When I started writing this piece, I stumbled upon the following quote:
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint”.
The quote, allegedly attributed to ancient Greek poet Hesiod, seemed to be a brilliant start for an article discussing youth and what I think is the inaccuracy of a concept like generational linearity in modern society. And, in fact, for a couple of weeks I kept on polishing this introduction until I found out that the quote was actually misattributed to Hesiod and there’s no evidence of him saying that. Furthermore, there’s not even a certain source to link the quote to. So basically, it’s crap.
However here I am, quarantined in my house in Southern Italy reflecting on the relationship between generations and youth and how this relates to the current issues in the creative industries. The question is: do we want the new generation to ‘fit in’? Or it’s time to free ourself from the framework of generations and persecute an ageless youth?
In a world where the single’s personality abdicates in favor of a collective behavior, belonging to a generation seems to be an inescapable truth: “It’s not you, it’s your whole generation.” Never as today responsibility for generational behavior is at its max. Politicians, corporations and, ultimately, advertising agencies keep quietly inventing new generations on demand, as the current liquid state of life brings distress, anxiety and fear to people who lack of anything that is fixed, ‘solid’ or durable. We change jobs, partners, political views and sexual orientation, and generations are there to set the status-quo within an industry who has a peculiar fetish for predictability. Yes, because companies use generations as a ready-made focus group to outline the possible behavior and needs of their next customer.
In such a scenario, the assertion of individuality as a rite of passage has been fucked up by generational branding : Gen X, Y, Z are mere labels at the disposal of corporations who use them to predict the behavior of its audience and [safely] speak to them through what they call ‘personalized contents’ — where personalized stands for: ‘molded on a cluster of 100,000 very different individuals that somehow fall under the same generational sub-category’.
I don’t believe in generations.
I believe that the whole idea of generations is highly relative as today, for the first time in history, four different generations are working together, sharing desks in the same workplace. Parents get addicted to Candy Crush while kids dig into old records for the sake of old times when the Hippies movement would have justified them to wear that flowery gilet found in the grandma’s closet.
Generational linearity is gone. Yet the industry keep posting jobs ads, desperately demanding for “New Blood”, whereas is not clear what “new blood” stands for.
‘New Gen’ is not a label, neither indicates ‘people of a certain age’. I believe that youth is ageless. And as a result of that, youth can be intended as a mode, an attitude, an emancipation from boredom, from prescription, from tradition.
The youth-mode is being disrespectful towards the status-quo set by the industry. Not a lack of politeness, but the willingness to challenge the longstanding institutions without simply accepting the legacy they carry with them.
The youth-mode sets you free from the generational framework.
Let me give you some examples.
Everyone, more or less, has a little knowledge of how advertising work in magazines like VOGUE. Picking up a copy from September 2019, I managed to count up to 356 Ad pages out of 596, making the book 59% advertising overall. (That was way before I found out I could easily get this information through a simple Google query 🤦🏻♂️).
Besides my inability to think like a digital native and simply google “How many ad pages are in Vogue?” what emerges from the data is that, you like it or not, in order to have a full experience of the contents in a magazine, we are inevitably exposed to a huge amount of ads.
That’s a matter of fact and perhaps the main source of revenues for almost all the business related to printed magazines out there. Yet someone is doing things differently.
Wallet magazine (or how its editor-in-chief Elise By Olsen prefers it to be called: “The Wallet”) is a beautiful example of how the status-quo in the printed magazines industry can be challenged while still remaining relevant both on the consumer and the business side .
Extremely content driven, The Wallet features perforations on the side of the pages containing ads, so one can rip them out of the magazine for an ads-free version of it. Think of it as a sort of analog ad-block, as its editor defined it. The control on sponsored contents is therefore shifted over the readers and the usual way of doing advertising on printed magazine is eventually challenged.
The status-quo has been fucked up. ✂️
Another example comes from 2016. For the launch of the sneakers in collaboration with Reebok, London-based clothing brand PALACE gives the finger to all the glossy and polished TV spots dominating the internet, by producing what one could define as a shred version of a 90’s commercial. Featuring Jonah Hill and making its debut on Dazed, the 2:04 film “somehow has everything from high-quality bestiality references to partial nudity and a tongue planted so firmly in cheek that it’s practically a piercing”.
Not your usual commercial.
What these things have in common is the “I don’t give a fuck energy” that the youth-mode brings with itself . This energy is — in reality — a pure regression to a state before the suit and the tie sucked all the life out of creatives, turning them into corporate drones whose deference seems to be the most valuable quality in the industry.
Those people didn’t want to be revolutionary, neither they want to be “provocative” towards the industry. They just embraced a different way of doing things: instead of reinforcing tradition with deference, the youth-mode gave them the energy to explore the unexplored and subvert the tradition. Here’s where innovation came from.
The youth-mode is the emancipation of an age-defined youth. The freedom from the generational framework that makes us simply ‘fit in’.
The youth-mode is not an antagonist of the past, neither an enemy of the longstanding institutions out there.
The youth-mode is what I believe to be the energy that makes us embrace the unpredictability of the future, to design a better one.