Chloe Combi

Work, Gen Z, Power and Stranger Things 2

4th November 2017

So, the coming few weeks look like: Pepsi, Red Bull, Istanbul, Russia, House of Commons, working with another major political party, and not one, but two books to seriously drill into – more of which in a couple of weeks.


It’s a diverse way to work and I’m endlessly thrilled that I get to tap-dance across different industries and bring something of value. As ever, it’s unwise to give (your own) state secrets away too freely, and quite often it is requested the work I do remains confidential – but this I will say:


Whatever work I do, the question asked most anxiously, is why we, and young people in particular, are so unhappy? There aren’t any simple answers to this, and I’m not convinced young people are significantly more or less happy than they’ve ever been, but what I do think is, everyone is more confused than they’ve ever been, largely because there is so much noise and so, so, so many questions – and this manifests in something that often feels like unhappiness.


One of the less-nice features of the last five years, and one, thankfully, that seems to have peaked and be heading in a better direction, is the fact that those with the loudest voices have been the most listened to voices. Loud rarely equates to wise, and yet in the last half-decade, we have rewarded these voices with an excess of power, praise and money they most richly didn’t deserve. But perhaps most gratingly of all, we’ve given them answers they demanded for questions that only empowered them and polarised everyone else – Isn’t this awful? Who can we blame? Don’t you hate it, when…? Wouldn’t life be better if…? Are you scared?


The first lesson you get when you get taught how to teach is that if you ask a negative question, you don’t just get a negative answer, but an angrier, powerless-feeling subject. And this works, perhaps best of all on the young, because the younger you are, the more vulnerable your place is in the world, and the more malleable your views. But, also, young people have a right to be pissed off that their education has been tampered with by clueless politicians, that university is fast becoming a debt-racket, that landlords can hold them to ransom, and that there’s a cheery expectation from astronomically wealthy corporations that most of them should work for a free for an undisclosed amount of time just in the hope of receiving a pay-cheque one day.


So, the answer I give to the question about us all being so unhappy, is to let that one go, (because it’s not a particularly useful question) and ask instead how we can convince people – and particularly the youngest generation – that they are not powerless. People, brands, (some) politicians, and organisations are really engaging with this, and creating things (slogans, policies, adverts, manifestos etc.) that not only project a message of empowerment, but also do practical things to actually make it happen. And it’s not just altruism driving this, there is a creeping realisation that Generation Z are widely rejecting things that remain stuck in the era of creating anxiety and fear for profit.


It is absolutely no surprise at all, that the absolute, unifying smash-hit of this year has been Stranger Things 2 – a story about a bunch of plucky, not-glamorous, nice, normal kids working together to overcome a shadowy, amorphous, seemingly insurmountable evil – and (nearly) winning. There are so many elements that appeal about this great show, but the message that seems to resonate most with the kids is, you can be small, scared, imperfect, poor, angry, and even sometimes alone, but you are never, ever powerless.


In a case of life imitating art, the power of the ‘smaller’ guy and girl in the face of what must have once seemed something insurmountably powerful and dark, has been demonstrated with heart-stopping force in the last few weeks. Individual heroism, strength in numbers, and total refusal to be silenced has toppled both powerful individuals and their vast empires – empires apparently built on the pain, abuse and complicity of others. Of course, all the voices that were made so powerful by people feeling powerless are shrieking about witch-hunts, snowflakes and victimhood and so on, but they are the ones scared now – because they are out of time.


If you tell people they are weak and worthless for long enough, they start to believe it – and these voices shouting these messages so very long and hard for too many years ago, to some extent fulfilled their own prophecies. This is a generation that has been made to feel scared, confused and arguably unhappy.


In the last few months, however, it feels like the conversation is shifting, and people are asking, how they can make things right, do better, and improve things for the next generation? The most important thing of all to realise is though we can leave a better world for the next generation, we can’t cushion them from every blow, or protect them from failure or pain – it’s far better and more useful to give them the tools to handle these knocks on their own.


Some of the best lessons come from fiction, and we could do a hell of a lot worse to borrow from the message of Stanger Things 2: the adventure is rocky, scary and sometimes it seems easier to do nothing than something, but there is strength in individuals, strength in numbers, you can change the world for the better and have a whole lot of fun along the way.