VARIANT Magazine Vol. 6 Issue 2: Horror

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Dear Reader,

Last semester, our team delved into futuristic topics gleaming with positivity and hope; peering into our potential dismay, we tried our best to stay lighthearted. However, this time VARIANT asked, what if we let ourselves be afraid? What if we dismantled the logic of fear before our very own eyes?

I’m proud to present to you VARIANT Magazine’s Spring 2023 theme: HORROR.

Inside, you’ll find what many consider a lowbrow form of art — a reflection of our cultural anxieties, flaws and our raw humanity that highbrow art wouldn’t risk pursuing. As British writer Mike Carey once wrote, “We make our own monsters, then fear them for what they show us about ourselves.”

VARIANT created its own mirror, rife with monsters both magical and mundane. We showcased horror in a literal sense: clowns, witches, vampires. We also questioned our belief systems. Why do we use clowns for childrens’ entertainment, knowing they evoke terror? Why does society fear witches for their power yet call women weak in the same breath? Why are we so averse to apparent displays of sexuality? Perhaps we wrongfully assign those fears to fictitious creatures in attempts to avoid and distract from what really scares us the most.

The irrational fear of the impoverished was

juxtaposed with a commentary on academic elitism. Celia Hawk, a student on the outskirts of Appalachia, analyzed the importance of storytelling in community building. She wrote “the search for Bigfoot, and other folklore, connects people … through a shared fear for the unknown,” highlighting the importance of diverse perspectives in fostering inclusive communities (page 31). We would be remiss if we didn’t commemorate Leigh Bowery, “the person that came nearest to living his life as a work of art.” A queer performance artist and fashion designer in the ‘80s and ‘90s, he used grotesque and exaggerated forms in his works, dramatizing his queerness to blur the line between beauty and horror. Bowery “explored sexuality and sexual expression, bending gender and twisting normative aesthetics in unseen ways” that challenged traditional notions of identity, wrote Riley Clark (Page 1).

Our photostory aestheticized a nightmare, utilizing Honey For

The Heart masks borrowed from local Athens’ Passion Works Studio (page 19). Our creatives aimed to conceptualize both the fleeting and abstract nature of our unconscious. Though our nightmares may consume us, they shall not confine us.

Ohio University Professor and op-ed writer Dr. Tony Vinci illustrates horror as a genre for those who live in the margins: “lives that represent a sort of monstrous vibrancy and excess—too much love, too much desire, too much pain to be accepted by mainstream culture” (page 49). Let this issue be an ode to the provocative, the powerful and the lonely. May these pages honor horror in the best way and may it make you uncomfortable in the very worst. After all, growth never came from comfort zones.

While you creep through our unflinching portrayals of these horrific themes, we challenge you to address your biases and prejudices, your deepest desires and fears. I ask that you think about your own monsters. Confront them, if you dare. Remember, it’s not about being fearless. It’s about being afraid, and doing it anyway.


































Katie Johnson, Evie Sears, Ella McMullen, Sophie Neilsen, Jaiceé Jeffery, Devon White, Shea O’Flaherty, Joey Earley, Campbell Hauschild, Kylie Simmons, Marguerite Augier, Taylor Strnad, Janelle Olix, Meredith Viox, Sophia Noll, Riley Clark, Leo Garcias Leite, Ellie Dale, Blair Forrester, Leilani Stillwagon, Lilith Roberts, Salma Zerhouane, Genesis Motley, Lily Sciulli, Olivia Seifert, Larissa Manciaz, Raya Fall, Kenji Smith, Amy Szmik, Alexis Ky, Rosie Mogford, Sophie Hiner, Allie Krieger

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Executive Board

MargueriteEditor-in-ChiefAugier Madison Bailey Creative Director Anna Birk Executive Editor Emma Friend Photo Chief Bekah Bostick Associate Editor Olivia Lutz Head of Videography Katie Johnson Head Stylist George Koloski Head of Publication Design Madeline Melragon Photo Editor Evie Sears Art Director Head of Digital tech Jack Wilburn Head of Makeup Joey Earley Head of Public Relations Emma Geggie Publication Design Associate Abby Lindley Publication Design Associate Taylor Strnad Treasurer Emma Bhatt Copy chief Riley Brown Public Relations Associate Breauna Saunders Co-Head of Event Planning Max Abbatiello Web Editor Norah LeFlore Co-head of event planning
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The outlandish and expressive work of the 20th century artist

Leigh Bowery, possibly the most outlandish artist of the 20th century, defined expressive artforms for years posthumously. Through the ‘80s and ‘90s, Bowery used his body as a medium for elaborate expression, combining elements of fashion, pop culture and the human experience to transform himself into walking art that shocked audiences.

Born to an orthodox family in a neighborhood in sunny Melbourne, Australia, Bowery felt apart from his community. He would skip out on church with his family, instead finding himself consuming British fashion through magazines. At 19, he moved to London and worked at Burger King before inserting himself into London nightlife.

His experimental form of expression attracted many collaborators—Michael Clark, David Bowie,

Massive Attack and Boy George, to name a few. One of Bowery’s closest friends in life, singer-songwriter Boy George, honored him, saying, “Leigh Bowery created outfits that made him look deformed, which was very brave. I believe this was the main thing that gave Bowery his edge. His designs were often breath-taking, but it was the way he used his body that was so utterly new and refreshing.”

That is what Bowery contributed—grotesquely unique art. Blurring the lines between fashion and art, Leigh revealed his mind with flamboyant looks and controversial performance pieces. From enemas to vomiting to birth scenes, nothing was too far for him. Unforgettably, Leigh “gave birth” to his own wife on stage, pulling linked sausages from under his clothes as an umbilical cord.

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Bowery morphed himself into unrecognizable, provocative life forms. He would carve holes into his cheeks to hook safety pins, tape his groin into a feminine looking silhouette and drip colored glue over his bald head. Often, he fully morphed himself into sculpturesque creatures, extending his stomach and head with giant spheres and emphasizing the odd. Once, he dressed in black latex, portraying his

6-foot-1-inch frame as a dominatrix. He explored sexuality and sexual expression, bending gender and twisting normative aesthetics in ways which had previously been unseen. Predictably, his fashion had a massive impact on drag culture.

Bowery was also a club promoter, the main ambassador of Taboo, a night club that opened in 1985.

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Leigh Bowery created outfits that made him look deformed, which was very brave
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He originally made his name appearing at the club every weekend in his absurd creations. People would show up to Taboo just to gawk at Bowery. No matter if he was standing on 6-inch platforms, sweating behind layers of uncomfortable textiles or caked in makeup, Bowery made the most out of every night. These nights of extravaganza went on to inspire Boy George to help write Taboo, the musical.

Between club appearances, Bowery worked closely with Michael Clark’s dance company, sometimes even dancing for him, designed costumes for the band Culture Club and creative directed the band Massive Attack. In 1988, Bowery turned his work into a live exhibit at London’s Anthony D’Offay gallery. He sprawled on a sofa for hours, gazing at his own reflection while passersby observed.

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Famous painter Lucian Freud understood Bowery’s vision like no other and the two became very close. Bowery posed in uncomfortable contortions as Freud’s muse in a series of nude paintings, capturing the raw beauty of the naked body.

From Charles Jeffrey’s club-located catwalks to Alexander McQueen’s sex-doll lips, Bowery’s work is referenced everywhere. Makeup artists, fashion designers, drag queens and even Lady Gaga’s most far-out attire can credit much

of their inspiration to the taboo mind of Leigh Bowery. A trained eye can catch glimpses of Bowery’s art in Dior and Fendi fashion, his creative mind undeniably influential.

On New Year’s Eve of 1994, Bowery passed away from AIDS, just as combination therapies were beginning to be introduced to help prolong the lives of those with HIV. However, his legacy has long outlived him. A friend and director of Bowery, Stewart Laing, recounted him as “the person that came nearest to living his life as a work of art.”

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His designs were often breath-taking, but it was the way he used his body that was so utterly new and refreshing ”


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omen. They’ve been the muses for breathtaking art, subjects of potent love songs and have been seen as embodiments of the word beauty, as well as the subjects of history’s hardship. As early as the thirteen colonies’ formation, American women didn’t have much say on what went on upon new territory’s soil. Men were regarded as the leaders in this society as they had the ability to engage politically and socially in the community. However, well-behaved women rarely make history and it was only a matter of time before traditional molds were broken and boundaries began to be tested.

The Salem Witch Trials are regarded as one of the most infamous events to take place in American History due to their shocking and horrific nature. The events that sparked the witch trials began with a group of young girls in 1692.

WThey claimed to be possessed by the devil and accused several other women in their town of witchcraft. Although church politics of the time and family feuds fed into the mass hysteria that arose, fear was the driving factor. Even in today’s media, nearly four centuries after the witch trials, witches are typically painted as villains and evil beings to stay away from. A lot of the fear spawns from the immense power witches are portrayed to have possession of. Could that be due to society’s inability to fathom an empowered woman? Are women in power an attack on the patriarchal status quo?

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The “picture perfect,” somewhat problematic viewing of a “traditional woman” is usually accompanied by the role of women as mothers, caretakers or individuals confined to household tasks like cooking or cleaning. However, as time progressed and shifted into a more modern era, attitudes towards women’s rights were slowly being reflected in society. The first women’s rights movement took place in 1848 and was just the beginning for shaping what the world could look like for women. In 1920s America, women gained the right to vote and although society accepted their independence in the realm of education, jobs, marital status and their role in the public sphere rather than just their home lives, that was predominantly reserved for just white women. By the 1960s and ‘70s, media and pop culture steadily mirrored those changes which were evident in fashion, Hollywood and the passing of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972. Even as society was getting more modernized, gender roles still came into play, some of which are even observable in many instances today. Femininity and delicacy, as well as the traits that come with them, like being polite or accommodating, are still generally expected of women. Society is also a generally male dominated place, although strides have been taken to equalize the rife between men and women. There’s less hesitation to speak out against injustice and discrimination, and more awareness has been brought to the subject in order to educate the public. The topic of women’s empowerment is certainly not uniform throughout the world, or even from culture to culture or race to race. There are still advantages to being a woman who looks a certain way or lives in a certain location or

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Femininity and delicacy, as well as the traits that come with them, like being polite or accommodating, are still generally expected of women.

‘‘expresses their gender identity in what some might consider traditional. Particularly those who are white, thin, pretty and live in a country where there’s freedom to express feminism or fight against inequality. There’s no perfect blueprint to what being a woman in today’s world looks like, nor will there ever be. Many incredible women in today’s society amplify female empowerment, such as Dylan Mulvaney, Malala Yousafzai, Rihanna and countless others who continually make strides for women to gain access to the resources they need to achieve their goals and be authentic to themselves.

Although the perfect equilibrium of power has not been reached nationally or globally, there has been an immense progression towards that goal. Looking back to where American women originally stood socially, politically and economically, there’s been a revolution of change throughout history’s course. Female empowerment has certainly come a long way despite its many obstacles, and hopefully will continue to advance towards new milestones in the future. Plus, who’s to say the witches ever really went away?

Women have fought for power again and again and yet it seems to evade their grasp. There are still accounts of violence and sexual abuse, women going missing without a trace, women reduced to silence as their voices are trampled over by men. There are constant patterns that repeat throughout history of women being cut down, treated poorly or punished for testing societal limits. Will there ever be an end to the ceaseless waves of inequality that get brushed off as if they were nothing?

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Women have fought for power again and again and yet it seems to evade their grasp.
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The Final Girl: Aesthetic or Sexist?

From the 1970s slasher films to real life, violence against women is nothing new and horror as a genre helps sustain harmful stereotypes. Clare Waldrop, a sophomore studying English, has done research into the ‘final girl’ trope and how it perpetuates patriarchal ideals in more ways than one.

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QCan you explain what the ‘final girl’ trope is?


The ‘final girl’ is a term coined by Carol J. Clover in her book Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. It’s this assertion that the final girl in a slasher film is the last remaining girl out of this cast of characters, which is most often a friend group. She survives because she has superior morals to her friends that often reflect patriarchal and puritanical values … Now, this girl is typically established as kinder than her friends. She doesn’t drink or party. She’s a virgin or if she’s not a virgin, she’s in a monogamous relationship … She’s

smarter. She’s normally the first to sense the danger that there’s something lurking nearby. So all these different things that we might consider make her superior to the other people around her. The killer is kind of serving as a cultural body because it means the killer is a representation of our culture that is often puritanical and patriarchal and so the final girl reflects the traits that the killer is trying to enforce amongst other people. So therefore, she cannot die because she can’t be punished by the killer because she’s already doing what he wants.


QWhat made you interested in this topic?

I love horror movies and my research actually leads me to believe this might be highly problematic, but I’ve always loved horror movies. My mom got me started really young. I remember I was in middle school and we would watch them together and they would really freak me out. I actually thought

for a long time, I didn’t like horror. Then I took a film class in high school and I was like, “Oh, the horror is not as bad as I remember it.” I found that horror was really fun to analyze and sort of break down and I was really interested in the way that the film’s work to do different things.


QDo you have a favorite horror movie?


Candyman has a special place in my heart … The history behind the film is very interesting. There’s a lot of racial commentary within that film. It was actually a collaboration between the gangs of Chicago and these movie producers. They called

Do you think there is any way that the final girl could be used in movies without it being patriarchal?

I think it depends on how the film is structured. It depends on what we’re doing … I think there are a ton of ways we can do that; but then we have to change our reasons for why are we killing. What’s the difference here? I think the answer doesn’t lie in changing the final girl … I think it lies in changing the killer. Even when we have female killers, they are often acting upon these sort of patriarchal kind of notes, like Pamela Vorhees in Friday the 13th … She’s

a woman, which is different than the typical killer because the killer is typically male, but she’s still enforcing patriarchal values. Her killing is coming from a place of her motherhood and her enacting male vengeance ... I think this is more where we get into like some of the puritanical values that sneak in and patriarchal and puritanical those values are so often kind of interwound.


Q AWhat did you find the most interesting in your research?

When I was reading Carol J. Glover’s book, Men,Women, and Chainsaws: Genders in the Modern Horror Film, one interesting thing that I found out was that a lot of the cinematography used in horror films is borrowed from pornography. There’s always that scene where the girl’s running from the killer and somehow she falls but she lands on her back. The killer is over her and he’s stabbing but for some reason it doesn’t look like the knife is going into her heart, it looks like it’s going lower on her body. They’re playing the squeals, gasps and moans of pain as she’s being stabbed but they’re not framing it as this brutal murder, they’re framing it as very sexually explicit. I thought that was really really interesting how these films are working to portray horror as these various sexual acts and a lot of psychologists argue that murder is a sexual act; it’s actually fulfilling for the murderer to do that. I think it’s

interesting how we’re representing that on screen. We even get that with one of the first big horror movies, Hitchcock’s Psycho. One of the most iconic murder scenes of all time is he’s stabbing through that shower curtain. Why is she in the shower? … But in Friday the 13th she is taking a shower after she had sex with this dude and she gets killed in the shower because she had sex with him. Why are we wanting to kill women in these vulnerable positions that oftentimes they did not choose to put themselves in? They’re acting on the desires of other characters … I think that’s a great example of just how impossible it is to survive the horror film in the face of gendered violence. At the end of the day, they’re characters … yet the things happening to them are highly reflective of what’s happening in our society … and the ways in which we respond and interact with violence and patriarchal ideals.




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The Aesthetic of Excess

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Out with the bore in with the more. Fashion allows us to freely express ourselves in any and every way we desire. Our style divides us into categories that define us by the aesthetic we feel fits us best. Trends come and go like the seasons; we are constantly on the edge of our seats waiting to see what is now considered the hottest. Clashing patterns, colors and objects make the trend which preaches the motto “more is more.” When it comes to putting together an outfit that fits this fashion, the stylist puts their main focus on creating an art piece. The whole idea of styling an outfit you think others would like is thrown out the window because a maximalist outfit is abstract and different. It portrays a look you would never expect and that’s what makes it so unique.

Maximalism is the style that has probably caught your eye many times before. In the past year or so we have

seen the trend of maximalism take the place of minimalism in the matter of fashion. That trend focused on keeping the outfit to—you guessed it—a minimum, but maximalism is currently taking over with outrageous yet stylish looks. When you see someone rocking this aesthetic you will most likely observe a mix of camp patterns, such as an abundance of floral prints and extreme colors. To some it might seem like too much is going on within the outfit, but that is part of the whole idea, to create an art piece within the look.

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You may find yourself asking the question: how can one incorporate this kind of chaotic style into an everyday outfit? The main components of this look are layering and the mix of prints and patterns that will catch anyone’s eye. Adding layers to a maximalist look is important as they will draw attention to many different points in the outfit. Colors are key when it comes to this craftsmanship. However, you don’t need bright colors in the look for it to be considered maximalism. You can create a piece that is strictly black and white while incorporating abstract patterns or accessories to give it that maximalist vibe. Bringing these fun elements to the look also brings a whole new perspective.

Along with fashion invoking a feeling of love or hate, it can also remind you of something. The mix of patterns and colors triggers a sense of nostalgia for many and puts maximalism in the category dubbed “kidcore.” Many influencers fall into that trend using nostalgia. @Tinyjewishgirl on TikTok is one of the best known online personalities who displays a maximalist, nostalgic look perfectly. Not only does she incorporate the basic building blocks of a maximalist defined outfit, but when it comes to accessorizing an outfit she does not play around. Whether it is an insane pair of chunky shoes or a jacket that has actual teddy bears attached to it, she doesn’t shy away from this trend. She also stimulates that sense of nostalgia with her jewelry. Most of the necklaces and rings she tends to style are ones that would be described as Pretty Pretty Princess jewelry. These pieces are colorful and transport you back to that specific time in your childhood of playing dress up and taking it very seriously.

Another maximalist fashionista is Sara Camposarcone. She truly defines maximalism and kidcore in her sublime outfits. On her TikTok and Instagram you will find her teaching viewers how to style an intense maximalist outfit while proudly showing off her artistic looks. Her accessories might transport you back to your childhood. Often, she is seen rocking earrings that resemble a certain object or food which gives off that kidcore vibe, such as large lettuce earrings or earrings with crocs on them. Sara is a professional when it comes to styling a nostalgic outfit.

She takes the aesthetic very seriously.

From hair to make up to nails, she makes sure every aspect of her look defines maximalism. You can find her rockin’ green or pink dyed hair and make up that included bright eye shadows and intense blush. She was recently seen at New York fashion week this year sporting this style, therefore proving to us that we can see maximalism anywhere.

Look for this style anywhere, from the streets of your hometown to the red carpet at the Grammys. Fashion is about expressing yourself through clothing and maximalism does that perfectly. Fashion is about being personal and confident. Fashion is subjective and you should wear whatever you feel looks the best. Some may call it bad taste or too much, but this style is simply an art form and will only keep getting bigger. Fashion should not be put in a box. For now, more is more.


What the Folk?

How the Folklore of Appalachia Brings Communities Together

Driving across Appalachia, mothman bumper stickers and bigfoot prints on rear-view mirrors are a common sight. A popular bumper sticker reads, “Mothman is real and he sells me weed in the Waffle House parking lot.” How can you argue with that experiential evidence? Many people in the Appalachian region may feel a personal connection to cryptids that mimics

that bumper sticker’s message. A shared fear of the unknown unites communities. Then, oftentimes, that fear is combatted through acts of community-lead fun, making the fearful creatures seem much more like friends than foes.

Many people have heard the story of Bigfoot, the large and furry creature who wanders rural America.


Bigfoot’s name conjures images of him mid-stride which circulate through media-coverage of the being. Pictures like this drive many believers to go searching for him, equipped with high-quality cameras and sometimes bear traps.

Lois Manon, a 76-year-old woman who lives alone on top of a large hill in Appalachian Pennsylvania, has allowed many people to search for Bigfoot on her land through the years.


She is a non-believer, but when the paranormal search parties arrive, she invites them onto her wrap-around porch and they share a cup of tea. She often humors the “outlandish” views of the Bigfoot-hunters so she can understand what evidence they have for the hairy giant’s existence.

Lois lives alone in a rural house that relies on stove-heating. When a big storm hits, people from the Bigfoot search parties will drive to the top of her hill with soup and offer to help her haul wood to her stove. Her kind act of offering up her land for their adventures is always repaid in some way. This shows the true spirit of Appalachian people.

Bigfoot seems to be the most well known, but there are multiple mysteries for believers to chase. Mothman is a humanoid creature reportedly spotted for the first time in November, 1966 in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.The first couple who spotted the creature reported a “man-sized bird…creature…something.” Nowadays, his description is a lot more specific. Mothman is supposedly 10 feet tall with wings and glowing red eyes. In 1967, locals saw Mothman flying over Silver Bridge. Soon after this sighting, the bridge reportedly collapsed, resulting in the deaths of 46 people.


People have claimed to see Mothman before other disasters such as earthquakes or intense storms.This leads people to question whether Mothman is causing the chaos or being sent to warn people of impending disasters.

The Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant, West Virginia is an annual event. The festival includes a Mothman museum, live music, guest speakers and cosplay. Ohio University freshman Morgan Snyder drove down to Point Pleasant to attend the festival this year. She recently took an interest in cryptozoology, the study of mythical and legendary creatures, and wanted to further explore that fascination. Mothman was of particular interest to her because he is often spotted close to Athens, where the university is located. Upon arrival at the festival, Snyder said, “the town was packed - parking was a nightmare but it gave us time to people-watch everyone dressed up in Mothman costumes”. These costumes must have inspired her because Snyder dressed as Mothman for Halloween this year. She said, “everything was Mothman-themed, from the food to the art that vendors sold at table to the town’s centerpiece, the sculpture of Mothman himself.” Despite Mothman’s frightening appearance, the festival is joyful. No one faces Mothman alone.

“ Point Pleasant embraced something they once feared, and I’m so grateful I got the chance to celebrate with them”

There are a few lesser known myths that are interesting to discuss as well, including the mooneyed people and the Wendigo. The idea of moon-eyed people stems from Cherokee stories. The story goes that Cherokee people expelled the moon-eyed people, a group of short, bearded, whiteskinned people with large blue eyes, from Appalachia upon arrival in the area. Moon-eyed people are believed to be so sensitive to light that they only emerge during the night. Many wonder if the moon-eyed people still inhabit Appalachia as ghosts or in hiding. Historians have considered that the moon-eyed people could have been Welsh explorers who landed in the United States around 300 years before Columbus did.

The Wendigo is a cannibalis-

tic cryptid first discovered by the Algonquin tribes. His name translated means, “the evil spirit that devours mankind”. He is reportedly a creature that thrives in cold habitats, so most sightings are in Canada or colder regions of the northern United States. The Wendigo has been described as up to 15 feet tall and stick thin. He is said to mimic human voices in order to lure in prey. The Wendigo can also possess the minds of his subjects and eventually turn them into Wendigos, spreading the curse. In 2019, mysterious howls in Canada led many to question whether or not the Wendigo is still out there searching for his next victim.

Myth has historically surrounded Appalachian people, twisting them into stereotypes and pushing them while they are down. One

would think in Appalachian country “myth” would conjure up images of stereotypes and the supernatural would trigger thoughts of harmful movies such as Deliverance…but, just like the Wendigo, supernatural creatures can take the place of oppressive forces. Cryptids do not inspire the type of fear that drives people apart; instead they bring groups of people together.

There is beauty in a simple, country life where nature surrounds you. The natural world is so mysterious, who is to say there is nothing lurking in the shadows? Paranormal creatures bring a sense of mystery that keeps people chasing. Snyder’s takeaway from the Mothman festival was, “Point Pleasant embraced something they once feared, and I’m so grateful I got the chance to celebrate with them”.


The Circle is Broken:



Closing in on a dimly lit study past 3 a.m., a well dressed young man hunches over a large oak desk. Books piled high on either side, a tall white candle emits the only light in the room. Beside him, a steaming cup of coffee on its fifth refill and a cigarette delicately balanced on a crystal ashtray. His attire catches the eye: a three piece suit recently thrifted from a prestigious vintage shop. In his hand? A pen scribbling away at a final thesis paper in hyperspeed. Sound familiar? This lifestyle-turned-aesthetic has been dubbed “Dark Academia,” and is taking online communities by storm. Now, something so innocent as an online aesthetic seems harmless, right? Just environmentally conscious young people studying hard and admiring the beauty

around them. What you don’t realize is the aforementioned boy has been working on said thesis for 12 straight hours and hasn't had a bite to eat since Thursday… it’s now Saturday. He survives on the academic validation from his college professors and the energizing qualities of bitter black coffee. Looking deeper, you will see there is a world of issues with Dark Academia, as an aesthetic, a trope in media, and in the reality of education, outside of this hypothetical youth’s experience.

The Dark Academia aesthetic follows a set of unwritten rules, criteria that serve both as a guide once accepted into the community, but also as your ticket in. Critics of this aesthetic note just how exclusionary these rules are. In order to “look” the part, one must be skinny, white,

preferably male and wear authentic vintage clothing. When you search the phrase “Dark Academia” on TikTok, you will be greeted with video collages of old tattered books, plaid skirts and gothic college campuses. Books such as The Picture of Dorian Gray or The Greek Plays are flashed in front of sites from Ivy League universities, leaving viewers envious of their lifestyle. The thing is, these books feature old English or Greek translations that are hard to interpret for anyone who does not excel academically. Those with learning disabilities or people who do not claim English as their first language are already a step behind when it comes to these “essential” works. Furthermore, the colleges and universities often featured in this online content are extremely difficult to get into and wildly expensive.The


everyday person does not have the resources to attend such prestigious schooling, especially not those who belong to a lower socioeconomic class. By promoting such an exclusive lifestyle, Dark Academia shames those who are unable to reach its unrealistic standards, making them feel unintelligent or less than. With such common degradation present on social media, those in differing racial groups, ability groups or socioeconomic categories may feel discouraged to pursue higher education in the future, furthering the cyclical lack of education. This phenomenon is not exclusive to socials; the aesthetic has been featured in more mainstream forms of media for decades. Films such as The Dead Poets Society or Kill Your Darlings feature boys at elite private schools, romanticizing their

lives. These boys operate outside of the pressures academia forces upon them and rebel against the system. A common issue between both movies is the idea that the main characters critique higher education, while directly benefiting from the privileges it offers them. It may be easy for those who identify with the main characters to defy authority, as they are aware of their cushioned background.

Kill Your Darlings is set at Yale University, while Dead Poets Society is set at a prep school for young boys pursuing the Ivy Leagues, such as Columbia. According to the Columbia University Office of Provost, the fall 2022 undergraduate population consisted of 32.3% White students, the highest racial category, followed by 17.8% Asian students. Similar numbers can be found at Yale, with their fall 2021

enrollments consisting of 38.1% White students, followed by Asian students at 16.2% of the population. With schools such as Yale and Columbia holding such a relevant place in our media, it is hard not to notice how little they reflect our population. The students in the aforementioned films may feel the need to rebel due to the constraints put on them by academia, but they could never imagine the experience of a minority student at one of these prestigious universities. With so little representation, yet such high expectations to be great, the lack of community for marginalized individuals in higher education is evident. Due to insufficient support, students of color, female students, and students with differing abilities feel the need to work harder to achieve their goals, thus creating the next

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major issue surrounding the Dark Academia aesthetic and academia as a whole. In the picture painted earlier, the student mentioned was revealed to be overworking and starving himself in order to achieve academically. This unfortunately is a reality for many. According to E.R. Zarevich, a writer for the journal Women In Higher Education, there are many dangers for women and minorities in academia as a result of needing to “play catch up”. The need to do as well as white

male counterparts can cause both physical and mental deterioration. With academic competition at the root of all that is Dark Academia, students may turn to things they would have never done before to be the very best, including missing meals or losing sleep. Unfortunately, these bleak examples are an everyday truth for many students and many do not have the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in all that this lifestyle entails. It is OK to indulge

in the Dark Academia aesthetic, but it is vital to understand whether or not you come from a point of privilege when doing so. Romanticizing schoolwork, wearing vintage and working hard are all positive things, but when paired with the history and truth behind academia in general, one must educate themselves. By doing this work, it is in your hands to make a change. You hold the power when facing academic oppression. What are you going to do about it?

47 VARIANT Spring 2023


VARIANT Spring 2023

I’ve always hated having my picture taken. Maybe it has something to do with the way my family used to raise their cameras like weapons. Stop. Smile. Pose. Pretend. Be Perfect . . . or else. Photographs were hard evidence of my failure as a person. I was angry. I was depressed. And it showed. I was a visual symbol of everything my family and the world I inhabited wanted to believe did not exist—trauma, abuse, mental illness. Being photographed made me feel like I was a freakish, broken thing, a creature born into the wrong world by some cosmic mistake. Being photographed made me feel like a monster.

But that’s okay. I loved monsters. Fierce, otherworldly creatures that threatened the normalcies of everyday life—monsters made me feel strangely safe. Through them, some of those wounds the world tries to hide might find a way to be seen, to be heard. Perhaps this is why there is an entire history of horror tales (films, tv shows, novels, short stories, comics, video games) that explore the link between monsters and the photograph: they teach us about our dual desires to encounter the hidden histories of the world and to document such secret stories, to make them real through photography.


Of course, as films like the original Candyman (1992) show us, some realities refuse to be captured by the camera, and others live only within the boundaries of the frame. Photographs can reveal as much as they distort, clarify as much as they obfuscate. And when it comes to monsters, especially those who remain half-hidden in the dark, we can never quite trust what we think we know—about them, about the world, about ourselves.

Adapted from Clive Barker’s “the Forbidden” (1985), Candyman clarifies the cultural power of monstrosity while hinting at how photographs themselves sometimes have monstrous uses. In Barker’s story, published during the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, a mythic killer with a hook for a hand haunts the working-class city of Liverpool. A multicolored creature who wants to keep the stories of secret human suffering alive in the public imagination, the Candyman seems to represent lives on the margins: lives that represent a sort of monstrous vibrancy and excess—too much love, too much desire, too much pain to be accepted by mainstream culture.

VARIANT Spring 2023

The monsters that inhabit Bernard Rose’s film Candyman, which takes place in Chicago, are perhaps even more resonant for contemporary American audiences. The film’s titular monster is the ghost of a slave’s son who had committed the unpardonable sins of excelling in the arts, making money, and falling in love with a white woman. He was lynched—his body smeared with honey to attract a hive of local bees, his hand sawn off and replaced with a hook. Like his literary counterpart, this Candyman’s business is storytelling, and he is driven by the need to make sure that the stories of those forgotten by history do not slip away.

But he is not the only monster in the film. A local gang leader steals Candyman’s name to instill fear into those who inhabit his territories. Both elegant and brutal, this presence is monstrous, to be sure, but he might not be the film’s most terrifying figure.


The real terror comes from Helen, a white, upper-middle class graduate student. After hearing about the urban legends of the Candyman, she intrudes into Chicago’s inner-city to photograph the lives of underprivileged black communities. She takes pictures of the private and forbidden worlds of others in distress: walls defaced by graffiti, abandoned apartments in which Candyman slaughtered his victims, a giant portrait of a face with sharpened teeth and the darkest of eyes. For her, these photographs are not doorways into the lives of real people. They do not inspire curiosity or compassion. They are simply evidence of her power and privilege. She plans to use these “authentic” images of “urban despair” to make herself appear important in front of her professors, and, even more monstrously, get published, ensuring a career as an academic.

This never happens, of course. Candyman has other plans for Helen, and she comes to think of things differently . . . after a few monstrous encounters.

There is much more to say about these stories, these monsters, these photographs, but I don’t want to ruin anything for you. I hope you’ll watch Candyman , inhabit for a time the lifeworlds of these monsters, think about these photographs, and come to your own conclusions. For my part, I will conclude with my confession: as an adult who studies trauma and horror stories, the thought of being photographed still unnerves me. I find myself stuck between wanting to be seen and wanting to hide, wanting to be normal and wanting to be monstrous, wanting to be accepted and wanting to stay on the margins. I find myself stuck, always, between the monster and the photograph.

VARIANT Spring 2023 x VARIANT Spring 2023

creatives instantly become best friends. It’s spending long and tedious hours alongside the creative team to put together the final copy of the magazine, our eyes tired but anticipatory. I tried a few different publications at Ohio University, but the creative energy that buzzes throughout the meetings is what made me fall in love with VARIANT. While I’m sad to be leaving, I am thankful that I have found some of my best friends through this publication and was lucky enough to see it flourish.

Starting my college career as a diehard news writer, I never could have imagined that I would end up on the executive board of a fashion publication. This year at VARIANT, I found what I truly love; I love the anticipation while we come together to think of our semester’s theme, behind the scenes waiting for models to be called to the front of the camera, and my niche: helping writers come up with strong articles that they are proud to put in the final copy. Thank you for showing me that I do, in fact, have some creative parts to my brain and for listening when I attempt to give creative direction. Getting to learn and grow into myself has made this year so incredible. So thank you, VARIANT, for making it so hard to say goodbye.

The time I spent with Variant was a whirlwind of frenetic, creative energy. Every endeavor brought new challenges that lit up my soul. Thank you to all the passionate people who worked with me. For everyone who assured me we were on the right track, who showed up every day with brilliant ideas, and all who dared to make a fashion magazine with the terrifying theme, Horror. I’m not a writer, so I hope as you look through this magazine you can see how much love has been poured into making it.

As I bid farewell to Variant, my heart overflows with appreciation for the journey that led me here. Working with this exceptional team has been an honor and a privilege. Thank you for sharing your passion, creativity, and talent with me, for it has made me a better person in countless ways. Though I will miss each and every one of you, I am excited for the bright futures that lie ahead.

To our readers, thank you for allowing us to inspire and connect with you. Your support and engagement have been the unwavering foundation of our work. As I embark on my next chapter, I do so with a grateful heart and a renewed commitment to inspiring others. I’m confident Variant will continue to flourish under the leadership of our next executive board.

Thank you for being a part of this incredible journey.

With love,

VARIANT Spring 2023
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