It’s no secret that the teens and young adults of today, known commonly as Gen Z are all too willing to die at any given moment. Whether it be through extremely hyperbolic expressions of inconvenience, or talk of suicide, Gen Z humor has earned a reputation for being the hallmark of poor mental health and is concerning, to say the least.
Now, self-deprecating humor has been popular for ages, and much of Gen Z culture has been reminiscent of the emergence of Dadaism, an art form that came around during World War I. The Dadaism style is characterized by existential dread, surrealism, and caricatures of the meaninglessness of life and human existence. Gen Z demonstrates some striking similarities with the young adults of the WWI era, and a resurgence of Dadaism has infiltrated modern young adult media and thinking in ways that mark Gen Z as the most stressed, depressed, cynical, and suicidal generation of people on Earth.
When it comes to this Neo Dadaism-esque style of humor that runs rampant across the screens and minds of Gen Z, however, where is the line between casual, relatable self-loathing and a genuine danger of suicide and self harm? How can we tell when the “jokes” have gone too far and when we need to recognize our obligatory concern for our mental health? It’s suicide prevention awareness month, and the pressure on my generation to stay alive is apparently becoming too much for us to handle.
It’s no surprise that we’ve seen such a strong generational shift in humor for kids and young adults today, considering the increasingly chaotic environment Gen Z is currently growing up in. Coming of age in the era of school shootings, political corruption, police brutality, partisanship, neo nazis, and the fight for social justice on more platforms than ever has without a doubt affected the way Gen Z-ers see the world we live in, and how to cope. Issues like the climate and student debt crises have us exponentially more stressed than previous generations, and unsurprisingly has resulted in a complete reevaluation of our priorities as human beings, and of whether or not life is even worth living in the first place. In the eyes of Gen Z, the world appears to be falling apart at the seams and it’s looking more and more impossible to remedy.
The chaotic, nonsensical style of Gen Z humor is a direct reflection of living in what feels like a deepening dystopia, and consists of gross exaggeration of insignificant issues, downplaying actual problems like mental illness, and a strange new genre of surreal memes. The inexplicable humor of the youngest generation is measured by relatability, which is the most problematic, considering the high frequency of suicidal humor among young adults today. We’ve become desensitized not only to the fact that the world is, allegedly, crumbling around us, but to the fact that everyone we know has a concerning amount of apathy when it comes to our own death and suicide.
The interesting part of this is, however, that Gen Z really can’t be classified as a completely apathetic group of people. In fact, there is a strong case to be made for the fact that Generation Z cares too much, rather than not at all. As much as I myself am guilty of the classic nihilistic humor and concerning amount of hyperbole in my mannerisms and sense of humor, from what I’ve seen, Gen Z is one of the most passionate, empathetic generations alive. I come from a generation of young social and political advocates, and have watched millions of kids my age fight for their right to education, safety, and physical and mental health. Gen Z has organized marches, protests, and online campaigns to stand against the death and harm of innocent people who have been victims of societal, institutional, and internalized oppression and subjugation.
So why is our strong sense of individualism and selflessness problematic enough to result in this dangerous culture of self-loathing and deprecation? Because when it all comes down to it, the stressors and terrors in and of our current socio-political landscape makes sacrifice feel like the only option, and our coping mechanisms amplify that ideology.
When it comes to having the right level of concern for Gen Z’s suicidal humor, the lines can be blurry and ill-defined, and it can be hard to combat the negativity without completely rejecting the opportunity to relate and feel close to one’s peers. It’s pretty clear at this point that as a general rule, members of Gen Z care more about the safety and health of others than ourselves, so in theory it should be easy for us to shoot down others’ negativity and suicidal ideology. While the limits and lines to suicidal humor is usually intrinsically understood within Gen Z, people looking from the outside in, like members of the Gen X or Boomer generations are understandably concerned.
As for how one should handle the anarchic energy of my generation’s “give me death or give me death” style of humor, I think the answer lies in media literacy and a general sense of compassion. There’s never any harm in refuting someone’s self-deprecating statements or offering optimism and love as often as possible. The better older generations can understand the nuances of Gen Z meme culture and humor, the easier it will be to learn to define and combat the real danger signs of mental illness. By continuing to place great importance on campaigns like Suicide Awareness Month and Mental Health Week, we might actually create a balance between relatable anti-egoism and my generation’s current fervent desire to cease existing altogether.