If history has proven anything, it’s that the ONLY emotion a large swath of the generation known as “Z” will feel from reading this piece is righteous indignation. Sure, there may be a few here and there that will glean some knowledge and be able to better their outlook. I’m sure there are going to even be a few that will be so motivated as to turn over a new leaf. But mostly, I’m waiting for the rage-induced emails about how I am the epitome of someone that resides in a world of ageism and is beyond out of touch. Well then, sit down, shut up, and listen … you might learn something.
Written By: Anton Sawyer
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I’ve made it clear from my prior writings about Gen Z (which you can read here), I really do want to see them succeed. Baby Boomers are too removed from the realities of finances and how America really operates in the 21st century. Generation X really can’t be bothered to do anything—now, or when they had the chance in the late 1990s. So at this point, the future is really in the hands of those born between approximately 1996 and 2011. After watching the way Gen Z has handled situations within the sphere of societal changes over the last few years, I am utterly terrified. Their complete disregard for any traditions this country was founded on, in favor of their philosophical ideology and forcing it on everyone, is the new battle cry. Their #1 enemy? The freedom of speech.
The main argument I get from Gen Z'ers I've spoken with is that I have had limited experiences with those from their generation, and all my thoughts stem from what I’ve read online specifically. I’ve often heard before that the reasons I feel that way are because I “don’t understand.” That the world and challenges they experience cannot even begin to register with me. The primary defense I have against this is a personal experience. The last “real job” I had before writing full-time was working in a call center doing customer support for pet products. This company had a policy-wide mandate supporting diversity. Out of the 15 total supervisors, only two were white, cisgender males the rest of the supervisors were women. Most of these women were either racially minorities or part of the LGBTQ+ community. For some time I was a supervisor assistant and monitored the calls of new people. During one spell that lasted six months, I worked specifically with two transgender Z’ers, many hours each day. One of them I absolutely loved as a person (we’ll call her “Jane”), the other person and I did not get along at all (we’ll call her “Karen”). The main difference in why I had a good rapport with one and not the other was because of the level of confrontation I would get from each. I am an incredibly curious person by nature. I just like to learn things, no matter the topic in most cases. This meant that when we would have slower periods where no calls were coming in, I would talk to them and try to learn as much as I could. Since they were pre-op but had been on hormone therapy for years, I was naturally curious. None of which were meant to be negative or try to make anyone feel bad. Jane could tell this, and though sometimes I might slip up and use an incorrect phrase, she was kind and patient and could tell I wanted to learn as much as I could. Karen on the other hand, when I would act the same way, would respond with contempt. She took everything as a personal attack, and that whenever I would question her about something I didn’t understand, it was met with a level of arrogance that was palpable.
The one discussion I had with Karen that sticks out the most is when she informed me that one of my favorite films of all time, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” was transphobic. I was stunned. Knowing the climate of the world in both political and social realms when it was first released in the mid-70s, RHPS was revolutionary in allowing those with an “alternative lifestyle” to make it on the big screen. Though it certainly wasn’t going to win any Oscars, it opened the door for many confused teenagers who lived in a world that they were unable to reconcile with when it came to their attractions and desires, and it allowed them to not feel as alone in the world. In the years following its release, there have been many people in the LGBTQ+ community who attribute that film specifically to saving their life when they felt like they were not of this world and didn’t belong in interviews. When I tried to bring these facts up to her, she shut down immediately. I was trying to talk to her about the historical significance The Rocky Horror Picture Show had for the movement she was a part of, and she would flippantly respond with “I’m Gen Z, I know I’m supposed to learn history and have an appreciation for all of that. But it’s hard to consider that when the entire time I watch the film, I am offended throughout my entire being.” That is where the conversation ended, and that is where we are today.
I know a single person doesn’t speak for an entire group of people, or a generation (except for Lena Dunham), and every age group is going to have its exceptions of people who are the worst example possible. For a long time I kept this thought in my mind; that Karen and her attitude is not one that an entire age-class of people should be judged by. Yet, over the last couple of years, Gen Z has bolstered this prejudice by the sheer volume of actions they have taken to destroy anything that offends them, no matter the context. Instead of having a thorough knowledge of what came before, they are stumbling bit by bit into the waters of controversy that had been mostly settled before they were born. They spend their time digging up bones of past, dead altercations and try to give them new life.
When I wrote the article about how YouTube influencer Sl04n (Sloan) had put out a horrible video accusing comedian Bob Saget of having inappropriate relations with the Olsen twins, I didn’t know if it would change anything. To read what the controversy was about, you can check it out here. Eventually, Sloan was hit with cease and desist letters from Saget’s attorney because of how inflammatory his statements were. Sloan did put the video to private but never addressed his wrongdoings. The video he made about Saget was one of the most vile hit-jobs I’ve ever seen. He outright claimed that he had a strong "feeling" Saget molested those girls, and was reporting those feelings as fact. Yet, when the dust cleared, nothing. No apology video. Nothing was put out to address the horrific things he said. I kept this in the back of my mind. Then another YouTube influencer named D’Angelo Wallace put up a video a few days later about an online battle between “Super-Straight Videos” and LGBTQ+ video responses. During this, he actively promoted talking points that the GOP had made a few decades earlier when it came to their fight against feminism. This too got stored in the memory banks. It wasn’t until I found out that there is an active attempt by Gen Z to cancel rapper Eminem that I realized these aren’t isolated incidents. Gen Z is now coming of age, finding out about offensive parts of American culture from the past that they weren’t aware of, and then doing everything they can to cancel these people who had already been slung through the mud years, and even sometimes decades, before. This campaign against rap legend Mr. Mathers began in February of 2021 and has escalated since. Starting when a TikTok user, who has since been removed from the app, uploaded a short clip from the 2010 Eminem and Rihanna song, “Love the Way You Lie.” The user called out the line, “If she ever tries to fucking leave again, I'm a tie her to the bed and set this house on fire.” In the text written over the uploaded video, the user wrote, “Yesssss lets cancel him.” Since then, that initial post has gone viral. Posts related to the #canceleminem hashtag have had approximately three million views as of early March 2021 and rising. And every single person wanting to cancel Eminem is doing it for “good.”
“Good” and “evil” are incredibly subjective terms. Things on the news that’s accepted as being “good” in other countries, would be considered human rights violations in the US. Gen Z has their heart in the right place, yes. Violence against women (or really anyone) is horrible. Minimizing classes of people because they are different than you is also horrific. But to think that because you perceive something as “good” or “right,” it gives you the authority to shove it down the throats of other people is arrogance personified. If you don’t like something, then don’t watch it. If someone offends you, then don’t go to where they are or support them. The thing that this younger generation needs to know is that yes, these artists have been offensive for a long time and the battle to try and stop them has already been lost long before they were born. Just because you are finding out about it, doesn't mean it hasn't been common knowledge for—in some cases—decades.
But to say that you have the moral dominance to determine what is OK for someone else to listen to is antithetical to American values, and just selfishly childish. And if science has anything to say about it, this emotionally driven trend of being morally correct is only going to get worse.
A 2018 study done by the American Psychology Association shows that Gen Z is experiencing levels of stress and anxiety at a much higher rate than any other generation in history. As I’ve discussed here before, when the human brain receives new information that is going to impact the person, there are two main components the brain uses to determine its next steps. The amygdala (emotional), and prefrontal cortex (logic/reasoning). As a society, during the 21st century, the brains of our youth—and even society as a whole—are re-wiring to become more emotional reasoning. Between the reward centers being triggered in the brain, we experience when we see a “like” for something put on the web. To the shame and self-loathing being experienced when we are given angry or hate-filled critique. These massive swings of emotion are making us susceptible to being controlled by them. Stanford medicine released a report in 2021 showing that the kind of stresses found in our current, online world can completely modify a child’s biology. It found that in chronically stressed or anxious children, the brain’s fear center sends signals to the decision-making part of the brain that makes it harder to regulate negative emotions. A huge takeaway from the report is that the signals are becoming stronger, and more re-routed from the right amygdala to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (a region involved in executive functioning) in children with more anxiety or stress. In layman’s terms, it means that the highway in your brain should lead from emotion, to logic, to final action. These children’s brains are literally having the highway detour from emotion to final action. With how much the internet has proliferated in the daily lives of everyone, this isn’t going to stop.
I am desperately hoping that knowledge will prevail. I cannot tell you how many times I would see someone from Generation Z decimating ex-President Trump with attacks based on the thought that he was just a giant baby who would cry or do whatever legal maneuvers he could to make his emotional ideal into a reality, no matter who is harmed along the way. The really sad part about this is whether you ask a die-hard Trump supporter, or a member of Gen Z, what they are hoping to accomplish by stepping on all these toes, the answer is the same. They are both doing it because it is “right,” and they both feel the same endorphin rush throughout their body as the words exit their mouths.
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