Trend Z: the dark sides of dark academia

by Semira Arora (’25) | October 7, 2022

Art by Mouli Chopra (’24)

The romanticization of education is certainly not a new niche within media. Entertainment gave us Dead Poets Society as early as 1989 and more recently, Hermione from Harry Potter and other icons to emulate. This notion of aestheticizing studying and learning stems from an internet trend called “dark academia” that focuses on creating a lifestyle around education.

Dark academia has many different characteristics. Think of classical music, libraries, plaid clothing, rainy days, and black tea all tied together by the idea of romanticizing studying. Dark academia provides an outlet to make schoolwork feel more enjoyable; reading and annotating for hours becomes not a mundane task but rather an opportunity to pursue academic understanding and excellence. In addition, people have found a new community through which they can connect with others. The influence of social media connects people from across the world, enabling them to discuss their favorite books or motivate one another for homework. In theory, this concept seems like a unique way to bond with one another and form a lifestyle around learning.

However, dark academia contains many questionable facets, mainly its emphasis on Eurocentrism. The issue lies not within the general acceptance of these books but rather in the lack of diverse works and other world literature deemed as acceptable “academic” writing. Dark academia emphasizes reading classic books, such as The Picture of Dorian Gray and Jane Eyre. In fact, on Goodreads, the list of dark academia classics primarily consists of European authors, with only a few books written by writers from other ethnic groups. Dark academia emphasizes the quest for knowledge, yet the lack of diversity contradicts this idea. Without different perspectives and literary variety, the pursuit of knowledge is incomplete. Nonetheless, this aesthetic does not take this into account; it continues to perpetuate solely European works. 

Additionally, Dark academia emphasizes the romanticization of self-sabotaging habits. Throughout the portrayal of this aesthetic, destructive behaviors are intertwined with the concept of academic validation and success. In the pursuit of perfect grades, students sleep later, and “pulling all-nighters” are idealized for high scores. These efforts also accompany the over-consumption of caffeine to stay up late at night, which has almost become a symbol of how hard one has worked. So, the question poses itself within this aesthetic: how far will you go to achieve good grades?

I believe that at its crux, dark academia can be a beneficial perspective and a way to create a positive association with schoolwork, especially as a student. However, the Eurocentrism and self-sabotaging mindsets of the trend are simply inexcusable; they perpetuate biases and harmful routines. The trend can be improved by bringing awareness to these negative aspects. As the internet adopted this aesthetic, it too can change it.

Categories: Column, Opinions

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