The Gen Z Intergenerational Clash
BY ADI RAMAN '23
Digital natives. The term has come to describe Gen Z (1997-2012), who have only ever known life guided by addictive blue lights. Often, Gen Z seeks companionship online, only to clash with other generations such as Millennials (1981-1996) in the process. These minor conflicts appear inconsequential at face value, but they hide a deeper purpose: through using social media, Gen Z constructs an age boundary between itself and other generations, reflecting how groups of people rely on stereotypes to exhibit control over other groups.
This separation manifests itself in Gen Z’s rejection of Millennial culture, such as Facebook, skinny jeans, and side parts. Popular online platforms like TikTok have catalyzed this rejection; when members of Gen Z decide to make fun of certain clothes, styles, or behaviors, other members jump on the bandwagon to bond with their peers. Such behaviors may stem from Gen Z’s efforts to distance itself from the “lame” and “lazy” Millennial, the stereotype that Millennials were excessively rewarded for participation in unimportant, childhood activities and consequently do not work as hard as older generations.
However, Millenials are not the only target of Gen Z’s digital taunts. The “OK Boomer” trend went viral in 2019 when Gen Z used the phrase in response to any close-minded opinions often associated with the conservative Baby Boomers (1955-1964). Additionally, Gen Z has labeled some of Generation X (1965-1980) as “Karens”: a stereotype of an entitled, middle-aged white woman who looks for things to complain about in retail establishments.
These associations, while sometimes valid, create age boundaries that allow individuals to assert social superiority over others. On a global scale, stereotypes are pinned on certain races, genders, and religions. For instance, Jewish people have been mocked for certain facial features and stereotyped as greedy due to their historic involvement in the banking industry. Members of other religions used these generalizations to separate themselves from Judaism and its followers. While its implications are nowhere near as harmful and its reasoning much less malicious, Gen Z’s behavior follows a disturbingly similar pattern; Gen Z, which mainly consists of teenagers and children, separates itself from other generations to affirm a higher social standing. Because the average teenager or child often lives under the strict confines of school and parental supervision, many poke fun at other age groups to find a common interest to bond over as well as to exercise control over other groups.
Older generations may view Gen Z’s behavior as disrespectful, but its behavior has certainly been magnified by social media; a person’s actions in one instance can spread like wildfire across the globe. Previously, youthful angst had primarily been directed towards older people within an environment of their peers. Regardless, the boundaries set by these jokes are easily sensationalized via social media, and the lasting impact they will have on Gen Z’s intergenerational interactions as its members burgeon into adulthood remains unknown.