe, has been criticised for being non-inclusive and lacking in diversity.

Like cottagecore before it, the influence of the online trend is far reaching. It has 18 million views on TikTok, 100,000 posts on Instagram and Google reports that searches having jumped by 4,750%. Even Hollywood is taking note with the costumes of Jared Leto’s Joker in Zac Snyder’s Justice League and Timothée Chalamet as Edward Scissorhands’ son referencing the trend which takes a lead from preppy looks, Donna Tartt’s Secret History, TV shows like Brideshead Revisited and films like The Talented Mr Ripley.

Secret History author Donna Tartt.
Secret History author Donna Tartt. Photograph: Stephen Barker/REX FEATURES

“I think the worrying thing is that Dark Academia revolves around symbols of whiteness, economic and cultural privilege, conservatism and nationalism,” says Dr Sarah Burton who is presenting a lecture on the trend on Friday. “It’s distinctly traditional and British in character,” she says. “If there isn’t a clear level of critique in this sort of aesthetic it ends up just as a reiteration of the status quo and ruling class power.”

This retroactivism is something confirmed by trend forecaster Giulia Ceriani, from Baba Consulting. “(It’s) turned to past times,” she says, “ (the) 1930s, 1940s, 1950s. It’s an expression of the will of conservation, resistant to the progressive.”

Dark academia but it’s high fashion 🤎 pic.twitter.com/WdUFK2STIG

— maria ♍︎ מריה (@mmarii1a) October 16, 2020

Burton says that the majority of Dark Academia platforms on Tik Tok, Instagram and Pinterest have “all foregrounded white, thin, middle-class, cis women,” she says.

“Even when something like queerness is present it’s always more of an allusion that a clear, inclusive statement.” She says that “much of dark academia is pastiche and performance,” before adding that “it’s difficult to see where (it) differs from your basic classism and shaming of those without access to the apparently ‘better’ knowledge and ideas contained within the books of dead white European men.”

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Priya Elan

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