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Dana Rodriguez for Vox The pool was a place where I could think, but most importantly, it became a place where I didn’t have to think at all. I barely had enough money at the time to put gas in my car, but I wanted the kiddie pool very badly. Needed it, really. The pools sat in a giant stack outside of the Walmart Supercenter next to a pile of bagged mulch and discount beach chairs. We were there for groceries after a very long, bad week of work, and suddenly a pool seemed like a necessity. “It’s cheaper than going to the movies and we can use it over and over again,” I told my then-partner, and she reluctantly agreed. I waited to grab one until we left, lugging it out to her car while she maneuvered the grocery cart. We stuffed it in the back seat, wedged behind our heads alongside sweaty bags of food as we drove back home. Living in Orlando means getting used to the oppressive heat. One of the ways Floridians do that is by regularly throwing themselves into various bodies of water. We live for excursions out to the springs, lakes, and oceans. Nicer homes have their own in-ground pools (and the requisite expenses that go along with keeping them clean). A kiddie pool seemed perfect for me, a raccoon of a human who got her dinners most nights from the convenience store. I set the kiddie pool on the back patio — a cracked slab of concrete that never got much shade — and filled it regularly with a busted old hose rigged with duct tape that I sometimes used to wash the dogs. To me, it seemed like ideal enjoyment: a fun, cheap way to cool off and decompress. Most of my days were spent running myself ragged. To soak in a pool meant to truly chill the hell out. Growing up, my family couldn’t afford much. There was no pool at our tiny rental home, no access to bodies of water other than the garbage-filled retention pond out back. That’s where I’d seen my first used condom, floating near the reedy lakefront, bloated as a dead jellyfish. My grandparents bought a kiddie pool for my much younger cousin one summer, and I spent any time they’d let me sitting in it, the littler kids begging me to get out so they could play. Buying a kiddie pool of my own felt like a throwback to a younger, simpler time. My now ex-partner only got in the pool with me once, but after I got it set up in our backyard, I used it religiously. She moved out not long afterward and took a lot of our things with her. I got to keep the pool. It was bright blue plastic — not inflatable, the rigid cheap stuff. You had to roll it along on its side like a giant hula hoop to move it anywhere. It was covered with cartoon marine life. A seahorse with a grin full of shiny white teeth that looked like dentures. Fish wearing baseball caps. A starfish in sunglasses. It was so, so stupid. I loved it. Most of my days were spent running myself ragged. To soak in a pool meant to truly chill the hell out. When I was angry with myself, with my then-partner, or with my work, I climbed into the kiddie pool. I drank a beer or three. I brought books out with me and read them right there in the water, pruney fingers carefully flipping pages. The dogs roamed the yard as I lay back and attempted to dissociate. I stared at the limbs of the oak overhead and listened to the world revolve and move around me. I was tuned into everything. There was a neighbor starting up his lawnmower. Someone leaf-blowing. Kids screaming as they chased each other down adjacent streets. Wind rustling through the flapping leaves of palm scrub. Another neighbor yelling at her husband for screwing up the hamburgers he was grilling for dinner. And once, my dog digging up the dead body of a squirrel, rolling around on it, eating it in two gigantic gulps. I was working on what would become my debut novel. It was a book about taxidermy. I’d spent weeks thinking about that work without actually doing any writing. I mean, I’d researched. I’d read. I’d dug through web forums about scraping and curating dead animals; the process of reanimation through careful, painstaking preservation. But I did not want to write the book. I was afraid of what it would look like — the kind of breadth it would take to build such a big world. Mostly, I was afraid that I would fuck it up. I have fucked up many other things in my life. My relationship with my ex-partner is one big example, but even on a day-to-day level, I have to work hard to convince myself that I am a fully functioning and capable adult. I drink a six-pack of beer instead of cooking myself a meal. I make dumb jokes instead of interrogating my hurt feelings. I bought a kiddie pool and laid around in it instead of confronting the fact that my day job at the library was bringing me a lot of misery. It felt extremely possible that I might wreck a book, too. Sitting in that pool, I promised myself that I would work on it. That no matter what, even if no one ever read it, I’d finish that damned novel. So after long days working my library job, I’d go home and devote my time to the book. I’d stop at Publix and buy loads of frozen pizzas and cases of beer and cubes of boxed wine. I’d let out the dogs, put the pizza in the oven, and throw the hose into the kiddie pool. Then I’d take my computer out and perch it on a plastic chair. And I’d eat that frozen pizza, drink my drinks, and try to write. It’s a miracle that I never dumped my laptop into the water. Maybe it’s a miracle I got anything written at all. But somehow that kiddie pool made it feel manageable. Just sitting inside that water, trying to tell a story about a Florida backyard not so different from my own. I used the pool far into the fall, when the weather turned Florida cool, which isn’t exactly frigid, but not an ideal time to be sitting around in a plastic tub wearing nothing but a swimsuit. I sat in it and read. I sat in it and cried when I was worried about money or had a bad day at work or wondered if I’d ever finish my book. Fully estranged from my family — the family that lived only five minutes down the road — I sat in that pool and struggled. Alone, watching the leaves fall off the oaks and swirl into the hose water, I found it okay to cry. The only living things that ever saw my tears were the dogs, and once, that same neighbor who was grilling, which I found deeply embarrassing. Then I’d wipe my face, dry off, and head back in the house again. I was worried. I was happy. I was worried that I was happy. When the book found a publisher, I was elated. And terrified. There I was back in the pool, but for very different reasons. Not to avoid the bad feelings I had about my work and the fact that no one might want it, but because someone actually did. I sat inside my kiddie pool, drinking beer, and willed the world away for weekends at a time. I was worried. I was happy. I was worried that I was happy. The pool didn’t care. It took me, my anxieties, the book, as well as all the bugs and leaves that accumulated inside it. What is a kiddie pool? A body of liquid, a small place to put your body. A vessel. I thought a lot about the kiddie pool when I was away from it; waxed poetic over it with friends via text message and also chatted about it late-night drunk at the bar, picking up women after my divorce was finalized. The pool was a momentary womb. A place to float free. The pool was important because of how my body fit inside it and how it fit around me. The pool was a place where I could think, but most importantly, it became a place where I didn’t have to think at all. I could just … exist. Floating there in the backyard, sweating despite the cold hose water, drunk on shitty beer, I could sit inside a place that felt very much like home. And when that very Florida novel came out, the very queer one that I’d put my whole heart into, I celebrated that fact in my kiddie pool. It was purple-pink dusk and the mosquitoes were flying, but I’d lit a citronella candle to ward them off. Then I lit a leftover Fourth of July sparkler. Held my beer aloft, looked down into the water riddled with oak leaves and dirt and grass trimmings from the yard and thought, “This is all I want. This is mine, my Florida, my little corner of the world.” Kristen Arnett is a queer fiction and essay writer and is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Mostly Dead Things. 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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The scariest thing about global warming (and Covid-19)
The afternoon sky glows red from bushfires exacerbated by climate change near Nowra in the Australian state of New South Wales on December 31, 2019. | Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images “Shifting baselines syndrome” means we quickly get used to climate chaos. For as long as I’ve followed global warming, advocates and activists have shared a certain faith: When the impacts get really bad, people will act. Maybe it will be an especially destructive hurricane, heat wave, or flood. Maybe it will be multiple disasters at once. But at some point, the severity of the problem will become self-evident, sweeping away any remaining doubt or hesitation and prompting a wave of action. From this perspective, the scary possibility is that the moment of reckoning will come too late. There’s a time lag in climate change — the effects being felt now trace back to gases emitted decades ago. By the time things get bad enough, many further devastating and irreversible changes will already be “baked in” by past emissions. We might not wake up in time. That is indeed a scary possibility. But there is a scarier possibility, in many ways more plausible: We never really wake up at all. No moment of reckoning arrives. The atmosphere becomes progressively more unstable, but it never does so fast enough, dramatically enough, to command the sustained attention of any particular generation of human beings. Instead, it is treated as rising background noise. The youth climate movement continues agitating, some of the more progressive countries are roused to (inadequate) action, and eventually, all political parties are forced to at least acknowledge the problem — all outcomes that are foreseeable on our current trajectory — but the necessary global about-face never comes. We continue to take slow, inadequate steps to address the problem and suffer immeasurably as a result. NurPhoto via Getty Images A Palestinian girl fills plastic bottles with drinking water from a public tap during a heat wave in Gaza City on July 6, 2020. David Wallace-Wells, author of the popular and terrifying climate change book The Uninhabitable Earth, discussed this possibility in a New York Magazine piece written during the apocalyptic fires late last year in Australia. One might have thought that fires consuming hundreds of millions of acres and killing more than a billion animals would be a wake-up call, but instead, Wallace-Wells writes, “a climate disaster of unimaginable horror has been unfolding for almost two full months, and the rest of the world is hardly paying attention.” Maybe climate chaos, a rising chorus of alarm signals from around the world, will simply become our new normal. Hell, maybe income inequality, political dysfunction, and successive waves of a deadly virus will become our new normal. Maybe we’ll just get used to [waves hands] all this. Humans often don’t remember what we’ve lost or demand that it be restored. Rather, we adjust to what we’ve got. Concepts developed in sociology and psychology can help us understand why it happens — and why it is such a danger in an age of accelerating, interlocking crises. Tackling climate change, pandemics, or any of a range of modern global problems means keeping our attention on what’s being lost, not just over our lifetimes, but over generations. Shifting baselines are a form of generational amnesia In 1995, fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly published a one-page article in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution titled “Anecdotes and the shifting baseline syndrome in fisheries.” It contained no original experiments, no numbers or equations, but it went on to be the most cited and widely discussed thing he ever wrote. Pauly had something particular in mind about the transition from pre-scientific (anecdotal) to scientific data, but the conceptual architecture of shifting baselines also proved to be incredibly fruitful in other contexts and went on to be “revolutionary for the field of ecology,” write Jeremy Jackson (an emeritus professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography) and Jennifer Jacquet (an environmental studies professor at New York University). The notion was later introduced to the public by filmmaker Randy Olsen in a 2002 LA Times piece and has since become a subject of much popular discussion. So what are shifting baselines? Consider a species of fish that is fished to extinction in a region over, say, 100 years. A given generation of fishers becomes conscious of the fish at a particular level of abundance. When those fishers retire, the level is lower. To the generation that enters after them, that diminished level is the new normal, the new baseline. They rarely know the baseline used by the previous generation; it holds little emotional salience relative to their personal experience. And so it goes, each new generation shifting the baseline downward. By the end, the fishers are operating in a radically degraded ecosystem, but it does not seem that way to them, because their baselines were set at an already low level. Over time, the fish goes extinct — an enormous, tragic loss — but no fisher experiences the full transition from abundance to desolation. No generation experiences the totality of the loss. It is doled out in portions, over time, no portion quite large enough to spur preventative action. By the time the fish go extinct, the fishers barely notice, because they no longer valued the fish anyway. “An animal that is very abundant, before it gets extinct, it becomes rare,” says Pauly in his much-watched TED talk on shifting baselines. “So you don’t lose abundant animals. You always lose rare animals. And therefore, they’re not perceived as a big loss.” The same phenomenon is sometimes called “generational amnesia,” the tendency of each generation to disregard what has come before and benchmark its own experience of nature as normal. A 2009 study from researchers at the Imperial College London examined a series of case studies, from “hunters’ perceptions of change in prey species populations in two villages in central Gabon” to “perceptions of bird population trends of 50 participants in a rural village in Yorkshire, UK.” Sure enough, they found evidence of generational amnesia, “where knowledge extinction occurs because younger generations are not aware of past biological conditions.” It’s easy to see the same thing happening on a larger scale with climate change. Few people are aware, in a conscious way, of how many hot summer days were normal for their parents’ or grandparents’ generation. Recent research shows that “extremely hot summers” are 200 times more likely than they were 50 years ago. Did you know that? Do you feel it? It’s not just intergenerationally that we forget, either. The Imperial College researchers also demonstrated the existence of another form of shifting baselines syndrome: personal amnesia, “where knowledge extinction occurs as individuals forget their own experience.” Just as generations forget about ecological loss, so do individuals It turns out that, over the course of their lives, individuals do just what generations do — periodically reset and readjust to new baselines. “There is a tremendous amount of research showing that we tend to adapt to circumstances if they are constant over time, even if they are gradually worsening,” says George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon. He cites the London Blitz (during World War II, when bombs were falling on London for months on end) and the intifada (the Palestinian terror campaign in Israel), during which people slowly adjusted to unthinkable circumstances. “Fear tends to diminish over time when a risk remains constant,” he says, “You can only respond for so long. After a while, it recedes to the background, seemingly no matter how bad it is.” He notes that big events, or “teachable moments,” can momentarily shock us into willingness to make big changes, but “a teachable moment is only a moment,” he says. “Once the fear is gone, the willingness to take measures is also gone.” Even those big personal moments fade quickly. One of the most robust findings in modern psychology — made famous by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert — is that we have an incredibly robust “psychological immune system.” We tend to dramatically overestimate the effect that large events, good or bad, will have on our happiness. We think the death of a family member will make us enduringly less happy, or winning the lottery will make us enduringly happier. In fact, what psychologists find again and again is that we quickly return to our personal happiness equilibrium. A soldier who loses a leg and a soldier who returns home safe to a new baby will generally, a year or two later, be roughly as happy as they were before those events. It’s called “hedonic adaptation.” Just as we adjust emotionally, we adjust cognitively. We forget what came before; we simply don’t think about it. For the most part, only our recent experience is salient in defining our baselines, our sense of normal. XKCD XKCD on shifting baselines. The process of forgetting, of resetting, is almost possible to resist, even for those acutely aware of it. In 2013, author JB McKinnon released a book called The Once and Future World, about the extinction crisis and the abundant natural world that Americans are barely aware is draining away. “Even though I spent several years writing a book about things disappearing from the natural world,” McKinnon says, “I can’t hold it in my head. I have to go back and reread it in order to refresh my eyes so that when I go out into the natural world, I think, ‘there are things missing here’. Otherwise, I’m just gonna go, ‘What a beautiful day’.” “I mean, who remembers what the price of coffee was 10 years ago?” he asks. Humans view the world through the lens of recent experience UC-Davis environmental economist Frances Moore thought of a clever way to test this phenomenon of short-term salience in the context of weather. How many times must unusual temperatures be repeated before they cease to be experienced by individuals as unusual? How fast do unusual temperatures become unremarkable? To find out, Moore and colleagues turned to Twitter. In a study published last year, they analyzed Twitter’s massive US database to correlate unusual heat or cold events with chatter about the weather. In this way, they tried to track the “remarkability” of temperature anomalies. “Something crazy happens, and then the same crazy thing happens the next year, and people are able to realize, ‘Oh, it’s two crazy things’,” Moore says. “Then it starts happening again, and people start to think, ‘I guess this isn’t so notable anymore.” Accordingly, tweets about the weather decline. How quickly does the effect take hold? “The reference point for normal conditions appears to be based on weather experienced between 2 and 8 years ago,” the study concluded. “It’s a powerful phenomenon, this normalization or reference-dependent utility,” Moore says. “It’s not super-rational behavior.” The study’s conclusion about what this portends for climate change is unsettling: “This rapidly shifting normal baseline means warming noticed by the general public may not be clearly distinguishable from zero over the 21st century.” Let that sink in. Even though atmospheric temperatures are, on a geological time scale, changing at a headlong pace, on a human time scale, they are still changing too slowly to be perceptually or emotionally salient. Put more bluntly: The public may never notice that it’s getting warmer. Research based on social media in a single country has obvious limitations, and Moore is reticent to speculate about how long the window of salience might be for other kinds of weather, or in other places. But it stands to reason that something like the same window applies to other natural or even social phenomena. It may be just as likely that the public never notices the increasing intensity of storms or frequency of flooding or regularity of crop failures. However rapidly those phenomena might change, they rarely change fast enough to be dramatically different from conditions two to eight years ago. The window of experience that humans find emotionally and cognitively salient is simply too narrow to take in long-term changes in ecological systems. What was unthinkable to previous generations — say, regular nuisance flooding in southern Florida — is normal now. What seems unthinkable to us now — say, stay-at-home orders in large swathes of the US Southwest for several weeks a year due to dangerous heat — will be, by the time it rolls around, not that much worse than what came just before it. We adjust; we can’t help it. If we wait for ecological change to thrust itself into the consciousness of ordinary Americans, we may be waiting forever. Joe Raedle/Getty Images Walking through a daylight flood in Miami Beach, Florida, on September 29, 2015. Shifting baselines apply to several other social problems Once you start thinking in terms of shifting baselines, you start seeing them everywhere, not just in ecology. What is the unending debate over the “normalization” of Trump but a debate over shifting baselines? President Trump has degraded and discarded longstanding norms of presidential behavior with astonishing speed and recklessness, but it has proven incredibly difficult for the press and the public to assess his record based on pre-Trump baselines. This is why people are always asking, “What if Obama did this?” They are trying to ask, “Why have we shifted our moral and political baselines so quickly?” Similarly, the US is busy normalizing the grim reality that college graduates will enter a world of high debt, expensive housing, and parlous job prospects. The post-war expectation of a middle-class life with a family-supporting job and a reliable pension might as well be ancient history. Shifting baselines are evident in the steady erosion of unions, the militarization of police, and the infusion of US politics with dark money. They are even evident, as we’ll discuss in a moment, in our experience with Covid-19. For the generation of Americans coming of age today, Trump, gridlocked politics, and a rapidly warming planet are normal. How can they be convinced that they should expect, and demand, something better? How to fight shifting baselines and personal amnesia The human propensity to rapidly adapt is part of our evolved cognitive and emotional machinery. But our ability to heed and remember the past is also shaped by culture. “I looked at Native Hawaiian culture,” McKinnon says. “They had individuals within communities who were assigned to have a social relationship with species that were never even given names in English.” North America’s indigenous cultures still carry an enormous amount of accumulated knowledge that can help reveal what’s been lost. That kind of historical consciousness — a day-to-day awareness of the obligations that come with being a good ancestor — has faded. And modern consumer capitalism might as well be designed to erase it, to lock everyone into an eternal present wherein satisfying the next material desire is the only horizon. One answer is for journalism and the arts to pull the lens back and try to recenter a richer historical perspective. One ambitious effort to do that is journalist John Sutter’s Baseline 2020 project. He and his team have picked four locations around the world that are particularly vulnerable to climate change — Alaska, Utah, Puerto Rico, and the Marshall Islands — and will visit them every five years until 2050, documenting the changes facing the people who live there. (It is modeled on director Michael Apted’s “Up” documentaries, which check in on the same group of Brits every seven years.) “Change is invisible in any one moment,” Sutter says. He notes that scientists often do studies that last for years or decades, but “that longitudinal approach just doesn’t happen in journalism.” Taking the long view is one way to make changing conditions salient and emotionally impactful. In a similar spirit, artist Jonathon Keats has designed a special camera to take a 1,000-year exposure of Lake Tahoe. He calls it a “sort of cognitive prosthesis, a mechanism for us to be able to see ourselves from that far-future perspective.” The Long Now Foundation, established by Stewart Brand in 1996, has been hosting seminars to spur long-term thinking for decades. “Culture will hang on to knowledge of things that are changing or gone longer,” McKinnon says, “if those things are the kinds of things that they pay attention to.” It’s not just about documenting decline, either. There have been long-term victories, too — reductions in poverty, increases in the number of educated young girls, declines in air pollution, and so forth. These also happen incrementally, often beneath our notice. We adjust our baselines upward and do not register what, over time, can be substantial victories. Making those victories more visible can help show that decline is not inevitable. There is no substitute for leadership and responsive governance It can not ultimately fall to ordinary people to hold baselines stable. On these matters, as on much else, they take their cues from their leaders. Studying and understanding the long arc of history, considering the experience of previous generations and the welfare of coming generations, making decisions with the long view — those are things leaders are supposed to do. The most reliable way to stop baselines from shifting is to encode the public’s values and aspirations into law and practice, through politics. They can’t be held steady through acts of collective will. They have to be hardwired into social infrastructure. Unfortunately, US politics has become almost completely unresponsive, which reinforces rather than ameliorates our slipping baselines. One crucial part of registering a crisis as a crisis is a sense of agency, and Americans increasingly feel that they have no ability to shape national policy. Negative changes “are normalized more quickly if you feel like there’s nothing you can do about it,” says Moore. “That might be what’s going on with the coronavirus — people don’t feel like they have agency on a collective level, because the government is not doing anything, so their response is to say, ‘well, I gotta live my life’.” On top of that, it’s just tiring to feel anxious for so long. “The combination of adaptation and fatigue is absolutely deadly in terms of our ability to respond to the virus at this point,” says Loewenstein. "White House officials also hope Americans will grow numb to the escalating death toll and learn to accept tens of thousands of new cases a day, according to three people familiar with the White House’s thinking."— David Roberts (@drvox) July 6, 2020 What if Americans simply accommodate themselves to thousands of coronavirus deaths a day? As writer Charlie Warzel noted in a recent column, it’s not that different from the numbness they now feel in the face of gun violence. “Unsure how — or perhaps unable — to process tragedy at scale,” he writes, “we get used to it.” Biodiversity loss, deforestation, and climate change may make pandemics more common. It is not difficult to imagine Americans forgetting a time when mingling freely was taken for granted. When being in public did not mean constant low-level exposure anxiety. When there weren’t regular waves of infection and death. “If we keep getting zoonotic disease pandemics, then we’ll just say, ‘well, here comes the winter one, catch you on Zoom until June’,” says McKinnon. “Our baseline could shift to the point that we don’t remember there was a time when people went most of their lives without hearing the word pandemic.” Our extraordinary ability to adapt, to get on with it, to not dwell in the past, was enormously useful in our evolutionary history. But it is making it difficult for us to keep our attention focused on how much is being lost — and thus difficult for us to rally around efforts to stem those losses. And so, little by little, a hotter, more chaotic, and more dangerous world is becoming normal to us, as we sleepwalk toward more tragedies. 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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This week in TikTok: Are you cottagecore or more “dark academia”?
Plus, the uncanny world of “boyfriend TikTok.” Hello from The Goods’ twice-weekly newsletter! On Tuesdays, internet culture reporter Rebecca Jennings uses this space to update you all on what’s been going on in the world of TikTok. Is there something you want to see more of? Less of? Different of? Email, and subscribe to The Goods’ newsletter here. I’ve spent lots of time on “aesthetic TikTok,” the part of the app where people put together what are essentially slideshows of Pinterest boards devoted to a certain feeling or mood. You don’t need a psychology degree to understand why — it’s a pleasant escape from looking at anything else on my phone, most of which is bad news. For a while, my For You page was just Italian coastlines and Roman statues set to the music of Call Me By Your Name; though somehow the algorithm must have known I was planning a trip to Italy, it did not predict that it, along with everyone else’s vacations in 2020, would eventually be cancelled. There are lots of aesthetic videos on TikTok — ironic ones laying out the criteria of, say, Karencore (think the Kate Gosselin haircut plus “mommy’s go-go juice” T-shirts) or ones that show examples of historical literary and artistic movements like retrofuturism. Perhaps the most famous of these aesthetics is “cottagecore,” where people display a dreamy life of domesticity and homemade rosewater and chicken ownership. @rissahdude not all of these are super underground like dark academia but they’re aesthetics i like that need more love >:( #aesthetics #rareaesthetic ♬ crimewave by crystal castles - kermishy And then there is “Dark Academia,” in which the viewer imagines life as a New England Ivy League or English boarding school student studying Greek literature and wearing lots of tweed. In a recent piece, the New York Times categorizes it as a “more approachable” version of cottagecore. The argument is that not all of us can access the actual trappings that cottagecore requires — a house in the country, excess time to devote to twee crafts, a calm and quiet home life — but the simple act of putting on a blazer and reading Dostoevsky is far more doable. I don’t think that’s the full extent of their similarities, though. Both take historical aesthetics that evoke conservative values and gender roles (Eurocentrism and heteronormativity, respectively), which modern-day fans often reject. Cottagecore is particularly popular among lesbians on TikTok, and as one Dark Academia TikToker told the Times, “It’s a very open community, even though it’s about classics. It’s also about breaking stereotypes regardless of gender or sexuality.” The same goes for the web of offshoots of Dark Academia and cottagecore — there’s goblincore or crowcore (collections of weird shiny trinkets), meadowcore (pretty pictures of meadows), fairycore (meadowcore but with mushrooms and magic), and Light Academia (Dark Academia, but girlier and in the summer). These cute little slideshows aren’t just an escape from the Bad Internet, they’re a reminder that another kind of life is possible. TikTok is (rightfully) in the news for its political importance right now, but whenever a post from aesthetic TikTok pops up on my feed, I’ll always stop and watch. TikTok in the news Three police officers in Tacoma, Washington are under investigation for their TikTok posts. One officer poked fun at a police abolition protest that requested police presence; another voiced support for the “thin blue line” flag. The third, however, posted a video saying that she felt the flag was divisive and should be removed from all police vehicles. All three have been told to “cease the unauthorized use of city equipment, uniforms or vehicles in any personal communications.” More than 200 million Indians are being urged to delete their TikTok accounts after the government banned it along with dozens of other China-owned apps. At Bloomberg Opinion, Mihir Sharma writes how the decision will be a detriment to India’s thriving internet culture. “Much more than Facebook or Twitter or YouTube, TikTok in India had an equalizing effect. It was the online home of small-town Indians with outsized dreams and, if you looked, unforgettable stories.” There isn’t a single social media platform that hasn’t been infiltrated by white supremacists, and TikTok is, unfortunately, no different. The Guardian covered how easily it is to find videos from the Boogaloo Bois on TikTok, where people show off their guns and extensive combat clothing. This, on an app that was once for tweenage lip-synchers. 22-year-old Harvard student Claira Janover lost her internship at Deloitte after posting an anti-”all lives matter” TikTok (she used the analogy that “all lives matter” is sort of like if she stabbed you and then she got a paper cut and said “all cuts matter.”) One Twitter user posted the video and claimed that Janover was threatening to stab people, and conservatives like Ann Coulter and Charlie Kirk piled on, eventually reaching Deloitte. “During the hiring process, Deloitte continually pushed this message of ‘We want to support you. We want to include you. We want diversity,’” Janover told Insider. At so many companies, however, “diversity” can be little more than a corporate buzzword. A Subway sandwich artist filmed a video of how to make the chain’s tuna salad and it’s precisely as nauseating as you expect. As commenters pointed out, it’s probably not very different from any other pre-packaged tuna salad, but the video is part of a larger segment of TikTok where staffers at massive chains reveal behind-the-scenes footage and little known quirks of their corporate employers. This, of course, can get complicated. Meme watch There’s this one TikToker who’s constantly showing up on my feed, but I’ve hardly ever been able to make it through a full video because I simply cannot bear to. Nearly all of his most popular videos go like this: Schmaltzy music plays as we stare at a close-up of his face, while he lip-syncs to us as though we are desperately in love. Often, he is weeping. On TikTok, he is a running joke, but he is also very popular. His name is Devin Caherly, and his POV videos are why 2.4 million people follow him and so many other accounts of teenagers making videos pretending to be the viewer’s boyfriend. Back in November, Sarah Manavis wrote about the phenomenon for the New Statesman, where young men shoot TikToks where they pretend to comfort you after a breakup or take you out to dinner in the 1920s, the gist of all of them being that the creator is earnestly suggesting he is the platonic ideal of a partner. There is something both charmingly naive and very icky about this, but they are teenage boys on the internet, and there are obviously worse things they could be doing. Whenever Devin shows up on my feed, it’s a reminder that TikTok will never really escape its deeply cringey roots. Somehow that’s comforting! One Last Thing Here is an example of someone making fun of the aforementioned genre of video. I have watched it 100 times. @themichaelspencer i recreate this guy’s videos every day pt. 1 #duet with @bradrad #foryou #fyp ♬ SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK - Joji 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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