In Week Two of our deep dive into Generation Z lives and culture, we look at two big issues – cancel culture, and careers. There will be a special bonus at the weekend looking at HBO’s new ‘teen’ show Euphoria, they gave us an exclusive preview of.
We took a more in-depth look at these issues because they both require real consideration – with cancel culture tripping up some of the globe’s biggest and most stable brands and companies. Cancel culture pertains to an environment where language and messaging are more important than ever. Moreover, when language and messaging do go wrong – the response to the reaction is absolutely critical. Chloe Combi has worked with some major brands, helping to manage and ameliorate crisis – and it’s crucial for everyone working in any field in the 21stcentury to understand this modern minefield.
The ‘new careers and economy’ section is a tiny insight into this huge topic. The way we work, train, employ people and are employed is changing fast, and this impacts young people entering the work-place for the first time most of all. Here we explore some of the key changes in the rapidly changing employment landscape – and some of the biggest fears and challenges Generation Z are facing.
“Getting cancelled” is a (relatively speaking) new and very Gen-Z orientated trend that is just as terrifying as it sounds. If someone – and this can be an individual, a group, company, brand, political movement etc. – commits an offence that outrages/scandalises/infuriates the masses, they can ‘get cancelled.’ The terms and conditions of these offences and what tends to trigger the mob are long, complex and indeterminate - sometimes can be entirely justified, and sometimes seem like an unjustified overreaction to someone making a poorly expressed comment or a misjudged action. The cancel culture punishment is swift and harsh usually involving social media and/or traditional media campaign where much ire is directed at the cancel-ee in the form of articles, YouTube videos, angry tweets, and also, inevitably, threats aimed at the sinner in the virtual stocks. Recent examples of people/organisations that have come under the cancel hammer have been Harvey Weinstein, film-maker, (exposed for serial sexual harassment and abuse), James Charles, YouTuber (inappropriate behaviour, accusations of homophobia and racism), Kanye West, rapper and designer (expressing support for Trump and expressing some very ignorant opinions on slavery), Dove, brand (making an eye-wateringly poor taste advert with some very dodgy racial connotations), Taylor Swift, singer, (for various crimes related to “snakiness’ though she’s recently been uncancelled for getting off the cultural fence), Lena Dunham, actor and producer (for constantly seeming to have her foot out of her mouth), models who blackfish, various (white models and influencers who appropriate black beauty and aesthetic for personal gain.) This is of course a miniscule representation of all the people and things that have been cancelled, and whilst there is a vast differences in the reasons for getting cancelled, the unifying factor seems to be the accused causing offence that reverberates and accumulates through the media and social-media eco-system creating a wave that comes back to wash over the accused. Naturally, in such divided and binary times, the politics of cancel culture and the effects it has on people is divisive. Some believe it acts as a far more effective judge and jury than actual judges and juries – powerful men like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey had suffered few consequences for decades of systematic abuse until the wheels of CC set in motion ensuring there was finally some proper attention judgement. Others think that cancel-culture is a form of global bullying, where the masses appoint themselves as the executors of punishment for infractions that haven’t always been clearly defined as infractions in the first place. Getting caught up in the cancel culture fray is undoubtedly terrifying – but, and this particularly applies to companies and brands – it’s important remember the ire didn’t come from nowhere. Making the mistake of telling the accusers they are wrong, or woke, liberal snowflakes is stupid in the extreme – and is only going to further entrench parties on both sides. Listen to the reasons people are upset and take into serious consideration what has upset them so much – particularly if the upset comes from a group who don’t look, live or have the same perspective as you. An apology – a simple, genuine “I’m sorry” is often not just sensible but necessary, but more than that talk and listen. Try to figure out what it was you did, said or represented was so wrong or offensive – because ultimately that’s the only way of getting it right next time.
The New Careers and Economy:
One of the favoured headlines pertaining to Generation Z is that they are (to paraphrase) mostly training or learning for jobs that don’t exist yet. This is demonstrably untrue – teachers, doctors, nurses, IT-workers, writers, actors, painters, retail workers, road sweepers, taxi drivers, farmers, police, designers, architects, PR-people etc. are not suddenly going to vanish in the next decade to be replaced by AI robots (that will take a bit longer and might be more of an issue for Generation A.) It is true, however, to say that many job markets are significantly retracting due to a number of factors – mechanisation, globalisation, the fact that lots of things we used to pay for are now free or we can steal – and this will inevitably impact younger generations hardest.
This is one of the reasons why writing off YouTubers, Instagram influencers, Tik-Tokkers, professional gamers etc. as stupid and frivolous is misguided at best. Though Generation Z didn’t create the platforms (that was mostly millennials), they have become extremely adept at adapting these platforms as thriving alternative economies to the traditional economy and job fields they increasingly feel locked out of. Added to that, the traditional economy and job industries increasingly rely on the social media economy to continue for their own continuing success and expansion, which massively contributes to the growth of these alternative economies and the Gen Z’s that draw (an often lucrative) salary from it.
Of course these alternative economies only make the lucky minority wealthy, successful and famous, and Generation Z badly need guidance on how to survive and make it in a rapidly changing and increasingly Darwinistic world, where they don’t have to just compete with each other, but increasingly, machines.
This is a seriously complex and frightening question for someone just starting out in the world – and the answer should start with two questions for any young person mapping their future:
What am I good at? and How can I turn my talent/skill/dream into something useful, people will need?
The first is of critical importance. If you are a great writer, a careers guidance counsellor convincing you to ‘go tech’ because it’s more lucrative is basically consigning a young person to a life of misery, doing a job they probably won’t enjoy and might not be a very good at. But it’s not unfair to point out, that writers – unless you are one of the very lucky few – that score a column or a major book deal – don’t earn much anymore, because no one pays for news or quality journalism. But before we pack our hypothetical Gen Z writer off to silicon valley – it’s worth suggesting to them that writing for a living can be lucrative and successful if some practicality is applied. If our Gen Z-er knows/can learn another language translation is in big demand. Business and tech writing is big business and continues to grow. Creative copywriters in our attention economy are likely to do well. Ditto social media and PR specialists (where great writing skills are critical.)
This kind of lateral thinking applies to almost any talent or field of interest – no one owes you a living just because you are good at something, but if all kids are terrorised into wanting to work for Google, Apple and the Stock Exchange because they believe they are the only careers that will enable them to move out of their childhood home – it’s going to be a very wonky and boring world, indeed.
Humans are for obvious reasons invested in humanity – and this applies to the professional world. We want other humans to cut our hair, fix us when we’re sick, watch play Hamlet or a violin, or teach our kids. Yes, the world is becoming mechanised, but we are not going to give up on humans anytime soon – and telling kids they are about to become second-class citizens to a master robot race is scare-mongering nonsense. Equally, telling kids that only a handful of jobs or careers ‘matter’ is also wrong.
But all ambition must be tempered by realism – and Generation Z must be asked and ask and ask themselves the second critical question: How can I turn my talent/skill/dream into something useful people will need?
Generation Z should look at their fields of dreams and figure out all the relevant and related fields, asking if I don’t get to do X, what does Y and Z look like?
Life is an unpredictable road full of unexpected twists and turns, and people rarely end up where they thought they would when they were fourteen. Young people all have to figure out where they are going, and sending them all in the same direction is utter madness, It is however, absolutely necessary to give them every possible resource, plan (X,Y and Z) and tool to equip and ready them for the journey they are about to take.
Chloe Combi, Author and Generation Z expert, Thought Laboratories