Todays Events in Westminister, added to others cause me to reflect on this post again, one I wrote about 2 years ago: Thinking ‘What does the combined effect of tragedy and technology have on young people?’
Last Saturday, The Guardian ran a piece which talked about the characteristics of a swaythe of young adults aged 14-23/5 which they termed as ‘Generation K’ – you can read the full article here, though some of the highlights include:
“The brutal, bleak series that has captured the hearts of a generation will come to a brutal, bleak end in November when The Hunger Games:Mockingjay – Part 2 arrives in cinemas. It is the conclusion of the Hunger Games saga, which has immersed the young in a cleverly realised world of trauma, violence, mayhem and death.
For the huge appeal of The Hunger Games goes deeper than the fact that it’s an exciting tale well told. The generation who came to Katniss as young teens and have grown up ploughing through the books and queuing for the movies respond to her story in a particularly personal way.
As to why that might be, the economist and academic Noreena Hertz, who coined the term Generation K (after Katniss) for those born between 1995 and 2002, says that this is a generation riddled with anxiety, distrustful of traditional institutions from government to marriage, and, “like their heroine Katniss Everdeen, [imbued with] a strong sense of what is right and fair”.
“I think The Hunger Games resonates with them so much because they are Katniss navigating a dark and difficult world,” says Hertz, who interviewed 2,000 teenagers from the UK and the US about their hopes, fears and beliefs, concluding that today’s teens are shaped by three factors: technology, recession and coming of age in a time of great unease.
“This is a generation who grew up through 9/11, the Madrid bombings, the London bombings and Islamic State terrors. They see danger piped down their smartphones and beheadings on their Facebook page,” she says. “My data showed very clearly how anxious they are about everything from getting into debt or not getting a job, to wider issues such as climate change and war – 79% of those who took part in my survey worried about getting a job, 72% worried about debt, and you have to remember these are teenagers.
“In previous generations teenagers did not think in this way. Unlike the first-era millennials [who Hertz classes as those aged between 20 and 30] who grew up believing that the world was their oyster and ‘Yes we can’, this new generation knows the world is an unequal and harsh place.”
Writer and activist Laurie Penny, herself a first-era millennial at the age of 29, agrees. “I think what today’s young people have grasped that my generation didn’t get until our early 20s, is that adults don’t know everything,” she says. “They might be trying their best but they don’t always have your best interests at heart. The current generation really understands that – they’re more politically engaged and they have more sense of community because they’re able to find each other easily thanks to their use of technology.”
“Ultimately, the message of the Hunger Games is that everything’s not going to be OK,” says Penny. “One of the reasons Jennifer Lawrence is so good is because she lets you see that while Katniss is heroic, she’s also frightened all of the time. She spends the whole story being forced into situations she doesn’t want to be in. Kids respond because they can imagine what it’s like to be terrified but know that you have to carry on.”
It’s incontestable that we live in difficult times and that younger generations in particular may be more acutely aware that things aren’t improving any time soon, but is it a reach to say that fans of the Hunger Games are responding as much to the world around them as to the books?”
And it goes on saying that : “I don’t think that the majority of young readers are connecting to it (Hunger Games) on a political level, but I do think that it taps into their sense of anxiety. It’s clear that today’s teenagers feel a great deal of anxiety, that they’re under a lot of pressure, both internal and external, and that depression rates are rising among teens. There’s a sense that the hyper-connected world can be overwhelming, that there are no clear boundaries any more and today’s teens always have to be ‘on’ – given all that, a girl with a bow and arrow sorting shit out is a lovely story.” (The Guardian)
Forgive the lengthy extracts from the article, but i think its worth considering at length. The emergence of another generation label (following X, Y etc) and the generalisations it makes are of concern. Yet, spend much time with young people, and spend it with them in the space where they get the opportunity to talk about things they want to, and thoughts of fear, worry and the reality of being exposed to reality are common. They are afraid. Fearful.
Now, it might have been said in the past that this ‘Generation K label’ might represent only a small sample of young people, and true, not every young person is a Hunger Games fan. Not every young person has a mobile phone. Not every young person has a despondent view of the future. Not every young person has seen an ISIS beheading on you tube, on their phone, in their bedroom. But many in the wealthy – but futuristically bleak- west can do.
So, what is the reaction to this? On one hand there is a market out there for a shed-load quantity of resources; “reaching gen K”, ‘Gen K church’, ‘Being a Millenial leader to Gen K’s’ – playing catch up to the culture – because ‘relevance’ is what the communication of the Gospel needs- isnt it? But whats the problem. The problem is that who knows how long this is going to go on for, for, and that any attempt to assess the midset of a generalised view of young people lacks the authenticity of the personal connection. Its been prejudged. And what does relevence do to the message?
In our team meeting today at DYFC, we considered the article and a few other observations from the young people we’re in contact actually with. We agreed about the fear and worry. Mental Health concerns are rife.
The young people in one group wanted to do a session on Cancer, death and ending life well. Bloody hell. If thats not wanting to deal with reality head on im not sure what is. Forget the environmental concerns i had when i was 12.
Yet we considered how that in the prominence of a vlogging and You tube star- young people like having social commentary, like being talked to and with. By someone random. Is that so different to a different version of the comforting humour of the Broom cupboard circa 1991 with andy crane?
We considered how the direct access that young people had of the brutality of life & death – meant that they had limited need for filters. If they want to see it. They can. Everything on the internet is true, especially if filmed. They crave direct, and real. And they might be willing to read 2500 pages of real apolocolypse in Hunger Games, or Insurgent/Divergent.
We also discussed the reality of speed, of user affected choice. That the news is shaped by uploaded phone footage, that Wikipedia is user shaped, and that to some degree young people carry and adapt their own alter ego by way of facebook profile, its user led.
So, what place then for the traditional youth club? Or youth work in a church? Even if the former doesnt really exist, the latter does. What emphasis will ‘being relevent’ for this culture take on? and by trying to do ‘relevence’ will trying to catch up, or be like, or talk to – come across as. Like the bad controlling parent possibly? But what does any youthwork provision offer for young people- exposed to the reality of life , and exposed to it in between cute cat pictures on their facebook feed.
What kind of youth culture within the church can now protect this over exposed so called ‘generation’ of young people? How many warnings or helpful videos can be produced to give the church enough information to keep up. It wont matter. Like the police on detached, they are always reactionary.
The question is – can we take ‘relevence’ out of gospel intended mission statements, and instead, think what do young adults need, what will they always need, what are they craving?
In 1997 – Rick Bartlett’s report on the future of youth ministry suggested that Authenticity was what was required for Generation X-Y (and this was written pre-Diana’s death, or 9/11), it was the same for Generation X. Its the same now.
As soon as someone is perceived as false, whether youthworker, celebrity, or friend. They are shunned. Autheniticty is the key. Yet Authenticity and Faithfulness have been lost. Lost in a youthwork world of attempting to be relevant. Lost, even if incarnational presence is important, and thats the other thing, if young adults are used to having control in their power of their own online personality, used to choice – what of the way in which they have access to choice in the youthwork they participate in?
Does youthwork that has a value base transcend the desire for relevence? In working with young people according to values, and in conversation, and with their interests, needs and their education and liberation in mind does that dissipate any need to be relevant. I need to act so that they are important, valued and listened to. I need to be listening to them in local context, and exploring faith with them. The message of love, of Jesus accepting them and they having opportunity to become part of different, real, and at times gory story (have you read the Old testament recently) is possible, starting from, not relevance, but being authentic & present. Do Christian & youthwork values transcend relevance?
What would it mean to help young people to be liberated from the nature of the oppressions they face in the culture created around them? Is that not a better position to take? How can young people be freed? When they feel afraid.
And if they want gore and a relevent real story. Give them the Old Testament & The New testament, Not some passionless, softened down Jesus who wouldnt say boo to a bloody goose. And let them read it no holds barred.
Back to today. I am also reminded that in the tragedy, there is the unexplicable humanity that people show during such tragedy, to help, to watch over, to call for help, to intervene. Stories of humanity need to be shared with young people, maybe that will help. Provide stories of hopefulness.