Rocket VOL. XI, ISSUE 1
FA L L / W I N T E R 2 0 2 1
FA S H I O N
PH O T O G R A PH Y
THE COLLEGE OF WILLIAM & MARY WMROCKETMAGAZINE.COM ROCKET@EMAIL.WM.EDU @ROCKETMAG
CO EDITORS-IN-CHIEF ART EDITOR ART TEAM BEAUTY EDITOR BEAUTY TEAM DIGITAL EDITOR DIGITAL TEAM FEATURES EDITOR FEATURES TEAM
AVERY HINES HANNAH MATTHEWS, ANNA WERSHBALE,LAURA REITZE, ELLA GOLDSCHMIDT, SOPHIE CASSIDY NINJIN GANKHULEG IRELAND DEGGES, JASMINE TURKSON, VICTORIA KIM, ISABELLA ORTIZ-MILLER, BREYONNA ROCK ZAK ZELEDON GAVIN AQUIN HERNANDEZ, INDIA TURNER, AVISHKA BOPPUDI, LIVIA MARTINEZ, FAIZA ISA CHARIS CONWELL& KATE KOWALSKI SASHA SKLAR, LINDA LI, RYAN POSTHUMUS, SOLEIL GARNETT, TREVOR SCHNEIDER, MACY CUMMINGS, TESS CLARK, CAROLINE LEIBOWITZ, KATIE TAGUCHI
MARKETING TEAM PHOTO EDITOR PHOTO/VIDEO TEAM PRODUCTION EDITOR PRODUCTION TEAM
PUBLIC RELATIONS EDITOR PUBLIC RELATIONS TEAM STYLE EDITOR
FATIMA JEREZ, SAM GASTEIGER, HENRY NETTER, MARIE FULDA, SALIMATA SANFO FEI WANG DAWN BANGI, MADDIE MEYERS CATHERINE HODES, MONICA BAGNOLI, JAMIE HOLT KARISSA MCDONALD WILLIAM BENDALL, ANNA VAN MARCKE, KAI OKAI-BROWN, ALEXA CARMENATES, ERIN LIEBE, ERICKA TORRES, MADELINE PUDELKA SAMMY MURPHY YASMIN SLIMANI, ANSH PATEL ZARIELLE ANTHONY
RUTH BEKELE, ELLA BANERJEE, LEYAH OWUSU, THANH PHAM, NIGEL SEABROOK, LACE GRANT, BLAZE BANKS, CALEB STREAT
ESTELLE EYOB & NEHA SHARMA
letterS from the editors
This semester has been like no other for ROCKET. Navigating a global pandemic has altered the course of many of our lives. And after a year-long hiatus from publishing in print, ROCKET has been reborn. I am incredibly proud of the dedication our staff members have put forth. It hasn’t been easy transitioning back into working in person and doing photo shoots. Along with the challenges, this semester has also been one of celebration. The year 2021 falls on ROCKET Magazine’s 10 year anniversary of print, and the 100th anniversary of Asian students on William and Mary’s campus.I am incredibly proud to showcase cultural diversity in our magazine through the Asian Centennial shoot. Although it is a bittersweet moment to continually celebrate “firsts” for BIPOC, my hope is that we will one day be in a position that marginalized groups will no longer be disproportionately represented. I am also the 1st Black editor-in-chief ROCKET has had and I am proud to have made sure diversity and inclusion was one of my top priorities.
We did it! After the emergence of a global pandemic and year-long hiatus, ROCKET is finally blasting off! I could not be prouder of the enormous amount of time and effort our staff, editors, and my co-Editor-in-Chief have put into bringing this magazine to life. Revitalizing the magazine after a year of virtual meetings was no easy feat, and much of this semester included learning on the job, but despite the challenges we faced I am happy to have created something we can all be proud of. This issue is particularly special as not only are we celebrating the 10th anniversary of ROCKET’s first print magazine, but the William & Mary community is also commemorating 100 years of Asian American students on our campus. As the first Indian-American to hold the position of Editor-in-Chief of ROCKET, this monumental period has not ceased to inspire me every day. I am honored to have been able to use this moment to showcase and prioritize the representation of BIPOC on campus within this issue, particularly with our Asian Centennial shoot. Thank you so much for picking up this magazine. I hope you find as much joy in reading it as I did in producing it.
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Environmental Predispositions Asian Representation in the Fashion Industry Still Woefully Behind What T-Rex Can Teach Us About Body Positivity COTTAGE CORE: Postmortem of a Summer
GIVE CREDIT WHERE IT'S DUE: BLACK WOMEN'S CONTRIBUTIONS TO STREETWEAR WHAT THE FOLK CLING TO YOURSELF TRUE CRIME: HEROES AND VILLAINS WHAT GRETA GERWIG TAUGHT ME ABOUT WOMEN IN HOLLYWOOD
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GIVE CREDIT WHERE IT'S DUE: BLACK WOMEN'S CONTRIBUTIONS TO STREETWEAR written by SOLEIL GARNETT photography by CATHERINE HODES beauty by JASMINE TURKSON, BREYONNA ROCK models JUSTIN KELLY, VICTOR ADEJAYAN, JASON DEAN ROBINSON, SENAM AMEVOR, KAYLIN BROWN, FAITH ODOM, SIMIYA MCEACHIN, JUSTIN KELLY
With a quick glance into the fashion world, it is unmistakable the major presence that streetwear has on the industry. Whether it be at New York Fashion Week, on social media, or on the backs of major celebrities, streetwear is always a hot topic. The fashion industry defines streetwear as casual clothing, such as jeans, T-shirts, baseball caps, and the iconic trainers, as basic as possible. Think velour tracksuit, Air Jordans with a matching sweatsuit, a baggy T-shirt paired with even baggier pants. The goal of a streetwear enthusiast is to look effortlessly fashionable. When you think of streetwear fashion, some celebrities that may come to mind are Justin Bieber, the Kardashians, Ariana Grande and Kanye West. Who you might not think of are early ‘90s Hip-Hop music artists who turned heads when they decided to set their own trends. Some of these people include L’il Kim in her “Crush On You” music video with the Notorious B.I.G, Mary J. Blige in her “Not Gon Cry”
music video, and even Halle Berry and Janet Jackson on their days off from filming famous Black ‘90s movies, such as Poetic Justice. The advent of streetwear began with Black women. It is important to understand the path that Black women had to pave in order for ‘90s streetwear to be deemed desirable today. The fashion industry did not accept the original streetwear trendsetters as High Fashion. The trend that originated from New York and California hip-hop culture was seen as poor and ghetto, with Black women bearing the brunt of those insults. Other fashion trends that pair with streetwear is sneaker culture from the 70s, Y2K fashion from the late 1990s, and urban streetwear from the 2000s. There’s nothing wrong with having Kim Kardashian come to mind when one thinks of streetwear, but if you’re not thinking about Aaliyah’s tube top and baggy jeans, or L’il Kim’s iconic visible thong and mini skirt, then the proper credit for Black women is not being acknowledged.
The favored casual minimalist look that most attribute to streetwear originates from those who did not have enough money to afford designer brands. Product scarcity in streetwear is an idea born of necessity from people who had no other option. Brands that marketed exclusively to athletic teams or to low income buyers have seen impressive comebacks. While you may have
found a Champion sweatshirt in a second-hand store in the late 1980s, you can now find any Champion apparel at the illustrious Urban Outfitters chain, witth a $50 price tag. Even at the William & Mary Bookstore, you can find a Champion x William & Mary crewneck sweatshirt for a whopping $65.
HBCU fashion was a trend amongst African-Americans who celebrated Historically Black Colleges & Universities by repping schools like Howard University on a T-shirt, Jersey, or sweatshirt, paired with pants or jeans and some sneakers. As a 2021 Black History Month collection, Urban Outfitters partnered with the streetwear brand Alife to sell hoodies and sweatshirts starting at $89.99. It’s worth it to note that while this collection was marketed to the same major HBCUs that are always marketed to the general public, there are 107 Historically Black Colleges in the country today. Alife x Urban Outfitters Black History Month hoodie line included Howard University, Norfolk State University, North Carolina Central University, Xavier University, Virginia State University, Morgan State University, Florida A&M University, Albany State University, and Grambling State University. On their website, Urban Outfitters says the partnership with the brand Alife released the limited-edition hoodies ‘to celebrate Historically Black Col-
leges & Universities,’ yet it was not confirmed that either brand is donating any money to any HBCU; they are simply profiting off the image. Only 5% of the proceeds during the month of February 2021 was donated to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the United Negro College Fund, but not directly to an HBCU. In comparison, Alife is selling the same exact basic grey hoodie as their Black History Month university hoodies, this time with the words ‘Nina Simone’ or ‘W.E.B. DuBois’ for an even greater price of $138. 11
People make statements based on what they wear, so it’s important to think about what fashion statement is being made with this marketing change for a brand like Champion. Why is it so common to find a $500 Supreme cotton t-shirt? The statement that’s being made seems to be that streetwear is exclusive to those who can afford to look more “urban” and less expensive than they actually are. Before Michael Jordan’s partnership with Champion athletic wear, Black people in the 1980s were seen as poor for only being able to afford Champion. Today, Champion is sold in upscale stores and worn by very rich, typically non-Black people. The brand transformed a person’s persona from cheap to chic, from urban to influencer. When people stop being able to perceive Halle Berry and Bella Hadid donning a velour tracksuit as the same in the fashion world, where does this leave Black women?
Black women are left behind to continue to overcome negative consequences of wearing streetwear. There continue to be indescrepencies for Black women that don’t line up with the world’s newfound love for the “casual-chic” look. How is it possible that we praise high fashion supermodels for wearing casual clothing while chastising others for being too “urban” or “unprofessional?” Things like wearing cornrows, gold chains, or African printed textiles in high fashion are examples of the trends started by African-American women that have been gentrified by non-Blacks and repurposed into something profitable. “Ghetto chic” or “ghetto fabulous” are words Black women hear all too often, but let’s ask ourselves what is the one difference between streetwear and ghetto fashion? The difference isn’t in the clothes being worn, the difference is in who is wearing them. These narratives are harmful to the dignity of Black women everywhere, because it puts them at the crossroads of either being unfashionable and out of date, or perceived as ghetto or undesirable in a professional setting.
It’s not going to be easy to overcome inequalities in the fashion world. We won’t be able to solve violations of intersectionality overnight. But a great first step at putting Black women back into the narrative is to remember the correct historical narrative. Understand that contemporary streetwear is in no way a fashion trend that is exclusive to women of color, but also understand where the looks come from. The next time you strut outside in mom jeans and an oversized sweatshirt, or biker shorts and a crop top, do so with pride and admiration for the Black women who had to take the burden of the pressure from the fashion industry for streetwear to ultimately become popular.
art by ANNA WERSHBALE
What the Folk written by CAROLINE LEIBOWITZ photography by MONICA BAGNOLI beauty by NINJIN GANKHULEG, IRELAND DEGGES, JASMINE TURKSON, ISABELLA ORTIZ-MILLER, BREYONNA ROCK models GWEN SARGENT, JORDAN HARVEY, MAGGIE MANSON, WILLIAM BENDALL
Gelatin molds, white picket fences, diners, chrome cars; all of us have imagery that comes to mind when we hear the word “Americana.” I hear that word and I used to think of a woman in a frilled apron with hair curled up perfectly at the ends, making a three-course meal to proudly serve her husband who works at an insurance company once he gets home. Generally, many of the images and ideals that come to mind come from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. These periods were fueled by patriotism and a sense of American exceptionalism that stemmed from World War II. This usually means Americana adheres to a very specific image; One that says, “We are simple, and we love our country.” Americana also originates in folk music. Folk and country music often evoke feelings of home, specifically home out in the fields of rural/working class America. People’s pre-conceived notions of what folk music is (or should be) most frequently corresponds with the patriotic, traditionalist family-model. But is that image correct? Is this American staple as exclusive as the imagery it provokes? Personally, I have always connected to folk music; ever since childhood. The sound of a soulful folk ballad takes me back to long car rides through Texas with my grandparents, counting the blurring cows I saw out of the windows as we passed by. Nothing reminds me of a summer under the hot southern sun quite like a banjo and a bone-to-pickthrough song. As I grew older, I began distancing myself from the music I associated with my younger years; it felt like it no longer was for me. Typical teen angst put me miles away from folk. My middle school self would sneer at music not directly challenging “the man,” because, of course, as a 7th grader, all I could do was challenge the man. What I did not know, as a simple child, was that folk music is perfect for that.
Recently, my connection to folk/ country music has returned because I realized how radical it can be. Not only that, but finding solace in something that others have tried to exclude me from and reclaiming it feels really powerful. The true mission of folk has been to challenge societal norms and authority figures, as seen during the folk revival and the Civil Rights movement. Guthrie wrote This Land is Your Land in direct opposition to God Bless America, a song with the central theme of American exceptionalism. Rather than focusing on America’s special status in comparison to other countries, Guthrie
focuses on how the land belongs to the people instead of the state. As I was discussing Guthrie’s works with a fellow folk-enjoying friend, she enlightened me as to the forgotten radical verses that were cut from the original release. These verses call into question the issue of private property— a real jab at accepted norms.
“There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me. The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’ But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing. This land was made for you and me.”
Imagine singing those words at the end of your elementary school chorus performance of This Land is Your Land. It probably would’ve ruffled the feathers of a few parents. While the names Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan are often the first to come to mind for many in regards to folk influence, I think about Odetta and Joan Baez. These two women are my folk icons. I have had a few instances where, in the presence of Bob Dylan fans (white men), I’ve asked them about Baez or Odetta, and they are unfamiliar with their work. I don’t say this because I want to seem pretentious about music, or judge the lexicons of others, but because Bob Dylan wouldn’t be Bob Dylan without Odetta or Joan. Odetta Holmes, born in Birmingham, AL, in 1930 would grow up to be “the Queen of American folk music” (as hailed by Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks) as well as “the Voice of the Civil Rights Movement.” Odetta’s 1956 record Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues was said to be the record that turned Bob Dylan on to folk music. With deeply spiritual tracks, tracks that talk about home and belonging, and covers of earlier folk works, the album is a masterpiece and her voice is enchanting. Odetta’s voice and musical presence are moving. Not only was Odetta gifted musically, but her role as an activist helped create significant change and she worked for equal rights until her death in 2008. The strong emotion in Odetta’s songs can be felt deeply inside one’s soul, and the way she was able to harness this in her music is incredible.
“The blues is celebration, because when you take sorrow and turn it into music, you transform it.” - Odetta
Joan Baez, unfortunately known to many simply as ‘Bob Dylan’s once-girlfriend,’ is also responsible for Dylan’s early exposure. Baez introduced the audiences she had already acquired on her own to her friend Dylan. Joan also gathered great inspiration from Odetta, and was highly involved as an activist. In efforts to show solidarity with Chileans suffering under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Baez released an album fully in Spanish, Gracias a la Vida. Despite flack Baez was given due to her Mexican ethnicity, she proudly let it permeate into her music. Gracias a la Vida is an ode to Baez’s heritage, as well as a protest piece and I think her record dedication sums that up well:
“This record is dedicated to my father who gave me my Latin name and whatever optimism about life I may claim to have.” - Joan Baez
What I love especially about Joan Baez and Odetta is their sheer fearlessness, using their gifts and talents to protest. The passion of these women comes through, crystal clear, in their music: It’s deeply touching. While Dylan is an incredible musician, it is important to acknowledge his influences, especially these two women. The praise they get still isn’t enough. When wondering why Joan Baez and Odetta get less credit for their influence over folk, it is clear that privilege comes into play. The classic idea of what Americana ‘is’, in the heads of many, is white-centric, and dominated by men. While Bob Dylan faced media criticism for being ‘radical’, it was nowhere near what these two women of color faced. Joan was repeatedly mocked for being “too serious,” a common sexist trope (used by men who get sad when an uncomfortable woman doesn’t smile back at them). Joan’s severe tone and the nature of issues discussed in her songwriting brought her under fire: Dylan sang of similar issues and was never subject to the same disapproval. Folk is beautiful, and the American folk tradition has produced some of the most influential artists of all time. To me, it represents the best possible version of Americana; not bound by a desire to please anyone, but to speak one’s mind. Just like my own ignorant misconceptions about folk in my early teens, the idea that the America of the 40s, 50s, and 60s was totally traditional, square, and restrictive, isn’t totally true. Just because the most famous images from those periods highlight the most privileged doesn’t mean they were only images to exist. Marginalized communities have been, and always will be present. Marginalized voices were the reason for the folk revival. Believe it or not, folk is actually really metal.
written by SASHA SKLAR art by ELLA GOLDSCHMIDT There was a zoom call, two hospitals, two police cars, and a couple sets of high security doors separating me from my life. On March 25th of this past year I was on zoom with my therapist when zir called the William and Mary Police Department. Now, I know that from the moment that line connects, your world shrinks at least tenfold. I had maybe 5 minutes to gather any belongings to bring with me and I didn’t know how long I’d be gone. At least I’d had a heads up that I was going — not everyone gets even that. As we all gathered there, in the hospital wing, recovering from addiction or depression or taking a long overdue break from the weight of reality, we suddenly became different people — in this place, you had your diagnosis, but what else? Inside the doors of the hospital our ages didn’t matter, and when I looked around at my peers it felt as if we were pupils under the watchful eyes of boarding school headmasters, only piping up when their backs were turned. Yes, of course, I could see that some of us had wrinkles— others, the sort of acne that only high school walls seem to witness— and yet we exuded an air of agelessness. At least where I was, the day staff made an effort to know our names. Some people did not get to gather clothes like I did so they wore paper scrubs paired with t-shirts left behind by former patients. Most left behind any expectations of trendiness that rang so loudly in their ears outside the hospital walls, instead wearing pjs from shower to shower. High schoolers would clutch stuffed animals and grown men would colour in disney characters. Still, even in this environment– free of judgement, sheltered from the rest of the world, with not a fashion magazine in sight– people did their hair or missed their makeup or put together outfits, even if that just meant matching a blue hoodie with pajama pants of a complementary colour. Why? As is no surprise to any of us, humans have been adorning their bodies for hundreds of millennia. Of course, we could trace early clothes to necessity (as na-
ture once ruled supreme), but, given that fabrics have been dyed for tens of thousands of years and 25,000 year old figurines depict clearly decorative clothing, it's impossible to ignore the role played by fashion in both beautification and identity formation. In fact, dress serves many different purposes— ranging from frivolous self-expression to social signaling to practical applications, such as the provision of warmth. But within social environments, adornment is a language – consider centuries of sumptuary laws or rigid class differences in dress. In the hospital, it’s no different. At the lowest of your lows you lose the ability to care for yourself or make decisions for yourself, so you outsource. And you end up in an environment of intense control where suddenly it isn’t about you – it's about how science and medicine believe humans should go about their lives. Of course, wrapped up in these expectations is sameness. That’s how we end up in rooms where wrinkles are the only way to guess at people’s age, as everyone sits together colouring or writing ‘inspirational’ quotes on pieces of construction paper.
laceless sneakers, or sandals. Some of us kept wearing our plastic wristbands from the ER, like teenagers who’d just come back from a concert, as if to say “Hey! Look at me! Look what I did, where I was!” I guess it was also a reminder that there was a world out there, where this was not a universal experience. I still miss the hot pink ties that had to be cut out of my black sweatpants. The trousers I had with me I still wear and love, but at least now I can belt them, instead of praying they don’t slip down from their precarious perch on my hips practicing some mindful stretching in the tiny concrete courtyard. I don’t miss seeing those paper scrubs day in and day out. I don’t miss feeling like a statistic, another nameless, faceless patient– one of the endless onslaught walking in and out of those hospital doors. I don’t miss feeling like a toddler, sitting cross legged on the couch and folding paper cranes. That is precisely why adornment is so important in institutionalized environments– it is among the scarce set of identifiers that keep us clinging on to ourselves.
That’s why it was so important for us to express ourselves. And not only that. From the ER to hospital admission, I had been examined and prodded and not released from the sight of nurses, psychologists and police officers who seemed convinced I was a danger to myself and to humanity. Every scratch, scar, bruise and mark on my body had to be noted down and scrutinized. Not a moment could I be left alone, lest a trip to the bathroom became my last. Even when I got to the hospital, my temperature, heart rate and blood pressure were monitored constantly. Privacy was not an option because we did not have the luxury of either locking doors or alone hours– during the day noise poured in from the dayroom, and at night nurses patrolled every 15 minutes (some more considerate than others when waving their bright flashlights). After several days of this, the things keeping you feeling human are your friends and the measly opportunities you have to take care of yourself, even something as simple as washing your hair. Wearing clothes that made you happy, comfortable, or confident made you feel alive. Most of us didn’t wear shoes, though sometimes you’d catch slip-on vans, 31
True Crime: Heroes and Villains written by KATE KOWALSKI
photography by DAWN BANGI beauty by NINJIN GANKHULEG, BELLA ORTIZ, IRELAND DEGGES, BREYONNA ROCK models FAWAZ ALSHAIBEH, ABBY MENDEZ, JOSEPHINE BELLAH, SARAH VILLAFANE, MARIA SOLY
There’s no reason to lie here; no matter what impassioned argument I could make for this article against the possibility of any “ethical” consumption of true crime, I’ll still probably put on some two-irreverent-white-ladies-gleefully-shaming-murder-victims podcast for a long drive, or binge Cold Case Files with my sisters while I’m home for winter break, or mindlessly follow a girl on TikTok slapping on foundation while rattling off facts about serial killers. It’s always been ridiculously easy not to practice what you preach. So I don’t think it’ll be productive to scold people for enjoying what we’ve always enjoyed-- glimpsing the darkest and most inscrutable sides of humanity. That urge has neither abated nor increased for the last few hundred years, with true-crime obsession dating back to 19th century sensation novels and 1950s pulp fiction. What’s different about our current cultural moment is the industries that have sprung up to feed and fuel this urge.
al-life villains are sold to attendees who are overwhelmingly middle class white women. Any cursory glance at Twitter or a conversation with a female friend will tell you that women live their lives on the edge; clutching keys between our fingers as we walk home, checking our backseats before getting in our cars— “Text me when you get home safe!” Given this environment, it will be startling to some and unsurprising to others that women make up about 75% of true crime podcast listeners. While it’s impossible to pinpoint any one reason for this statistic, the genre’s cautionary bent is clearly an influence. And with multi-million-dollar shows sporting mottos like “Stay sexy and don’t get murdered” and “Stay weird, be rude, stay alive,” it’s hard to see this as altruistically motivated. The true crime industry not only exploits but often increases women’s paranoia.
True crime is now an industry. That’s an obvious statement, a mundane fact, but one that blows my mind every time I think about it. There’s serious money to be made from other people’s trauma. Streamlined by TikTok, YouTube, and Netflix algorithms, what might have once remained an occasional curious indulgence or fleeting interest has turned into an eminently bingeable pastime. The demand for this content is so outrageous that one of the most infamous perpetrators of injustice in America, the NYPD, felt entitled to create their own “true crime podcast” which is now in its second season. Yeah, “copcasts” are a thing now. Communities have formed-- on Reddit forums, in video comments, even in person. At the annual true crime convention CrimeCon-which costs $300 for general admission, but hardcore fans pay up to $1,500 for VIP privileges-- shirts, leggings, mugs, and more sporting the faces of Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and other re-
But darker than this is the genre’s baffling role as “comfort media” for many of us, especially white women. Listening to hosts and narrators criticize victims (“she couldn’t leave an abusive relationship, she drank too much on a night out, she didn’t lock her second floor windows-- that was her first mistake”), we can rest easier that if we just “stay weird, be rude,” and install doorbell cameras, we’ll be safe. True crime becomes a maladaptive coping mechanism for the same paranoia and anxiety it produces, the algorithms keep it coming, and the industry can’t lose. But this victim-blaming bullshit completely glosses over the true nature of most violence. True crime content overwhelmingly fixates on white female victims, despite the disproportionate murder rates of men and nonwhite people; this is called the “less dead phenomenon,” and it doesn’t just exist in media. “Missing White Woman Syndrome” results in abysmally low rates of investigation for those who need it most-- Black trans women, Indigenous women, sex workers. Maybe it’s predictable that these trends of oppression are reflected in entertainment media, but for a genre that often prides itself in shedding light on forgotten cases, bringing justice to long-suffering victims, it’s an especially disgusting practice. We’ve worried for a while about the ethics of consuming police procedurals. Can I joke with my roommate about how many civil rights laws our favorite characters on Criminal Minds are breaking, indulging in a weekly binge while also remaining cognizant of the harm copaganda has done to the American psyche? True crime narratives are now provoking similar questions. The popularity of genre “templates”-- a falsely accused assailant, a murderous spouse, an abducted white girl-- seem to be cementing these narratives in our minds. These familiar storylines-like the simple, comfortable templates of police procedurals-- always frame one party as a villain, one as a victim. Whether that be exalting the murder victim and villainizing the perpretator, or treating the perpetrator with sympathy and casting doubts on the victim’s character (“she was no angel”), true crime thrives off these binary narratives. We pick a case, pick a side, and turn the very messy, very human, very tragic situation into a Disney-cartoonish grand narrative of good versus evil.
Our understandings of crime and the justice system are increasingly rooted in true crime media. Obviously this places far more ethical responsibility on these shows than they deserve, but it also places a responsibility on audiences as witnesses-- not only to the crimes retold but also to the investigative and judicial systems which are often framed as glorious bringers of justice. Both content producers and consumers need to consider this media more critically-- an obvious and widely applicable statement. What really gets to me is the wasted potential of the genre. True crime has an incredible educational power; how to best dump a body or leave no trace at a crime scene is pretty much common knowledge at this point. But why stop there? With the sheer volume of petitions to pardon true crime subjects such as Stephen Avery of Making a Murderer, defense fund donations for Adnan Syed of Serial, the real-world effects of true crime media are undeniable. When irresponsible storytelling comes into play, this can be unbelievably dangerous and traumatizing. Desperate pleas from families of victims to stop exploiting their loved ones, reports of unethical and biased journalistic practices are brushed aside in the face of the power of the narrative. Internet sleuthing hobbists
on Reddit mistakenly identified Sunil Tripathi as one of the Boston bombers, harassed his family, compiled ‘reports’ picked up by mainstream reporters as reliable news sources, and contributed to the man’s suicide. Imagine if this energy was better directed towards some of the country’s true “villains”-- the same ones currently making bank off of the genre. Imagine if we went after incompetent police departments, corrupt lawmakers, inadequate protections for marginalized people, instead of innocents on the Internet. Our impulses to delve into the darkest capabilities of the human species isn’t going anywhere, and neither is true crime; let’s put them to good use.
art by LAURA REITZE
What Greta Gerwig Taught Me About Women in Hollywood written by KATIE TAGUCHI
photography by MONICA BAGNOLI beauty by NINJIN GANKHULEG IRELAND DEGGES, JASMINE TURKSON,VICTORIA KIM, ISABELLA ORTIZ-MILLER, BREYONNA ROCK models IZABELLA MARTINEZ, CARSON BELMEAR, SANDY KELSO, NAOMI FRASER
The first time I saw Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, I was a starry-eyed sophomore in high school, soon-to-be sixteen. I saw it in a tiny movie theater with my family - the eccentric theater where they showed all the indie movies. That first time I watched it, it affected me for reasons I couldn’t pinpoint at the time; it felt so different from all the other movies in the theaters, but I couldn’t articulate why. The film isn’t about anything groundbreaking or radical - it follows a seventeen year old girl, her contentious relationship with her mother, and her dreams to get out of a hometown she hates. It’s my favorite kind of story - one that isn’t particularly sad but makes me cry anyway. It’s about stumbling through the journey to self-discovery, it’s about the terrifying feeling of coming of age. Gerwig was inspired by movies like Boyhood and The 400 Blows, but she intended to capture the less widely told female version. Gerwig wanted to capture the intricacies and contradictions that come with being a teenage girl, rather than focusing a teenage girl’s coming of age on finding the right guy. It’s a good movie because Gerwig pulled from her own coming of age story in Sacramento, because she carefully took her experiences as a teen girl and transformed them into a love letter to young girls everywhere. The film is heartfelt and poignant. There’s one scene that always makes me tear up, where the mother of protagonist Christina reveals why she’s so hard on her daughter, as she tells Christina she “just wants [her] to be the very best version [of herself].” Saoirse Ronan then delivers one of the film’s most heart-wrenching lines when she says: “what if this is the best version?” Gerwig treats each of her female characters with so much care, and this is because she’s keenly aware of how female characters are often portrayed. In an interview with Rolling Stone, she described the way that “we’re very unused to seeing female characters, particularly young female characters, as people.” As a result, she wanted to give Lady Bird “as much weight as we give to male stories, as much weight as we give to a man’s coming of age, and a man’s conflict with his father.” And that’s exactly what she did.
This is why Lady Bird hit me so hard the first time that I saw it. It portrayed a girl as a real person, as someone with real motivations and flaws, as someone who I felt like I could meet at a coffee shop the next day. Her experiences were real and relatable, and Lady Bird was somehow just like me and nothing like me at the same time. It felt so profound and revolutionary because I’d seen very few movies that accurately captured the female experience. I’d heard about the male gaze. I knew what it was, I knew how it worked, but I’d never really experienced the opposite - the female gaze. I realized I’d never watched an ‘artist film’ where a woman was the intended spectator.
This is why Lady Bird hit me so hard the first time that I saw it. It portrayed a girl as a real person, as someone with real motivations and flaws, as someone who I felt like I could meet at a coffee shop the next day. Her experiences were real and relatable, and Lady Bird was somehow just like me and nothing like me at the same time. It felt so profound and revolutionary because I’d seen very few movies that accurately captured the female experience. I’d heard about the male gaze. I knew what it was, I knew how it worked, but I’d never really experienced the opposite - the female gaze. I realized I’d never watched an ‘artist film’ where a woman was the intended spectator.
One type of person tells most of the stories we see on screen, and this severely impacts the types of stories that we consume. This is dangerous because Hollywood is so much more than just entertainment - it’s one of the biggest exporters of culture.
It’s not difficult to ascertain why this is, why it’s so rare to come across movies like this. If someone told you to picture a film director, an easy image comes to mind: a Spielberg-esque, middle-aged white man sitting tall in a black director’s chair. This has been the director’s archetype for too many decades, as men have dominated every leadership position in the film industry since the first films were ever produced. One type of person tells most of the stories we see on screen, and this severely impacts the types of stories that we consume. This is dangerous because Hollywood is so much more than just entertainment - it’s one of the biggest exporters of culture. Gerwig was lucky; she’s an exception. And she’s a white woman - it’s even more difficult for female filmmakers of color to get their foot in the door. This is because women aren’t hired in Hollywood on potential. They’re hired on proof. But how are women supposed to curate impressive resumes when they aren’t getting hired to leadership positions in the first place? It’s an impossible industry, an exclusionary hell that sends women away before they can even see the door. A man has a promising idea, and it’s possible that he could get hired. A woman, though, has to be exceptional already. It’s a “risk” to hire a female director - it’s a shot in the dark, an unlikely chance. There’s simply no room for average women in the film industry. A woman has to be notably extraordinary to even get a seat at the table.
The small indie theater isn’t the only place I should be able to see a woman’s name in the credits; I should see female filmmakers on syllabuses and billboards and lists of people nominated for prestigious awards.
This is why we don’t get more movies like Lady Bird, more movies from the female gaze rather than the male gaze. Of course, men can create well-written women and tell meaningful stories with women at the heart. It has been done before. But this doesn’t take away from the fact that female voices are too often silenced in an industry that so heavily influences how we understand our world. I’ve dreamed of someday working in the film industry since I was a kid. I’ve dreamed of a distant, dreamlike Hollywood, and what it would be like to watch stories come to life. However, as I got older, I began to realize what it meant that only two women have ever won the Oscar for best director in the 93 year history of the Academy Awards. I didn’t really have a female director to look up to until Gerwig. I started to wonder if this would only ever be a pipe dream, and not necessarily because I don’t have the ambition or the ideas, but because women aren’t seen as leaders in the industry. Even within my film classes at W&M, I watch this fear manifest. While the professors are intelligent and kind, male written and directed movies dominate class syllabuses.
This one-sided storytelling influences our everyday lives more than we might think - what we see on screen seeps into our daily lives. White men are making all the big decisions in the film industry, which most often results in films based off of the white man’s experience. The small indie theater isn’t the only place I should be able to see a woman’s name in the credits; I should see female filmmakers on syllabuses and billboards and lists of people nominated for prestigious awards.
Hollywood is a business after all, which means our voice as consumers matters. We should all spend more time supporting the stories that rarely get told.
Since that day in the theater, I’ve been inspired and in awe of Gerwig for never allowing the industry to shut her out. Even though it’s an unfair and unjust industry, I believe in women’s ability to keep pushing our stories forward, to keep fighting for a seat at the table, and to support each other. And I hold on to the hope that more people will start paying attention to the types of stories they see on screen, who’s telling them, and who is represented and who is not. Hollywood is a business after all, which means our voice as consumers matters. We should all spend more time supporting the stories that rarely get told. Everyone deserves to feel how I felt in that tiny theater four years ago; everyone deserves to feel seen and represented, and like someone wants to take the time to tell their story and tell it well. Everyone deserves to cry in a small theater and not be sure why just yet, to only be sure that the film you’re watching has ignited something in you. One way to make this happen: put more women in director’s chairs.
photo by FEI WANG models RUTH BEKELE, NIGEL SEABROOK, LACE GRANT, BLAZE BANKS, CALEB STREAT, ZARIELLE ANTHONY
Environmental Predispositions written by MACY CUMMINGS art by AVERY HINES
Halting catastrophic production by ceasing to reproduce is a paradox that only helps to illuminate the problem, not take steps towards a solution. A solution that has been repeatedly outlined for decades. To frame climate change as an individual issue is a gross misinterpretation that our nation, collectively, creates and spreads. At 21, I am older than both my grandparents when they had their first child. There are rarely days where I think of testing the temperature of baby formula against my wrist, or how I will discipline my someday-son when he bites a classmate at recess, or if I will move across the country to be near family after starting my own. Making silly faces at a 3 month old on her mother’s hip in line at Aromas, I don’t think of my own reproductive capacity. I get an iced coffee without thinking: there may be nine months, or double, or triple, where I cannot drink coffee. This is as much an environmental predisposition as a personal one. Environmental because of who I am: an upper class white woman who has been 60
on birth control since her 15th birthday and has had unobstructed access to reproductive healthcare. Environmental because of where I am: A liberal arts school impacted by long term demographic shifts towards delayed childbirth. Environmental because climate catastrophe is all but inevitable. Global representatives attending the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, know this all too well. Participants of the conference are meeting under incomprehensible conditions. A 2019 UN report suggests 1 million species are facing extinction; last year, a tract of trees the size of Colorado was lost to deforestation; agriculture practices decimate soil health as the UN reports that food distribution practices leave 2
billion people without reliable access to food. The summit acknowledges that stabilizing the climate will be the largest, and most important, collective effort in all of human history. None of this is apparent in my little morning. Walking out of Aromas with an iced coffee in hand, past the same unbalanced and giggly toddler with its face pressed in the spaces between a chair’s iron rods, everything is okay. I look forward to a life unchanged. But my coffee has taken an environmentally catastrophic journey into my hands (who knows what tree peppermint syrup grows on) and the shoes I wear home have traversed more miles than I can ever physically walk in them. All of these individual decisions, what to eat and how
to get it, have consequences. We all know this. That’s why we recycle and take short showers and use those other light bulbs. In some sense, though, there is a larger existential knowledge that this is out of our individual control. That we are spiralling into a world that will be unrecognizable at the hands of what, like 10 corporations? There is a shaky, anxiety riddled, and existential bridge between individual responsibility and the reality that everything I pass walking down Richmond road, from frog to four-wheeler, has been transformed by a changing climate and the industries that preclude it. In 18 years, the child I smiled at will live, maybe, in a world that no longer uses coal to heat his home. In 10 more, his home may be threatened by sea level rise or wildfires. Okay, I face environmental change with a touch of melodrama; but what’s more melodramatic than sacrificing your firstborn for the collective effort? The number of people hesitant to bring a child into the world is growing, and climate change is a primary concern. Living in a high-emitting country it’s difficult to answer the question: What are the most effective changes I can make in my lifestyle to positively impact the environment? Simply because most of the necessary actions we take, from getting to work to putting food on the table, are equivalent to a carbon stampede. High-pro-
file figures in the US have questioned the morality of having children in a warming world, Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez is frequently quoted in eye-catching, click-baiting articles saying that, “young people have a legitimate question: Is it okay to still have children?” In the UK, where emissions per person were around 7 tons in 2018, the BirthStrike movement was born––a self-titled anti-natalist organization. Half support group, half advocacy group, the organization hopes to make an environmental impact on the supply side; exchanging the legacy of lineage for an impactful personal solution to a global problem. It’s true, deciding not to have children is the single largest impact an individual can have on their carbon footprint–– true in the same sense that your grocery bill will be largely reduced if you decide not to eat. One Founder’s Pledge model reported that disregarding policy, the decision to have one fewer child would reduce a U.S. citizen’s carbon output by 60 metric tons. But policy, the stumbling ogre hiding under the bridge between what is personal and what is public, is the only real collective step towards stabilizing the climate. The same theoretical model shows that after accounting for government initiatives, especially in states with strong climate policy, the tons of CO2 avoided by deciding to have one fewer 61
child are reduced to 5. The consistent decrease of carbon emissions since 2005 accounts for this discrepancy. And this is a good thing! The children of tomorrow––if effective policies to help curb emissions and restructure agricultural practices are enacted in time––will no longer be what one blogger refers to as little bundles of future consumerism. It is enticing, and even ingrained, to think of ourselves as individual actors in a war on climate change. For me it’s even comforting to approach such an existential process as global mass-extinction through the same mechanism that brought me, and many young women, to politics: reproductive rights. The problem with framing the issue as a matter of choice or a matter of reproduction is that the solution becomes increasingly fractured, individual, and knotted with inaction. Halting catastrophic production by ceasing to reproduce is a paradox that only helps to illuminate the problem, not take steps towards a solution. A solution that has been repeatedly out-
lined for decades. To frame climate change as an individual issue is a gross misinterpretation that our nation, collectively, creates and spreads. There is a genuine emotional response here, a deep-seeded fear of the future that should be taken seriously. So seriously that it should drastically reframe the way we view our nature; the ways we produce and reproduce. The things that make life tender, loving, and caring will ultimately be touched by environmental collapse, but this fact doesn’t make it necessary to weaponize creation against an existential threat. I am a big believer that evil is rooted in fear, so I choose to look outwards: To look at all of the physical and emotional bridges we build, imagining that, one day, I will carry a toddler across a bridge, built over water that is incapable of catching on fire.
Asian Representation in the Fashion Industry Still Woefully Behind written by LINDA LI photography by JAMIE HOLT beauty by NINJIN GANKHULEG, IRELAND DEGGES, JASMINE TURKSON, VICTORIA KIM, ISABELLA ORTIZ-MILLER, BREYONNA ROCK models SREYA MALLIPEDDI, CAMILLE ZERAAT, THANH PHAM, JUNNAH MOZAFFAR, MEGAN WU, NINJIN GANKHULEG, FAIZA ISA
Following the surge in anti-racism protests and attention surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, major fashion designers promised to diversify their model castings. Recent shows seem to indicate that the brands’ promises were tentatively upheld: The Fashion Spot reported that New York Fashion Week Spring 2021 shows featured 57.1 percent models of color, a substantial uptick from the 43.6 percent in Fall 2020. But New York shows have traditionally been more diverse than shows in London, Milan, and Paris. However, the increase in diversity is unevenly distributed across racial categories; most notably, Western brands struggle on several fronts to incorporate Asian diversity into their marketing and communications. In recent years the Western fashion industry has been incapable of culturally sensitive and respectful representation. Supermodel Karlie Kloss’s infamous
yellowface photoshoot in Vogue’s March 2017 issue easily comes to mind. Titled “Spirited Away”—conveniently copied from Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 film—Kloss is wears a kimono and does stereotypically Japanese activities such standing by a teahouse, posing next to a sumo wrestler, and performing a hand-washing ritual known as chozu, while her face is made paler with white powder. Ironically, Kloss’s appropriation of Japanese culture was featured in the female empowerment issue that had “Women Rule!” emblazoned across the cover. Kloss’s photoshoot is merely a symptom of the fashion industry’s persistent tokenization of Asian models. No longer able to ignore growing calls for racial diversity, brands have made “progress” insofar as casting Asian models to check off an imaginary “diversity” box. When Victoria’s Secret’s annual ogling shows were relevant, in 2015, a big
deal was made about the two Asian models they cast. Asian models have walked the show since 2009; none have been selected for the more prestigious “Angel” status that garners more media attention. Among the few Asian models who claim international success, models of East Asian descent typically represent all of Asia, to the detriment of minority ethnicity models. Continuing the VS example, Chinese model Liu Wen is the only Asian model to have consistently walked the annual fashion show. Sun Fei Fei, also Chinese, famously made waves in 2013 for being the first Asian model to grace the cover of Vogue Italia. Important as it is to celebrate the few Asian models who rise to the top, more nuanced Asian representation is frequently relegated to the backburner or dropped completely.
The exclusion of the vast majority of Asian ethnicities is not a mistake. In America, the “model minority” myth traps Asian Americans in a liminal space where they are neither foreign nor American, always celebrated as successful “achievers” of the American Dream. This construct makes Asian Americans complacent and all-too-willing to play by America’s rules, leaving very little room for discussion on inequalities among the Asian 66
demographic and their need for representation. Rapid industrialization in Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan— the Four Asian Tigers— since the 1960s means they are lucrative markets for luxury brands. To lay a stake in the booming Asian markets, economic strategizing takes precedence over understanding the specific Asian countries and tailoring marketing to their lifestyles.
Lack of sincere dedication to Asian inclusivity bears real repercussions for individuals forced to act out derogatory representations of entire cultures subject to discrimination. In an interview with Al Jazeera this year, androgynous Indian model Somriddho Dasgupta recounted a “dehumanizing” advert experience for a bank. He was given open-toed sandals and had makeup applied to suggest a “sweaty”
appearance—a look that the West typically associated with people from the subcontinent. On a macro level, the fashion industry is also complicit in perpetuating Orientalist fantasies; presenting “Asian” culture as a figment of Western imperialist imagination, perpetually stuck in the past and symbolizing the opposite of modernity. Notably, Dolce & Gabbana came under fire in 2018 for its “DG Loves China” campaign
advertisement. The ad featured Chinese model Zuo Ye attempting to eat Italian food with chopsticks while an offscreen staff person patronizingly taught her how to use chopsticks. Excluding Asian voices facilitates the industry’s woeful ignorance and othering of non-white cultures and customs while lumping Asian people into one homogenized, “exotic” entity.
Perhaps a more intangible obstacle toward equal Asian representation is the desire to emulate Western culture and lifestyles. Since the vast majority of the world’s clothes are manufactured in Asia, clothing brands go to great lengths to align themselves with the West and disassociate themselves from “cheap” Asian goods. Streetwear brands in South Korea almost exclusively use white models on their websites to raise their “coolness” factor. Likewise, Chinese brands often adopt more foreign-sounding names--examples include Hotwind, Marisfrolg, and Helen Keller-to give a pretense of Western refinement.
Even as American and European consumers grow increasingly receptive to the body positivity movement, the sentiment lags behind in some Asian countries where thinness is associated with success and reputation. Though Westernization isn’t entirely to blame for the rise in eating disorders and body-shaming—that would be generalizing each country’s socio-cultural development—the West still bears responsibility. Two 2011 studies of media exposure in Pakistan (published in The Journal of Eating Disorders), found that media exposure significantly correlated with greater body dissatisfaction among males and females. Cyclically, the pool of Asian models shrinks further as regressive notions of femininity hold back otherwise qualified candidates. Whether Western brands are shamelessly naive or intentionally exclusionary, diversity and inclusion efforts are inching forward at a snail’s pace— and will continue to drag, as long as white people dominate executive positions in the industry. None of the apparel companies listed among the Fortune 500 have CEOs of Asian descent. More
Asian voices at the helm of the fashion industry would slow down instances of cultural appropriation that make news yearly, and put an end to brands aestheticizing Asian cultures as hypersexual (reducing our identities to desirable commodities). The next time I read a Character Media article about Asian supermodels achieving success, I’d rather not read that a Chinese woman’s “elevated cheekbones make her enchanting to look at.” Representation is not simply a matter of including more Asian faces: there also needs to be diversity in sexual identity, ability, age, and size. Asian people must demand recognition of their uniqueness and acknowledge the need for proper representation. Western brands continue imposing their idealized version of the Asian body on consumers: eyes set wide, flat noses, high cheeks, and no curves. Until desire to conform to the West abates, industry has implicit permission to stereotype Asian people, selling them an ostensibly desirable— Western— perspective.
What T-Rex Can Teach Us About Body Positivity written by TREVOR SCHNEIDER art by SOPHIE CASSIDY
We all have an idealized image of how we’d like ourselves to look; a lean, airbrushed model of homo sapien perfection. This model, however, is largely grounded in subjective and ever-changing cultural whims. We view our bodies in a hypercritical light, constantly comparing ourselves to a fictional and nebulous image of a “perfect” body and chasing an aesthetic purity incompatible with reality. The desire to evaluate bodies like fine art is the same instinct that leads people to spend exorbitant sums of money on cosmetic surgery or designer dog breeds. It’s about the pursuit of an ideal, the nagging desire to transcend the confines of one’s body. That not even Tyrannosaurus rex himself, a mighty predator who went extinct 65 million years ago, can measure up to contemporary standards of beauty is a testament to their subjectivity and ultimate irrelevance. His likeness forever framed by the impossibly masculine and fearsome beast portrayed in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, the true form of this royal reptilian was bound to disappoint, deemed unacceptable by the masses. As 76
scientific models of T-Rex begin to look less like Godzilla and more like a living, breathing animal, its mythic reputation dissipates in turn, leaving the dinosaur subject to mockery and indignation. At one point, outrage orbited around the idea of a feathered Tyrannosaurus rex. Following 2012’s unearthing of a massive, plumed tyrannosaurid in China, some paleontologists were quick to infer that T-Rex, too, must have donned a feathered coat. As a result, many subsequent renditions of the iconic creature portrayed it partially, even fully adorned with feathers. “It looks like a giant turkey,” many grumbled. Then, once new evidence led the scientific community to sour on the feathered T-Rex hypothesis, criticism centered around the dinosaur’s lips. Many contemporary reconstructions have done away with the classic “exposed teeth” model in favor of hiding the mighty predator’s colossal chompers behind a pair of smooth, gummy lips. “Why is T-Rex smiling?” the people cried. “Why does he look cute?” Most recently, a hyper-realistic 3D model produced for
a prehistoric simulation game caused quite a stir among dino-fanatics, as its pleasantly plump portrayal of the predator was a far cry from Spielberg’s lean, fatless titan. In truth, Spielberg’s T-Rex is the Ken Doll of dinosaurs; its body exists as an idealized, commercialized caricature, not a practical representation. Think of its rippling muscles, exposed teeth, reasonably-sized arms, and lean figure. Jurassic Park’s Tyrannosaurus is meant to sell a product and a hypermasculine fantasy. These anecdotes reveal not only that a certain swathe of the population projects its insecurities onto long-dead prehistoric reptiles, but a more fundamental truth: the unfiltered, real-life appearances of bodies as we know them can never hope to measure up to the idealized versions that we conjure in our minds and the nebulous social factors that inspire them. This is not to say that our bodies are in some way “less than” that ideal; rather, it is an acknowledgment that bodies simply do not exist to be looked at, and that the concept of a “perfect” figure is literally incom-
Our bodies—no, any bodies—will never be “perfect” in our eyes because that’s simply not part of their job description.
patible with reality. Bodies— be they human, dinosaurian, or anything in between—exist for functional, not aesthetic purposes, and bodies that are most functional are not always those that best embody societal standards of beauty. Your body is not concerned with its appearance. In fact, it couldn’t care less. It’s far more worried about eating, drinking, digesting, sleeping, defecating, and carrying out a smorgasbord of other functions necessary for human life— and your body is most likely doing a pretty darn good job juggling all those responsibilities. So consider taking a step back and giving your body a bit of a break. It’s got a lot on its plate! Maybe you’ve got a double chin from certain angles. Perhaps you’re self-con-
scious about your spindly, skeletal digits. Or even the way your big, shiny behemoth of a forehead reflects the camera flash. Considering all that your body does for you, I’d say it’s far more productive— and deserved—to marvel at its incredible power and complexity, not nitpick its aesthetic idiosyncrasies. The more that we hyperfocus on our perceived “flaws” or “trouble spots,” the more we lose sight of just how incredible our bodies truly are. After all, the mightiest predator to ever walk the Earth was just a guy, too. He looked silly from some (perhaps most) angles. He would gawk at that lean, muscular beast you see in Jurassic Park with as much envy as we might feel towards Megan Fox, or your hot friend’s Instagram posts. Our
bodies are not aesthetic masterpieces. We’re animals, and animals have gross, fleshy figures and silly little appendages. Our bodies—no, any bodies—will never be “perfect” in our eyes because that’s simply not part of their job description. In our modern world, in which the collective cultural conception of the ideal appearance is influenced by airbrushed advertisements, movie magic, and erratic cultural sensibilities, we must understand that we are simply creatures. If a round belly and a funny-looking smile were good enough for Tyrannosaurus rex, they’re good enough for you, too.
COTTAGE CORE: Postmortem of a Summer
written by CHARIS CONWELL photography by DAWN BANGI beauty by KAELA SUNG models EMILY BACAL, ESTELLE EYOB, TEE-TEE NGUYEN
Cottage core— an ambiguous conglomeration of ideas, aesthetic impulses, and derivative ‘content’ — lacks, like most online ‘movements’, a definition.
Summer, 2020, the virus forced ‘life’ online, and life online seemed to consist of furtively monitoring events in the ‘real world’. In the United States and Hong Kong, protests erupted in response to state-sponsored violence and police brutality; Brexit, eminent secession from the European Union, loomed over the UK; windfall victories by rightwing political figures around the world disempowered progressive movements while crowds toppled statues; the death-toll climbed; on 4chan, the pseudonymously dubbed ‘Q’ prophesied of an eminent storm. Meanwhile, millions of teenagers were talking about ‘cottage core’. Cottage core— an ambiguous conglomeration of ideas, aesthetic impulses, and derivative ‘content’ — lacks, like most online ‘movements’, a definition. Instead, it has two specific functions; communicating a particular feeling, and
codifying existing ideas as indicators of that same feeling. The feeling: An escapist impulse, a rural fantasy, romanticism, esoteric femininity. Its codifiers: Long skirts, flower shops, natural landscapes, lesbianism, vintage furniture, a pie cooling on the windowsill. Its rise and fall, its proliferation across every medium, every platform, peppered the anxious timelines of millions with syrupy visions of the Good Life, before falling victim to oversaturation and, ultimately, going the way of the dodo. But what exactly was cottage core, besides a product of its time? How did it spread so fast, burn so bright, and then fade completely? What explains its particular blend of total ubiquity, empty symbology, and utter sincerity? I would argue, cottage core was a meme. Specifically, cottage core was an aesthetic meme. Before getting into what cottage core was, it’s important
to identify what cottage core wasn’t. Far from monopolizing escapist rural fantasy, cottage core came about alongside disparate social, artistic, and explicitly political phenomena which responded to (and manufactured) the same impulse. Early Tiktok users will remember a call to “Reject modernity. Embrace tradition.” This slogan, like so many viral rallying cries, emerged in facistic and conservative circles, before being co-opted by left-wing groups and the mainstream. Where ‘modernity’ first signified intruding, ‘identity’ driven philosophy, and ‘tradition’ signified conservative family values, anarchist communities re-interpreted (and regurgitated) the terms as ‘restrictive social order’ and ‘banging rocks together with friends’, respectively.
Lesbianism, in a strange way, had become deified. So had isolation, pensivity, poem-writing, filtered sunlight— In my deepest, darkest holes, I felt ‘of the times’.
Deliberately irony-poisoned and self-aware, the ‘reject modernity’ mantra was short lived. Space could be found, however, for these root-sentiments within the ‘Lindy’ movement, an apolitical lifestyle theory which emerged from New York. The idea is this; Whatever humans are, we are creatures of habit. The ‘good life’ is possible, but does not obtain via excessive intellectualism and navel-gazing. Whatever the ‘good life’ is, it probably very closely resembles what the ‘good life’ has been for centuries.
Those small joys which your great-grandmother had, your grandmother had, your mother had (a strong cup of something, a crafting hobby, a long walk, a cigarette habit), are joys which will resonate with you, too. Clearly, these ‘traditionalist’ movements could also be described as memetic, but what differentiates cottage core from its peers? If a meme is a system of behavior passed from person to person via non-genetic means, cottage core is a system of aesthetic behavior, an aspirational vi-
sion. ‘Aesthetic movements’ of the past have been driven by an identifiable set of principles, established by an artist or artists, which spread through artistic communities. ‘Cottage core’ evokes a certain feeling, becomes a shorthand for that feeling, and is reproduced utilizing the mechanics of an inside joke. It has no transcendental message, no call-to-action, no philosophical underpinnings, but it can make a person point and say, ‘Look, cottage core.’ 81
This dynamic is slightly different when you are what is pointed at. As summer rolled on, I noticed a strange thing; Because cottage core was trendy, everything about cottage core was trendy. In a tiny room full of antique furniture, on the edge of a glistening river, looking after my beautiful fat tabby, I simmered. My relationship with my parents had deteriorated to a point that I felt trapped. Convinced that Jesus was the golden child, I retreated into the loving em84
brace of my college and my friends; back home, what room might my mother have for a maybe-gay daughter, who had kept secrets for so long? And when would I see her again? I went for long walks. I picked flowers. I stared out my bedroom window, fat tabby by my side. Look, cottage core. Lesbianism, in a strange way, had become deified. So had isolation, pensivity, poem-writing, filtered sunlight— In my deepest, darkest holes, I felt ‘of the times’. Summer rolled on. I had
some difficult conversations with my parents (I am lucky, they love me forever) and I started to come back to myself. I went back to school, I felt free again, I kept writing poems and going for walks. But something had changed, the slightest allusion to ‘cottage core’ began to make me incandescently angry. Let it go! I raged. I lashed out at friends, peers; anyone who pushed that particular button. The giggling bisexual women, twirling their long skirts, showing off their ‘cottage core lesbian’ outfit-of-the-day were only referencing this saphic, hyperfeminine dream; but I took it personally. I began to feel pissed off and superior: I had done the work. I read Feinberg. I went through that summer. Whatever I was, it couldn’t be described by a teenager on a video app. I was embittered by perceived shallowness— the ‘meme’ didn’t account for my feelings or my experience, but I felt like people expected me to own it. I felt as though the term itself co-opted this completely painful, utterly necessary period of my life, and no one was letting me move on.
It’s taken me until now to understand what had happened. The dominant aesthetic meme today— Dark Academia— is receiving a lot of pushback from individuals who know, intimately, the structural rot within ivy-league spheres. Romanticized visions of coffee stained notebooks and pressed roses apparently fail to inform a grounded perspective on elite academia. As I watch people of color, disabled people, poor people express how this ‘meme’ does not align with their experience, how they feel simultaneously boxed-in and boxed-out of that experience, I sympathize. And this is the crux of my fascination with cottage core— Movements are based on principles (even puerile urges to “Reject modernity, embrace tradition” were undergirded by certain politics). Aesthetic memes (all of them) are ruled by an emotional imperative; Romanticize your life. The thing is, when ‘romanticizing’ your life means cobbling together a romantic ideal with the pieces of someone else’s life, you are, in fact, assigning a specific emotional value to those pieces. You are
turning life into an ‘image’ of a life. This isn’t just a meme; This is a fetish. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with fantasy, or populating your personal fantasy however you’d like. Cottage core, even in its final days, was never evil— my outrage at its continued existence was frequently misplaced, directed at people just trying to have fun. Still, looking back, I don’t know how I was meant to tabulate an ‘appropriate’ response to, essentially, becoming an
object in a word-association game. My bone to pick with cottage core has never been about escapism, or politics, or romance, it’s been about me; how I was suddenly approachable, recognizable, desirable. Before I was secure in my identity (and I remain, nearly on purpose, insecure in my identity) I was a fantasyand who can compete with a fantasy?
art by HANNAH MATTHEWS