Talking about “Meh” generation – 丧世代
Ever since there are families, tribes, clans, nations, each generation is just so much better than the next one, and the previous one. Actually, each is so exceptional that it is simply a miracle that humanity survived at all, each generation, without known exception, being, systematically and uniquely feckless, ungrateful and overall, well rather useless if we are honest.
This somewhat logical feeling has been analysed, written down, framed and sorted ever since WWII. To try and to capture the unique failure of the specific generation: in the West, the Golden Generation had zoot suits and squares, boomers had Mods and Hippies, Gen X Punk and Disco, Millennials … well… … avocado toasts and memes?
It is now the turn of Generation Z to come to age, and, unsurprisingly, here we pounce to try and outline, define it. The boundaries seem to vary, depending on the urgency to carve out as big as possible a new potential target, now that we have somehow grown tired of analysing millennials.
A new specimen to observe.
So, regardless of the relevance of the topic, how will Generation Z turn out? Well, so far, unsurprisingly maybe, they seem unusually unmotivated, either depressed or depressing, in a word … “Meh” … Yes, I know, shocking isn’t it, something we never heard of the next generation? We all expected to produce, raise, foster and care for another generation of giants like our own, a superhuman age class that would solve every wrong through sheer force of power, will and drive.
And what happens?? Gen z trolls the snowflaky Millennials!
They are not motivated by driving licenses!!11!1!
Its not even electric cars, its NO CARS!!!!
They don’t dream to belong to the “C-suite”??2?
Discarding an unknown, unidentified and unlikely genetic defect, what could the common background be?
In the beginning of Gen Z was 2020, and the word was … languishing. A serious word used by serious people, psychologists no less, to describe when we, like, feel, well, demotivated, despondent, listless, or bored, possibly blah, or even … meh!
So, no genetic defect, but unique circumstances, examples and behaviours that built, structured this generation? What is the authority they see, scientific, political? What vision are they shown? Is youth what it used to be?
No Future? No Problem! Like the pentup consumption waiting to be released in 2021, Generation Z, Gen Z, Zoomers, Zers or “Meh” generation, as you prefer, have not yet been given the occasion to express themselves, at all, and some try to box them even before they have a chance to. Let’s have an honest look at the world as this new generation can only see it, and, remember, so far, 20% of their adult life has been spent under random house arrest.
Gen Z has a unique experience of Authority; this can only lead to a very specific understanding of their position within the wider society.
Authority is relative and contextual
Why start with this theme at all? Well, rules followed to fit in or not, who give them, how and why, seems like a very good start to define yourself within your surroundings. Once you move beyond the childhood frame, the first question, THE big coming of age question, is how to see yourself vs authority!
The material reality of authority itself, as much as the relation to authority, frames how we position ourselves within the society. Further, the web of authority, its enforcement and the place of the individual within it defines the society itself. In other words, this is the frame that defines the relationship with the outside world. You can decide to follow it, accept it, ignore it or reject it, but any of these choices actually shapes much if not most of you.
Regardless of time, social model or individual position, from Rome to Woodstock, from Narcos to the Crown, authority is the web that links all individuals within the social space.
So what did we see since the past few years, what we have seen since January 2020, what is the picture this generation has? Authority, as executed, has all been about deflection, manipulation and self-interest. Even if you would think of it as something to revolt against, a rebellion against a certain type of authority, or a specific body of authority, all have acted, reacted, behaved and spoke in the same templated way.
It is not possible to disagree, agree or revolt against the gluey blob, it does not even act as referee, simply as a given layer of existence, propelled and renewed by its own independent momentum. It is not aristocrats, bourgeois, apparatchiks, salarymen or patriarchs that could be pinpointed as “responsible”… it is all and none of the above, from governments to corporations to NGOs.
Authority today is just a relative and contextual reality, not anymore an overarching given, it cannot be demonstrated rationally, or measured and agreed as the best possible system, like in Candid: it just has its own autonomous momentum. Even a scientist has been shown as nothing else than having a get-out-of-jail card, “Trust me, I am a Doctor”.
Before 2020, we heard how we had to “listen to the science, stupid”. Since then, we did, and that was indeed bloody stupid. Facts are debatable, this was once an impossibility; absolutes have been bent to the latest political local need. Generation Z will be well aware that statistics are only as valid as you chose them to be, transparency and honesty your only, if rare, safeguard. If even Science is relative, open to use and abuse, a tool to justify lockdowns, isolation or anything else really, then what to believe in?
Authority in 2020s has so far been mainly an exercise in self-preservation. What we saw in the past months how much very personal interests influence the highest level of decisions, very openly. From Macron to Biden, from the WHO to the WTO, many decisions are just about internal and external positioning, to get or renew an employment contract. The theatre show painfully constructed over the past few decades has not only created growing inequalities, the inconvenient truth is that the fluffy rainbow coat shows at the seam.
Authority, possibly “leadership”, has been over the past few years essentially defined as the delegation of responsibility. Sorry, that would be so last century… let’s call it, empowerment, of course. And we saw a systematic recourse to an old favourite, the thousand-layer committee, the go-to sleight of hand, no-one responsible for anything, especially not decisions. But, still, the real authority lies in the titles and name cards: it does not mean responsibility, even less duty.
So, why would you be the one out of the trench? The rational choice is to play the clock. If you were 15 in 2015, 20 today, your timeline is actually Trump-Kim (Kardashian or the North Korean guy), followed by 20% of your time spent in COVID house arrest. So, at the dawn of either choosing a job, starting your studies, or shooting for a diploma, why would you get involved unduly in the world?
Stats seem to show they might not, great! Not so much “Meh” generation as an astute one, then?
until January 2020, youth used to be a value and a vision in and by itself
Now, it is absolutely true that authority, or the lack of it, is not in itself a show stopper. Whether too much, too little, or none, it can be altogether ignored or used a counter-example or foil. A generation can define itself simply by its dreams, vision and perspectives. Inexistence or inadequacy of authority could be overcome, by a clear project, perspectives, hope… Whether because you are self-driven, just follow or observe it as an entertaining activity, it will get you out of bed in the morning.
The hippies replaced the zoot suits, sorry, the Baby Boomers replaced the Golden Generation, then punks replaced hippy and glam rock mediocrity, a Moebius cycle as old as families. Like flares and skinny jeans, short and long dresses, ideas and projects just get recycled on a 10 year span… waxing and waning as marketing demands, from the Club of Rome 1972 report, to Inconvenient videos, to Greta Thunberg, NGO codes and contents are now mainstream.
So, nothing new, except that cycle seems now to be simply moving on its own dynamic, without much more purpose that keeping a momentum. To keep a generation momentum going, you would then need a vision, a project, a perspective, a minimum outline of what you are on the path to achieve, as individuals, groups or societies. So far, there is neither much on that front so far.
Born in 2000, the best current proxy project seems to fly to the Moon,… like in 1969,… 50 years ago, in black and white pictures, on aquarium boomer TV screens. Could inspiration be simply to do a remake of a success by your grand parents? Yes, we had updated versions of Man from Uncle, Miami Vice et al. But surely, it can be a generational dream? So, a handful will fly to Mars, thanks to cryptocurrencies going “to the Moon”, but still… It is clear that millennials, led by Elon Musk tweets, have much lolz, but it sounds about as exciting as a 1968 Star Trek episode, including the rubber suits monsters.
If not outs there, or as societies, it could be personal achievements, social climbing. The West is logged jam, social routes and avenues clogged, social and professional duplication become a default status. For Asia, China and India, the catch-up game on middle class status and consumerism is not over, but the perspective does not seem a sufficiently inspiring perspective: the simple goal of being able to spend more, the same as the past 2 generations prior, shows signs of fatigue whether you call it Sang, diaosi or Zoomers.
Their already elderly snowflake forebears may still dream of a life in bling, Insta/Weibo and influencing with an LV bag on a Dubai beach, and that trend will continue, but the next generation is already building beyond.
So, without a clear vision or potential, who can blame Zoomers to be sceptical? Again, simply being logical, in societies apparently satisfied to peddle programmed obsolescence of ideas, hardware and policies, in the name of balance and harmony, the constructed reality and its emptiness of purpose starts to show at the seams
…as a generation, whether out of scientific necessity, incompetence or spite, [Gen Z] life is less important than protecting elderly patients or shoring up failing public health structures.
Now, if you can’t really define yourself within a society, if you don’t have a model to aspire or rebel against, or someone builds your place for you, a future, possibly a role, a function built for you. Your generation can be thus recognised and slotted in, like the Millennials, or not, like the punks; the decision can be made for you.
Until January 2020, youth used to be a value and a vision in and by itself. Indeed, since the end of the second world war, youth was the key social component to push, promote, target, study or fear; this was not only Marlon Brando, Easy Rider, Sid Vicious, Eminem, but also the Red Guard, the Summer of Love and the Cultural Revolution.
Youth has been one of the 20th century defining dimensions, the great novelty that started after the destructions of the First World War, on par with nukes and later computers. Youth, teens and young adults were a core target group, first as filling age classes, then and definingly as consumers and voters in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s. Indeed, the Boomer generation may have had the impression to change the world but it definitely kickstarted the consumerist society. Gen X led a hardware revolution, Millennials cemented digitalisation.
Numbers have changed, Earth population doubled in 50 years, but structures changed as well: generations stay longer at their parents home, if they ever leave, post 30s turned into kidults, “60 is the new 40”,… youth is diluted to the point of possibly becoming invisible in the landscape.
Youth used to set the tone for the rest of society, was even expected to, it is not anymore now. Neither is youth about age alone, if at all. Gen Z is truly in a position unique for nearly a century, in numbers, structure, opportunities and role.
And to add to that, since the past year and a half, its life is put on hold, social, generation-defining rituals denied, cancelled: Back to the Future without a Prom ball anyone? Diplomas, both in exam rituals, classes, ceremonies, including the amphitheatre rooms, university mixers, all defining experiences frozen, devalued and set aside as “accessory”. Where once national life would come to a standstill, news and traffic stopped for the baccalaureat, SAT or GaoKao, all of this has been proven less than a second thought when it came to Western governments decisions to lockdowns, tests and masks.
Put yourself in these shoes! If you take a step back as a generation, whether a scientific necessity, incompetence or spite, you were just told that your life is less important than possibly protecting, at least in the West, elderly patients already isolated in care homes, or shoring up failing public health structures. The next generation used to be something to look out for, the Western societies decided that it was a liability, not an opportunity: national priorities were rather clear.
Further, accusations ran across all countries against this new generation: as much as it is reassuring to see illegal concerts and riots taking place, there are actually extremely scattered. We are very, very far away from the spirited flappers, zoot suits riots, Woodstock or the Hammersmith Odeon. Did societies just revert to a Victorian moral Order and society priorities because of an epidemy?
If you would indeed be Gen Z, diplomas a matter of university attendance numbers and perequation, nightclubs, concerts and festivals something that happened to others, what would you think? Meh!
What now? Well, isn’t all life an algorithm, specially if you were born with broadband internet? For such a generation, it is only logical to accept that what you decide to chose leads and defines the next alternative choices you are given. These in turn narrow down your actions, leaving you free to evolve, but only in your allocated sandbox life.
Destiny? So should Boomers worry, or Gen X or Snowflakes, … Gen Z? Is it actually…important? Am I languishing (quote NYT) too much? Naaah!! I am absolutely confident that Gen Z will find its own route, creating some other logic on the ashes of the falsehoods peddled for the past 30 years.
The best any of us can do today is simply to live by our word, re-establish some material reality and tangible perspectives, so that Generation Z is given real alternatives.
Let them chose and define themselves for or against it …
But what do I know, I am eating crayons… No Future … No problem!
People try to put us d-down (talkin ” bout meh generation)
Just because we get around (talkin ” bout meh generation)
Things they do look awful cc-cold (talkin ” bout meh generation)
I hope I die before I get old (talkin ’bout meh generation)
Credits The Who, 1965, My Generation