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Once upon a time, there was cottagecore
At least it’s attainable on Instagram. | @aestheticcottagecore/Instagram Meet the aesthetic where quarantine is romantic instead of terrifying. On Saturdays, Jesca knits. Maybe she’ll go to the farmer’s market for some fresh fruit (she recently baked some delicious heart-shaped strawberry pastries) or try a new craft, like beeswax candle-making. She wears long billowy dresses in floral patterns with puff sleeves and spends her free time reading with her cat and tending to her plants. On Instagram and TikTok, where she shares images of her rosy-tinted life, her followers look on in wonder, asking if she lives in a forest cottage somewhere in Europe, or Middle Earth. “I live in very hot, humid Orlando,’” she says with a laugh. “Pretty much the swamp.” But Jesca Her, a 25-year-old student, has amassed a following of more than 200,000 on TikTok because she makes Central Florida seem like a fairy tale. She’s an influencer of cottagecore, the soothing, escapist aesthetic dominated by meadows, teacups, and baby goats. @jesca.her Heart shaped strawberry pastries made with lots and lots of love ✨ ‍♀️ #cottage #cottagecore #aesthetic #summerproject #foodreview #fyp ♬ Itsumo Nandodemo (Spirited Away) - Aun J-Classic Orchestra It was 2018, on Tumblr, when the bucolic scenery that had proliferated on the platform for years earlier was finally christened with a suffix. “Cottagecore” is just one of dozens of iterations of movements fetishizing the countryside and coziness over the past few hundred years, and yet the glaringly obvious irony is that it is the first that has existed almost exclusively online, posted and participated in through a smartphone from cluttered apartments or suburban bedrooms. Here is what cottagecore looks like: It is doilies, snails, and DIY fairy spoons crafted from seashells. It is illustrations from Frog & Toad, stills from Miyazaki movies, two girls kissing in a forest in springtime. It is a laughably arduous tutorial on how to make homemade rosewater whispered to you in a British accent. It is eyelet blouses and soft cardigans and hair ribbons and too much blush. It is Beatrix Potter, The Secret Garden, Miss Honey from Matilda, the Shire, the emoji. Taylor Swift’s indie rock quarantine album Folklore? Cottagecore. Taylor Swift’s angry revenge album Reputation? Not cottagecore. “I’ve always liked baking and cooking and doing what my friends and my family would say is very grandma-like,” Jesca says. “Even my grandma tells me, ‘You’re more of a grandmother than I am.’” There is a word for that, too — grandmacore — but Jesca had never heard the term “cottagecore” until she joined TikTok. To be fair, cottagecore is just one of an ever-expanding universe of hyper-specific aesthetics proliferating online: There is meadowcore (cottagecore but just the meadows), frogcore (cottagecore but just the frogs), goblincore (cottagecore but with mud and foraged mushrooms and gender-neutral clothing), and dozens of others even the most online young people have probably never heard of. Yet cottagecore has been the standout aesthetic of 2020 for the same reason that everything else happened in 2020. When the pandemic hit, idle homemaking became less escapism and more like an inescapable reality. Cottagecore under lockdown, then, became a way to spin the terror and drudgery into something adorable — and interest in it directly correlated to how bad it became outside. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Honey Bee Cottage (@h0neybeecottage) on Jul 6, 2020 at 12:23am PDT “Every time there’s been a spike in cases, there’s a spike in cottagecore right along with it,” says Amanda Brennan, a trend expert at Tumblr. From early March to early April, the cottagecore hashtag jumped 153 percent, while likes on cottagecore posts were up 541 percent. As the seasons have changed, so has the content: In April, at-home activities like cooking and embroidery were popular; by June and July it was sunny wildflower fields, twee picnics, and lily pads. The sentiments are “wistful, longing,” Brennan says of the commentary on cottagecore Tumblr posts. “Like, ‘Man, if only I could have this.’ Even if it’s not joy because you’re there right now, but, ‘Just looking at this thing brings me joy and this is what I need right now.’” That the subculture mostly exists digitally is not the only irony inherent in cottagecore. Though much of the aesthetic is influenced by fairy tales — the bucolic landscapes, fascination with tiny animals — Paul Quinn, director of the Chichester Center for Fairy Tales, Fantasy, and Speculative Fiction, quips that “It’s tricky to see how cottagecore has anything to do with fairy tales at all. The countryside and woodlands — they’re not safe places!” In the early 19th century, when the Brothers Grimm were writing Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, and Cinderella, the stories were filled with grotesquery, body horror, rape, and cannibalism, often taking place in scary forests and cottages that were actually death traps. It wasn’t until later in the century, during the rise of Romanticism, that they were sanitized for children. Romanticism, not fairy tales, is the real influence on cottagecore: “If you look late in the 19th century at William Morris and the arts and crafts movement, it was a response to the Industrial Revolution,” Quinn explains. “It’s a recall of the medieval era, this idealization of nature and Arthurianism — it’s a nostalgia for someone else’s past. There’s a notion that life was better back then, even though it wasn’t. They’re places you wouldn’t want to live because there’s no internet access.” View this post on Instagram A post shared by @mignonettetakespictures on May 26, 2020 at 11:20am PDT It’s not terribly difficult to connect the social, political, and economic upheaval of the Victorian era with the tumultuousness of the past decade. But instead of longing for our own past, Americans are drawn to the landscapes of European fairy tales because, well, we don’t really have any of our own. “Americans don’t have a medieval period, you have an imported medieval period,” Quinn says. “If you look at Disney, when he attempted to create an original American fairy tale, he came up with Song of the South, and no one watches that because it’s essentially a paean to slavery. It’s tricky to construct that type of period when you haven’t really got it.” What separates cottagecore from other nostalgia-based subcultures, too, is that despite its reverence for stories about and images of heterosexual white people, it’s become nearly synonymous with queer people and progressive politics. There are mini signifiers; “cottagecore lesbian” is now a popular identifier online, while goblincore is a favorite among nonbinary people (frogs are also, canonically, lesbians). A significant portion of cottagecore accounts on Instagram, Tumblr, and TikTok also include bios with “Black Lives Matter” or other social justice causes. “Unlike reactionary movements like ‘trad wives’ — essentially right-wing mommy bloggers who advocate a return to regressive gender roles — cottagecore offers a vision of domestic bliss without servitude in the traditional binary framework,” writes Isabel Slone in the New York Times. “Cottagecore offers a vision of the world where men are not consciously excluded; they are simply an afterthought.” As one might imagine, very few men show up in searches for cottagecore hashtags. View this post on Instagram A post shared by (@mushroom_meadow) on Apr 30, 2020 at 11:39pm PDT Evienne Yanney, a 16-year-old in California, says that she discovered cottagecore on Instagram during a period where she wasn’t sure if she liked the way she dressed. Cottagecore attracted her, as a lesbian, because “Many of us aren’t really accepted in the modern world, so the thought of running away to a cottage is really, I guess, kind of soothing.” After responding to a callout on TikTok for cottagecore fans, she joined a group chat with several people, which then blossomed into their own Instagram account. She’s also part of a larger cottagecore Discord chat. There is an environmental bent to cottagecore, too; many adherents praise the virtues of thrifting and growing food at home, which recalls the fervor surrounding all things cute and handmade during mid-2000s twee. In fact, it’s rare to not exist at the same time as a subculture devoted to a slower, more thoughtful life, or at least a trending word for what to call it: Self-care, hygge, and “domestic cozy” are all recent iterations. Even before quarantine, brands had started using the aesthetics of coziness in advertisements for things like liquor or shoes that are supposed to make us feel safe and warm. Capitalism, of course, always finds a way to commoditize simplicity so that “hygge” no longer means a quiet night in with friends but a $90 blanket; cottagecore, similarly, is a faux-vintage dress from a fast-fashion conglomerate. In an era defined by anxiety, it’s not particularly surprising that so many recent fads have revolved around self-soothing: ASMR, slime, weighted blankets, fidget spinners, skin care and bath bombs, Animal Crossing, fancy mattresses, hypnotizing food videos. When Taylor Swift released Folklore, a decidedly pared-back record whose official merchandise includes a cardigan, music writers greeted it with arguably the best reviews of her career. (#Cottagecore, of course, also spiked on Tumblr that day.) Taylor Swift/Twitter Taylor Swift’s surprise quarantine album, Folklore, is extremely cottagecore. Like e-girls and e-boys, cottagecore girls often experience their aesthetic alone, and it’s difficult to point out someone on the street and label them as “cottagecore” like we might with emo or punk kids in decades prior. Most of the fans I’ve spoken with don’t know anyone in real life who’s also into it. Instead, they’ve formed bonds with folks in group chats and comments sections, the true home of nearly all subcultures today. It’s a delightfully fluid label, just one of many aesthetics that young women can try on or toss out on a daily basis. In this way, cottagecore is a state of mind more so than a style of dress or a purchasable product, able to be tapped into at any time or merged with other interests like witches or fairies. Elise Schoneman, 21, runs a popular mood board Instagram account, where she posts outfit inspiration and room decor for micro-aesthetics like “Irish countryside,” “honeycore,” or “cottagecore Slytherin.” “I’ve always been really into woodsy aesthetics, even when I was little,” she says. “I grew up on books like Brambly Hedge and Beatrix Potter, so I’ve always gravitated toward that kind of stuff.” During quarantine, she’s noticed a massive influx in interest in her account; the page grew from 30,000 to 50,000 followers in just a few months. Elise lives in a place vastly different from the English countryside — Southern California — but that so many cottagecore girls experience the subculture mostly through images and videos reveals another wrinkle in its central purpose: Cottagecore is less about a lifestyle and more about the longing for it, the yearning that maybe things would feel different if they looked a little prettier. (Perhaps not coincidentally, longing is often also a central experience of queer identity.) Implicit in Elise’s mood board posts is the fantasy of living someone else’s life — one if she were a psychology student, another if she were a librarian, another if she owned a “kitschy lil’ B&B” — and the fun of dreaming up a narrative about what it might it be like. View this post on Instagram A post shared by elise ‍♂️ (@sweetnspicegirl) on Jul 1, 2020 at 6:59am PDT Cottagecore is markedly less dreamy when you consider the realities of a life alone in the woods. “The thing about the English countryside is so many people are desperate to leave it but also so many people are being priced out of it, because people are buying second homes there,” explains Quinn, the director of the Chichester fairy tale center. Indeed, cottagecore ignores the fact that rural areas have always been unattainable for some and inescapable for others. “Taylor Swift is wearing a chunky knit on the cover of her album, but that’s Irish, and most people can’t wait to get off the island,” he adds. “These rural settings, you want to go to them, but then you want to leave.” That’s what’s wonderful about digital subcultures, though. You can wake up one day and decide to live inside cottagecore, to make tea with honey and stare at pictures of meadows, to mail a handwritten letter to a friend and buy too many plants. But there’s no telling who you’ll be in happily ever after. Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) wears a mask depicting Arizona’s state flag as she listens to testimony during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on May 6, 2020, in Washington, DC. | Shawn Thew/Pool via Getty Images Here are three races to watch in Arizona’s primary election on August 4. When it comes to Arizona, much of the nation’s political attention this year has been focused on whether former Vice President Joe Biden can flip a state President Donald Trump won in 2016. But exactly how either Trump or Biden governs could be decided not by the presidential election but by races lower on the ticket — including one for Arizona’s Senate seat. This Tuesday, August 4, voters pick their favored candidate in that primary and several others across the state. For the Senate, sole Democratic candidate Mark Kelly will coast to victory unchallenged. But a challenge against incumbent Sen. Martha McSally in the Republican primary could show just how much enthusiasm there is for her — and, perhaps, for whether Democrats can take her Senate seat to help them build a majority in both houses in Congress. Meanwhile, the Democratic primary in the Sixth Congressional District, which is potentially up for grabs in November, is shaping up to be a battleground over how the party moves forward, whether that means embracing a more progressive strategy (that’s perhaps politically riskier) or a potentially safer, more moderate approach. There’s also an interesting local race for sheriff: Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio — who was convicted of criminal contempt of court in 2017 for continuing his racist immigration enforcement in defiance of a judge’s order, though he later received a presidential pardon from Trump — is running to get his old job back. Here’s what you need to know. 1) The Republican primary for US Senate Former astronaut Mark Kelly has the Democratic primary on lockdown, as he’s running uncontested. But things are a little murkier for sitting Rep. Martha McSally, who’s facing a primary challenge from businessman Daniel McCarthy. Polling for the GOP primary is very thin, but it’s widely believed McSally has the advantage as the incumbent — albeit one who was appointed to her seat after losing to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in a bid to replace former Sen. Jeff Flake in 2018, who did not seek reelection that year. The question, political observers said, is how much of an advantage McSally actually has. If McSally wins but sees a considerable amount of voters pull away to McCarthy, that could demonstrate little Republican enthusiasm for her as a candidate — and perhaps spell trouble for her in the general election. “If there are any issues between McSally and the base, it will be revealed in the primary,” Paul Bentz, a political consultant in Arizona, told me. “If McSally’s victory is smaller than expected, it would spell trouble for her in the general, as she would run the risk of some of the Republicans choosing to stay home — or vote for president but skip her race.” That would be bad news for a campaign that’s already seemingly behind. According to a RealClearPolitics average of the polls, Kelly currently leads McSally by nearly 7 percentage points. So if it looks like McSally is facing a formidable challenge, that could be bad news for her and other Arizona Republicans, but good news for Kelly and Democrats looking to retake the Senate. 2) The Democratic primary for Arizona’s Sixth Congressional District One primary fight in Arizona could expose some of the remaining splinters within the Democratic Party between its more progressive wing and its more moderate members. In the Sixth Congressional District, Hiral Tipirneni, Anita Malik, Stephanie Rimmer, and Karl Gentles are fighting to run against Republican incumbent David Schweikert in November. Tipirneni, a physician, and Malik, a former tech executive, are believed to be the favorites, with Tipirneni boasting a huge fundraising advantage but Malik leading a challenge to her from the left. Malik ran against Schweikert in 2018 but lost by a little more than 10 percentage points. Tipirneni also ran in 2018 — against Republican Debbie Lesko in the Eighth Congressional District — and lost by 5 percentage points in the special election and 11 in the general, although she beat expectations in what’s considered a very safe Republican seat. This time, Tipirneni took her campaign to the Sixth Congressional District. That’s invited accusations of carpetbagging, or seeking office in a district in which she has no personal connections. But it’s also opened rifts between the progressive and moderate wings of the party, with progressives largely on the side of Malik, who supports Medicare-for-all, and moderates on the side of Tipirneni, who’s called for keeping private insurance plans while letting people buy into Medicare. “If Tipirneni loses, it would definitely show that progressives are incredibly engaged,” Bentz said. That may have implications in the general, too, in one of the dozens of seats Democrats could win to further bolster their hold on the House. The Sixth District is rated “Lean Republican” by the Cook Political Report, but it’s also a district with the kind of suburban voter who has swung against the president and his party in recent years. Some experts believe Tipirneni stands the better chance at appealing to a Republican-leaning district, especially given that Malik lost to Schweikert before. “My read is that, based on recent history, Tipirneni will be the far more formidable opponent,” Mike O’Neil, a political consultant in Arizona, told me. “I have no idea who will win the primary, but my guess is that most pros want Tipirneni based on her impressive recent track record.” It’s a reflection, in other words, of many of the same fights Democrats have wrestled with in other stages: backing a possibly safer, more moderate candidate over a perhaps riskier, more progressive choice. 3) The Republican primary for Maricopa County sheriff The first thing you should know about the Maricopa County sheriff’s race is that Joe Arpaio is running again. The former sheriff was previously convicted for violating a court order meant to stop racial profiling. Arpaio explicitly used racial profiling in his fight against unauthorized immigration, deploying his deputies in predominantly Latin neighborhoods to arrest people. Due to the indiscriminate racial profiling, his deputies would often arrest immigrants who were legally authorized to be in the US. But Trump pardoned the former sheriff in 2017. Arpaio was, not coincidentally, a major supporter of both the president and his tough approach to illegal immigration. Although the pardon was immediately controversial, it bolstered Arpaio’s reputation as a Trump ally. Now Arpaio is hoping that his reputation will get him back to the office he used to run. But first he has to win the Republican primary against Jerry Sheridan — a former chief deputy who served under Arpaio and was also found in contempt of the same court order — and Glendale police officer Mike Crawford. Arpaio would then have to beat Democratic incumbent Paul Penzone, who defeated Arpaio in 2016 by more than 11 percentage points and later reversed some of Arpaio’s policies. Some political observers are pretty certain about Arpaio’s chances: If Arpaio wins the primary, O’Neil said, “He will lose the general.” Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. 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