Gen Z and Existentialism

Maddd Science

This newsletter, I'm breaking out of my focus on genre and stories to get extra thinkpiecey: I have a theory about the driving cultural norms for future generations.

It's an idea I've been idly kicking around for a while. Here's what inspired me to actually articulate it: a great article from Rosie Spinks at Quartz about why we're due for a resurgence in slackers, as a response to influencer and gig-work burnout:

The Age of the Influencer Has Peaked. It's Time for the Slacker to Rise Again.
Rosie Spinks, Quartz

So what evidence do we have that slackers are making a comeback? Much has been written about the attitude Gen Z has towards the internet: arguably far more sophisticated, suspicious, and interested in ephemeral content that disappears, rather than more permanent content that helps establish a commercially valuable identity.

I totally agree, and the article actually takes me 3/4ths of the way to my theory. The big difference separating the 2020s from the previous slacker eras, the 60s and the 90s, is that the youths just won't have the slack to be slackers: Income inequality means most of us are too poor to quit work. Spinks addresses this, saying that it means slackerism will be an aesthetic rather than an economic shift.

But, I think, what she doesn't get into is that an aesthetic of slacking slapped onto the lack of an ability to slack actually turns the whole thing into a different movement: Existentialism. Add in a couple looming threats like climate change and global fascism, and existentialism makes even more sense. But it won't be the grim depressing kind; no one's got time for that.

So, my theory: Ethical existentialism and optimistic existentialism will define Gen Z, with a little old-school hedonistic nihilism in the mix as well.

All the usual theory caveats apply: I'm not working with a lot of facts here, I'm not super plugged into Gen Z, I'm generalizing wildly with a focus on the white middle-class. Feel free to disagree!

Tying this back to pop culture: If I'm right, I'd expect to see a rise in free-wheeling nihilism/existentialism. I'm still waiting on the trashy CW-adaptations-in-waiting about sexy homeless teens, but I do have one enthusiastic book recommendation that fits the bill perfectly: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, out from in September.

It's a sci-fi/gothic fantasy mashup set in a crumbling nine-planet galaxy. A necromancer and personal bodyguard from each planet need to all get together for the first time in millennia to hash things out and maybe save their planets from dying. Very existential. I can't sum it up better than the novel's tagline: "Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space!" But that's the plot. The real draw to the book is the prose style, which folds very 2019 language tics into descriptions and the main characters' dialogue. It reads as easily as browsing a Twitter feed (hyperbole, dark humor, sarcasm, etc.), but with the character/plot heft of a novel. The result is just an absolutely goony fun read. Put it on your reading list, seriously. Muir is here to stay.

Here's a few articles on things I've been watching this week. First, The Perfection, a grimy B-movie thriller that hit Netflix last Friday. It's aiming for fun pulpy trash and fully succeeds. The next two articles here cover one of my favorite genre topics: The ethical challenges of repurposing questionable genre tropes. I've written about it in this newsletter before, but this movie is a great addition to the conversation.

Spoiler-free article:

Interview: Director Richard Shepard Talks THE PERFECTION
Heather Wixson, Daily Dead

"Yeah, we wrote the movie wanting to tell an interesting story that was both genre-bending and had an emotional dovetail to it, too, and the fact is that Allison Williams and Logan Browning are incredibly articulate, passionate performers and people. They became my partners in this movie in terms of making sure that their characters were well-rounded and realistic, and that what we were doing was not exploitative, even if there were exploitative elements to the storytelling and to the movie."

Spoiler-heavy article:

Let’s Talk About the Insane Ending of Netflix’s The Perfection
Jordan Crucchiola, Vulture

>>Redacted because it's all spoilers, but you should watch the movie and come back to read this<<

I liked Killing Eve season two well enough, but also enjoyed this column:

‘Killing Eve’ Season 2 Stumbled Where ‘Barry’ Soared
Caroline Framke, Variety

As the second seasons of “Barry” and “Killing Eve” unfolded — on the same nights, even! — they became revealing inverses of each other. And now that both have aired their finales, I can confidently say that I was right to question a return — and also, that I was wrong.

Next Time on Maddd Science: Us

Header image: “Farmer of the dead,” by Daniel Williams. New readers: Yes, my header is always this off-putting.

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