After the First World War, the surviving young adult population were dubbed the ‘Lost Generation’: marred by the global devastation they had experienced throughout the war, they became disorientated, disillusioned and restless. This played out in the pure hedonism of the Roaring Twenties – think Gatsby parties, a disregard for traditional concerns, and a new preoccupation with whatever makes you feel good the quickest, because nothing mattered anyway. Sound familiar?
Well, ish. This summer has largely seen a shift back into the riotous hedonism we saw a century ago, propelled by a number of different factors. The war-equivalent, of course, being the pandemic – global devastation leading to a global sense of disillusionment with the powers that be, outdated constraints of today’s working age and of life in general. And whilst this sentiment is being felt across the board, arguably no group has seen more pronounced declarations of exasperation than Gen Z.
With years of school and uni disrupted, cancelled or outright abandoned thanks to the various lockdowns (all *mostly* in the name of protecting the older generations over the possible health risks for the young’ens), maybe it’s no surprise that young people just Don’t Want To Work – although, as this thread points out, this has been a label shafted on the young people of every generation by their elders, no matter the circumstance and destined to be repeated as each grows up.
However, the Great Resignation of 2022 does suggest that something slightly different is going on. Coined by Professor Anthony Klotz in an interview last year, the term refers to the overwhelming number of people quitting their jobs post-panny-d, unwilling to give up the location, hours and travel flexibility that it afforded when things went back to ‘normal’. With some reports suggesting that 20% of the workforce was quitting, this also raised the stakes for people applying to jobs: graduates and young people entering the workforce were able to demand more favourable conditions for any job they were applying for – or they would simply go elsewhere, to the masses of other positions available.
With inflation hitting new highs and the cost of living crisis heating up too, entry-level salaries just don’t seem to be cutting it for Gen Z, especially when over half of that would be lost to travel, rent and student loan repayments for a course that they barely had any teaching for. However, there’s other factors that indicate the presence of the Summer of Hedonism, too – one of the main ones being Elf Bars.
Seeming to explode into an epidemic in the last few months alone, Elf Bars have become to Gen Z what avocado is to Millennials: a necessary life source. Before the Bar, smoking was on a downward trajectory for anyone who isn’t French, but any hope of a non-nicotine-addicted generation has become all but diminished, thanks to these sweet-tasting colourful bars. No matter where you are, you’re never far away from a plume of artificially sweet smoke, in flavours spanning Kiwi Passionfruit Guava (would make a great smoothie, tbh) to Energy Ice (aka Red Bull flavour – and what even is ‘ice’?).
The appeal makes sense, kind of. Elf Bars swap out the anxiety-inducing graphic images of tar-blackened lungs on the packaging for a streamlined pastel cylinder, and the bitter taste of tobacco for flavours that hark back to childhood. However, their darker side is the nicotine content, akin to around 50 cigarettes, or 400 depending on how tipsy the person arguing against them in the smoking area is. What’s more, Elf Bars are disposable, and clogging up the streets, fields and bins of the UK. Eco-motivated vegans and people who have vowed to never shop fast fashion are puffing their way through (and then binning) 3 bars a week, which kind of seems to defeat the point.
With the complete saturation of Elf Bars into society, it seems all but inevitable that BuzzFeed will come out with a quiz on ‘what Elf Bar flavour are you?’ and catalyse the beginning of the end of their popularity, but their rapid domination of the market also indicates that decades long trends can be reversed, as well as the growing disillusionment with selfless choices after the long plight of Covid. And to an extent, we get it: why should people deprive themselves of a non-sustainable nicotine hit when Kylie Jenner is taking 3 minute flights on a private jet, or the price of a pint is rarely below £6. With the climate crisis induced 40 degree heat, the highest volume of job vacancies for decades and the wider uncertainty of the future for Gen Z, it’s no surprise that they’re being hailed as the Lost Generation 2.0. Nothing matters anyway.
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