We all have at least one friend – usually from high school – who thinks they are “deep” for posting pictures of maudlin statements like, “sleep doesn’t help if it’s your soul that’s tired,” in Helvetica on a white background with the Valencia filter on Instagram or Twenty-One Pilots lyrics on FaceBook. The people who typically pull this kind of shit are the ones that tell you that they are “different” from other guys or the girls that are constantly reminding you that they are “like, super weird.” Characterized by technological literacy, pessimism and melodrama, they are the archetypal members of what Noreena Hertz calls Generation K.
What does the K stand for? Katniss – yes, as in Katniss Everdeen from the The Hunger Games.
Demographic cohorts are named after the defining event of the generation. The Baby-boomers are defined by the profound impact of being the first generation to come of age in a world post-World War II, and the Millennials are distinguished as the first generation to come of age in the new millennium. Although more commonly addressed as Generation Z, after completing a survey of over 2,000 teenage girls born between 1995 and 2002, Hertz believes that the dystopian heroine Katniss Everdeen most accurately embodies the generation of Americans who are coming of age on the heels of economic anxiety, heightened concern for terrorist threats and a deep distrust for establishment institutions.
Hertz raises astute observations about our demographic cohort, but I just cannot take her histrionic rhetoric seriously. She begins her article for the Guardian with a segment from an interview with eighteen year old Sarah: “‘When I came to recently from surgery,’ says Sarah, ‘the first words I’ve been told I uttered were not ‘mum’, or ‘nurse,’ but ‘iPhone, iPhone.’”
Three paragraphs later, she quotes from sixteen year old Jake to describe Generation K’s pessimistic – read: whiney and self-absorbed – outlook, “ ‘Life for us is hard. A struggle. I think we’ve got it much tougher than our parents’ generation. But we can’t give up.’”
I am sure there are eighteen and sixteen year olds who talk like Sarah and Jake, but I cannot help but read her portrayal of “Generation K” as melodramatic, over-exaggerated and out of touch. Sure, my friends and I spend a decent amount of time on Snapchat and Instagram, but I don’t know anyone whose first words after coming out of surgery would be “iphone.”
Older generations may criticize us as the Smartphone Generation or for being coddled with trigger warnings and safe spaces, but they seem to be unaware of our capacity to be self-critical.
We recognize that coming of age under certain social, political and economic conditions has bred a generation of tweens and teens that can be self-absorbed, superficial and saccharine tumblr activists. But instead of outrightly criticizing our peers the same way that Baby-boomers insist on constantly calling out Millennials for being entitled, we are more subtle. We rely on humor and irony to upbraid the faults we see in our peers.
Take, for instance, the trend in which users retweet pictures with the caption, “your man crush monday thinks this is deep.” The punchline is that the type of people who share “deep” pictures aren’t sharing anything profound and should not be your #MCM. Instead they want to appear so by taking part in trendy criticism without putting the effort to say anything beyond simple over-generalizations such as “technology is evil,” “capitalism is bad” or “conformity is harmful.”
We may be Sarahs and Jakes, but we are also incredibly self-reflective and conscious of the way our generation acts and is perceived. We rely on humor and irony to disarm superficial readings of Generation Z — or K or whatever you want to call us — as melodramatic and angsty. We slip back in forth between using YOLO seriously and sarcastically: we say and do things ironically because we don’t take ourselves too seriously and are the first to recognize the vapid and saccharine sentiments we see in ourselves and our peers.
Becky is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. Bloggin’ in all Caps appears on alternate Fridays this semester. She can be reached at [email protected].