This article in The Guardian last week caught my attention. I find the trend towards illiberalism fascinating – in fact that is what the current film I am making is all about. We are seeing evidence of this across all age groups, it’s just more difficult to unpack in the context of Gen Z because, in many ways, they seem far more accepting of difference than older cohorts.
Cancel culture is an understandable reaction to some of the extreme views we are being exposed to daily. In my opinion, the normalisation of extremism is one of the most insidious outcomes of social media. In the pre-‘information super highway’ world, before the advent of tech companies driven by a business model of clicks and data, these extreme views remained on the margins, now they are given centre stage.
Worse still, what if you say something online that someone doesn’t like? You’re now far more likely to be the victim of direct vitriol, even extending to threats to your life and those of your loved ones. If you’d grown up in a digital world saturated with hate speech, wouldn’t you want to cancel it out? It feels like the rise of intolerance is driving the rise of intolerance – it’s self-perpetuating.
The polarisation we are witnessing today is a pendulum that has swung too far on both sides. Right wing conservatism has gone too far. Cancel culture has gone too far. And, this comes at a moment in history when we urgently need to find global consensus if we are to mitigate the worst effects of the climate crisis. The challenge we face now is how to find that middle ground. But how do we do that if both sides are so entrenched in their views that we are no longer willing to listen to one another and find consensus?
When I was making I Am Gen Z the message came through from Gen Z that they feel it is their responsibility to fix the world. I visited a school group of year 7s recently who had watched I Am Gen Z. One of them asked, “if older generations expect Gen Z to fix the world, why did they break it in the first place?”. You have to love the logic of a 12 year old. They did also want to know what the solution to world peace was – we ran out of time to go into that.
Dear reader, as you mull this over I will leave you to watch the closing scene of I Am Gen Z, it gives an insight into what life looks like from the point of view of Gen Z.