culture / Jessica Schultz

Aesthetic Facebook

katie landers unedited

Photo by Katie Landers, featured image by Jessica Lynne

In recent years, Facebook has become overrun with middle-aged women sharing Minion memes about wine and girls nights. They see everything, they comment on everything, and they’re always there with a picture of you from middle school. These people have driven today’s misunderstood millennials to different social media like Instagram, Twitter, or Tumblr in a desperate attempt to express themselves without worrying who is in the audience. But from the dark recesses of Facebook comes a complicated web of Closed and Secret groups, brimming with art, writing, and photographs. This is Aesthetic Facebook.

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Photo by Helen Alpern

Nobody really knows how aesthetic Facebook came to be– one day it was there and accepted as the “new thing.” The groups, normally found through friends or, like me, through a Tinder match, can have anywhere from 20,000 members to under 100. Oftentimes the groups will have fairly explanatory names- “Wasted Food Aesthetic” or the now-defunct “Sad Selfies”. The vast amount of groups cover different subjects, aesthetics, and have different sets of rules in place to assure that only the best content is posted. It seems to make sense—but what the fuck is content?

Content is anything and everything. In Unintentional Internet Alt-Lit, it’s confusing and meaningless comments and posts “that evoke the qualities or style of alternative literature”— (according to the group’s description)—that have been screen-capped and sent out to its 800 members. In Unedited Smartphone Aesthetic Pics, it’s the most aesthetically pleasing, unedited images taken on smartphones, posted to a Secret group of 7,500 people from all walks of life. The members of aesthetic Facebook are from every place you can imagine– Ivy League schools, foreign countries, even right here at Champlain.

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Photo by Lydia DeBevoise

All of these people are joined together in a community of artists unlike any other. “There is a really authentic sort of reception, which is a great benefit of USAP,” says Kayleigh Cox, the creator of Unedited Smartphone Aesthetic Pics, “and I think that kind of reception tends to be a lot more thought provoking and conceptual and open than, you know, the type of critique or criticism you would see in an art museum. I don’t really want people to think of [Unedited Smartphone Aesthetic Pics] as a place for critique or criticism.”

A group like Unedited Smartphone Aesthetic Pics seeks to explain the beauty found in normal, everyday life. Normally, you would look past a dropped ice cream cone on the ground or the evening light  shining through your dorm window, reflected by your Nalgene. But to aesthetic Facebook, occurrences like these are art, and are to be treated as such. “… Something that looks like trash or something that looks wasted or ruined or something like that is also a big part of … the aesthetic culture, or like, counterculture on the group, at least as far as photography goes,” says Cox.

Forever and ever and ever and ever, the Art world has been talking about what is appropriate vs. what isn’t appropriate. What is Art vs. what isn’t Art. Aesthetic Facebook continually widens that conversation to include points of view from all walks of life (the Ivy League kids, the kids across the world, the Champlain meme kids).

One of the benefits of a closed, tight-knit community like this is content and trigger warnings. A topic of debate online, on campus, and around the world, many people view CWs and TWs (as they’re referred to) as the unnecessary coddling of young adults who are too afraid to face their fears. But they’re seen as common courtesy within most groups, and can be useful in helping people with past addictions or trauma avoid seeing things that could trouble them. If a post mentions or features something like alcohol, drugs, or sex, there is a warning to keep people from viewing things they are uncomfortable seeing.

CWs and TWs are extremely useful when people post photographs of things like illegal, hard drugs. Photographs of hard drugs and other illegal things are normally banned on Unedited Smartphone Aesthetic Pics, but they have been posted before and promptly removed, says Cox. “I took [the photographs] off of [the page] because they were illegal – like, very illegal and I didn’t want to violate Facebook’s guidelines and have the group taken down,” she added.

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Photo by Anna Aiello

This brings about an interesting question as old as art with a capital A—if something is aesthetically pleasing but legally wrong or morally uncomfortable, what should we do about it? What truly makes an aesthetic, and what can we do to let aesthetics grow naturally while still being respectful of viewers and platform guidelines? In the coming years, the aesthetic universe will grow, change, and inevitably fall as all things do. But currently, this part of Facebook is on the brink of breaking into the mainstream.

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