In a year full of uncertainty and struggle, Generation Z has proven that they will receive any victory that comes their way with open arms. Whether this be by using platforms such as TikTok and Twitter to ensure a low turnout at Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, or by being praised for sharing infographics on their Instagram story that say “Vote!” or “What’s Going on in _____,” this display of activism is how a whole generation has brought itself together and prided itself on being “the most progressive generation.” This has unfortunately also worked towards feeding Gen Z’s savior complex.
Like every generation before it, Gen Z is fed up with the current state of the world, and more specifically the state of the U.S. Experiencing four years of a sitting president that does not have the best interest of the general public in mind, a more publicized display of violence against Black, LGBTQ+, and other BIPOC communities, and so much more has brought this disillusionment into fruition. This has created a group of teenagers that believe they have the ability to conquer the world and act as vigilantes– reality is more complicated than that, however. The truth is that Gen Z ages range from 8 to 23 years old, and before 2020, most people on the older end of the Gen Z spectrum never even took pride in being a part of Gen Z. There is always a certain amount of truth to the phrase “the youth is the only hope for the future,” but as of right now, there is only so much that Gen Z can actually do.
A savior complex is defined as “A psychological construct which makes a person feel the need to save other people,” according to the blog PeopleSkillsDecoded.com. While Generation Z’s penchant for justice and reform regarding real world issues does not reflect badly on them, the newfound idea that “Gen Z has been through so much, more than any other generation has” does. It is true that Generation Z is experiencing a global pandemic, the loss of daily routine, and refraining from doing many of the things they love to do, but so is every other generation that currently exists. Past generations have fought for women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, the end of segregation, and have been the main proponents of where the country currently is in terms of progress. While violence against marginalized communities is still a concern and very much a reality, Gen Z has no right to act as though they are the first to notice these issues when they have been protested for decades.
There is no doubt that Generation Z has grown up in an era dominated by technology and media– often the source of important current news but also copious amounts of misinformation. Rather than taking action about a lot of real life issues, there is an excessive amount of theorizing and fantasizing about the future of activism. One main issue is that Gen Z finds ways to latch onto certain amounts of people at a time, viewing them as the savior they always needed and the next face for young people. This has happened to the young students who witnessed the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who were made the face of gun control activism, Greta Thunberg, who has been made the poster-girl for climate change activism, and Claudia Conway, who had been deemed the only “reliable” source of news regarding the Trump Administration just months ago. This is an immense pressure being placed on people that are so young– why does it have to be their battle to fight? Why should they have to be the poster-person for an entire generation, the picture perfect example of activism? Greta Thunberg said it best in a fit of passion and anger while addressing the United Nations in September 2019: “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us for hope? How dare you.” Placing only young people at the forefront of their conversations is Gen Z’s way of simply trying to appear better than generations before them in terms of advocacy. Instead, collaborating and working together with more experienced, older generations can not only bring in more nuanced and knowledgeable perspectives, but help to bridge the generational gap.
The issue of theorizing and fantasizing has become apparent through the use of TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter. Recently, “Gen Z” was trending on Twitter for a series of TikToks fantasizing radical examples of activism and things that Gen Z could do that were completely unachievable and dystopian. A TikTok that has been made the main focus on criticism, made by user @kiara.sunn, shows a teenage girl marching in place with a bat in her hand and slowed Christmas music playing in the background, which reads: “POV: he gets elected and on christmas day, gen z marches to the white house to uphold our constitutional right to overthrow a corrupt government.” TikToks such as this spurred an entire subculture of TikToks regarding fantasy activism; another TikTok using the same song, made by user @catzrcool_gacha_art, reads “Okay but imagine gen z walking away from the whitehouse after we lit it on fire with this song in the background.” Another series of TikToks showing creators acting as pieces in a museum in the future that display all of the hardships Gen Z faced has been subject to jokes and mock response videos, and TikToks praising Gen Z for the bare minimum have been put in their place. A TikTok by user @secret.__.acc0unt reads “Can we take a minute to think ab Gen Z,” listing “We made a plan to raid Area 51,” “We made our own language ‘SHKSHAJKSHD,’” “We’re all getting matching tattoos,” “We pranked the president,” “we turned [the crying and death emoji] into laughing emoji,” “We memorized a two minute voicemail about Rachel,” “We invented dark humor,” “We turned [fairy emoji, heart emoji, and sparkly emoji] into hate comments,” and “We cancel people whenever we want” as the generation’s accomplishments.
While Gen Z prides itself on being socially progressive and justice oriented, recently social media has turned activism into a display of superiority. This has caused serious topics such as Black Lives Matter, the policing system, and other injustices to be turned into somewhat of an aesthetic: teens putting BLM in their bio surrounded by cute emojis and sharing images saying “Hello Kitty says ACAB” has made light of what have been life-changing situations for others. Whoever did not post infographics on their story or post a black square on blackout Tuesday were subject to criticism, despite that not necessarily meaning that they are racist or unsupporting of the cause. Actions like this have proven that while many members of Gen Z are genuinely concerned with the way the world works, many are using it to boost their own self esteem and make themselves seem like the definition of activism. This ties into the idea of a Gen Z savior complex because it has created an obsession with doing everything in their power to share the struggles of others, and for many it has been for completely selfish reasons.
Here at Zenerations, we acknowledge the harm that the Gen Z savior complex presents, and will be closely examining our content in order to ensure that our organization does not perpetuate this. While we still firmly believe that Generation Z presents a great sense of unity, has created a new, fun culture with TikTok, fashion trends, and TV/film, has largely contributed to the rise of digital activism, and has many extraordinary individuals in its midst, we’re aware that we aren’t superior to any generation. Rather, Zenerations is focused on celebrating the talents of the youth, using education and the global spread of resources to allow even younger people to learn about societal issues, and is following in the footsteps of previous generations to continue the work of amplifying and spotlighting marginalized voices.
How to Actively Combat the Gen Z Savior Complex
- Don’t try to exclude other generations (millennials, boomers, etc.) when it comes to advocacy
- Collaboration between age groups can not only bring in more nuanced perspectives, but also bridge the generational gap
- Educate yourself on what performative activism is and reflect on whether you have been participating in it.
- Sharing infographics is GREAT. It spreads awareness and reaches different audiences, but make sure to use infographics as a STEPPING OFF POINT to do further reading and educating yourself.
- Actions such as MONETARY DONATIONS, volunteering, and going to protests (while adhering to COVID-19 Guidelines) are a huge help.
- Donation links to BIPOC/LGBTQ+ Organizations and Direct Action Resources are linked in our bio. Our t-shirt collection with Progressive Threads is giving 1OO% of proceeds to Color of Change, so buy one today!
- Celebrate the community and the culture that Gen Z has created, but recognize that yes, while people getting involved in activism at a young age is good, we still have a lot to learn.
- Give credit where credit is due. We are not the FIRST to protest, the first activist generation, the first to notice societal issues, just with global digital communication and social media it appears that you are seeing much more content shared around, giving the IDEA that we’re the MOST ACTIVE in terms of social justice and advocacy.
- Remember that the youth CAN make a difference, we CAN make change, we CAN improve our futures and the futures of others, but not without the help of older generations, and certainly not while some Gen Z-ers still harbor a savior or superiority complex.
- It is key to recognize the Gen Z savior complex and actively combat it by being willing to learn from mistakes, keep your compassion in check, and empower others.
Director of Editing
Dylan is a 16-year old junior at Bayonne High School, who displays multiple interests in politics, activism, writing, reading, and journalism. She is passionate about making changes in the world as a member of Generation Z, and strongly believes that the youth can influence and change the world in the best way possible.