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Courtesy of Netflix

December 5, 2019

GUEST ROOM | The Nostalgia of Gen Z Television

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With an increase in high-quality television being produced by cable and streaming providers, critics are calling this era the “(second) Golden Age of Television.” Shows released this millennium have revolutionized the types of characters that the public is drawn to. Our favorites tend to be protagonists in the traditional sense. But television characters became increasingly complex individuals that we love and hate. Even flawed characters like Tony Soprano and Don Draper have become iconic.

Although we were exposed to gritty characters that made us question our morality, more often than not, popular characters were upper-middle-class, white men. A disconnect was inevitable as the coming-of-age Gen Z is more socially conscious and diverse than past generations.

The golden age of television is changing to accommodate the maturation of Gen Z. Now, it is important to remember some things about this age group: They have never lived during peacetime; these are the post-9/11 kids. They are the ones who grew up with the onslaught of school shootings. They are the group with the highest levels of anxiety in the country. A sense of hopelessness pervades Generation Z, so it makes sense that the most popular shows evoke a sense of nostalgia about a time before they were born.

Shows like The End of F***ing World, Euphoria and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina combine teenage angst with modern-day problems while projecting the aesthetics of previous decades. These series have been critically acclaimed, and there’s a reason for this. Humans are born nostalgic; we’re constantly glorifying the past, knowing there’s no way to go back. There’s even a word for this: saudade (from Portuguese).

These shows reflect the anguish of the current teenage experience. The End of the F***ing World, which released its second season on Nov. 5, is set in the modern-day, but its aesthetic appears to be lifted from the 70s. The show deals with 17-year old James who thinks he’s a psychopath and runs away from home on a glorified road trip with his girlfriend. At first, it seems to be a typical story of “teenage angst,” but a dramatic turn of violence plunges these two into a premature adulthood. The creators of the show juxtaposed these stylistic elements from decades past with modern-day problems, like widespread anxiety and depression, affecting today’s youth. This combination lets the viewers know that teenagers are different from their predecessors and are facing serious issues.

Most teens have been exposed to extreme violence in media for as long as they can remember, and many adults look to the past for a solution. But that will never work. Times are constantly changing and contemporary shows mock these misguided beliefs. The kids are not alright, but nostalgia makes it worse. Gen Z-ers are attracted to these hybrid shows because they prove to them that society believes we have to look at history in order to change the future, which may not always work depending on the circumstance.
Sarah Bastos is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at sbastos@cornellsun.com.