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The Problems with Dark Academia as an Internet Culture


If you’ve been spending time on Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, or maybe even Twitter, you might already be familiar with the term dark academia; an aesthetic or trend that revolves around the romanticization of learning, mostly subjects of humanities such as ancient languages, literature, philosophy, art, and even music.

The term was first popularized by the internet around the 2010s, mostly on Tumblr, stemming from various sources of fictional literature such as The Secret History by Donna Tartt and If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio. The term peaked around 2020 and became recognized as a trend/culture associated with dark-colored outfits, grim-filtered photographs, dim libraries, vintage architecture, private schools and colleges, literature, poetry, you name it. If you wish to read more about what dark academia stands for in literature, you may refer to this article.

Of course, as with every other internet culture, dark academia has some problems that people may or may not recognize or are willing to acknowledge—after all, what could go wrong with a simple Pinterest aesthetic popularized by the internet that’s mostly for fun, right?

A lot, it turns out. We’re now living in an age where our lives are driven by cultural trends, where a lot of people are obsessed with aligning themselves with certain identities popularized by the internet, such as dark academia, to the point of embodying said identity beyond reasonable—and so, in this article, we’ll be discussing some problems that stemmed from this, specifying in dark academia.


When referring to the original sources which the dark academia culture originated from, it’s no secret that dark academia, as a literary genre, is a theme that revolves itself around criticism; mostly criticism regarding academic elitism and classism. Yes, I am indeed talking about The Secret History and If We Were Villains, a.k.a the two books that became the OG dark academia books and the ones to popularize the sub-genre and trope in the first place. The plot of both books follows the lives of their main characters in an elite group, secluded and detached from society, and the books use this aspect as a critique of academic elitism and classism.

However, as it turns out, it seems a lot of people identifying themselves with this dark academia term often miss the point.

Take BookTok on TikTok for example, where it doesn’t take you more than five minutes of scrolling to see people recommending books, mostly classics, associated with the dark academia sub-genre, such as Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment or Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, claiming that classic books are superior and that people who read them are intellectuals, thus dismissing people who don’t read them and claiming they aren’t ‘cultured’ enough; a further case of the gatekeeping culture—which is quite ironic when we consider what dark academia truly stands for, doesn’t it?

A Culture for the Privileged White People

It doesn’t take more than ten minutes of scrolling through Pinterest to figure out from all those photos that dark academia is a culture for rich, white people. It’s clear enough from the fact that dark academia is a trend that romanticizes studying in a private school or college, which some people don’t have access to. It also revolves itself around glorifying old, dark vintage clothes mostly for the rich.

And since dark academia is a culture that originated from the West, especially the UK, the lack of diversity in race is pretty clear, especially when looking at pictures and Pinterest and realizing that it has little to no representation of any other race, as we only see the whites romanticizing and glorifying their everyday life. This is quite a problem considering that these days, representation is a crucial thing in media and it is a topic that is constantly brought up around the internet.

Toxic Productivity

Dark academia is a trend that romanticizes studying, and with this, some people may be encouraged to keep on studying past their limit without any regard for their physical or mental health to live up to this dark academia identity and culture.

It is indeed important to keep striving to reach your goals, however, you must also consider your own physical and mental capabilities without letting toxic productivity and toxic perfectionism become the end of you, and sadly, this has been a problem that a lot of people still don’t realize or even acknowledge at all, both in past and present. 


As mentioned before, we are in an age where internet cultures, trends, and identities are the things that shape our lives. Dark academia is merely one of them; out of millions and even billions of them. And if we don’t take precautions in following said trends and cultures, we may lose ourselves.

Dark academia should just be a trend for fun. So what if you aren’t a privileged white person? Does that stop you from dressing up in dark vintage clothes for fun? Absolutely not. Following the dark academia culture also does not give you the right to gatekeep certain things such as reading classic books—or just reading in general. It does not give you the right to regard others as ‘not intellectual enough’ or ‘cultured enough’ just because they don’t share the same tastes or preferences as you.

Internet trends and cultures are things you should merely follow for fun, and you should only let it shape your mind in positive ways and be wary enough to avoid the negative aspects they bring.

Writer: Manohara Diwasasri

Editor: Marsha Almira


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