When I feel disappointed and angry about the division between generations – specifically the way boomers and millennials are pitted against one another – and even more specifically, the way old white men are treating Greta Thunberg and anyone else who challenges the status quo – I watch videos of Joe Keery and Gaten Matarazzo.
If you’re a fan of Stranger Things, you’ll know these guys as Steve and Dustin. Joe was born in 1992, and Gaten in 2002. They’re millennial and Gen Z, respectively; Joe is ten years older than Gaten.
My favourite videos, in order, are this one where they do a friendship test, this one where they answer the web’s most searched questions about themselves, and this one where they give advice to strangers. The reason I’ve watched each of these videos dozens of times, is because I’m so full of desperate despair about the way the voices of young people and other groups are discounted in our society, and sometimes I need an injection of pure cross-generational friendship to get me through the day.
Watch, as Joe mentions their age difference without implying he is inherently superior. Watch, as Joe acknowledges when Gaten shares something he didn’t know, or thinks is wise. Watch, as Joe shares a differing viewpoint without steamrolling Gaten. Watch, as Gaten continues to genuinely share what he thinks as a result of being treated like he has something of value to contribute.
Often, when we’re significantly older than someone else – and particularly when we’re speaking with a teenager – we reactively pull rank in ways that inhibit the person we’re speaking with, and stunt our relationship with them. I observe a lot of older people seemingly in need of deferential respect, and as someone who no longer qualifies as young, but is millennial enough to still be on the receiving end of this demand – it always makes me feel ill. It’s important to acknowledge the lived experience and history of those who are older than us – but age itself is not a measure of superiority. To believe so is to believe that youth is a measure of inferiority, and I’m not yet so invested in my own importance that I believe I inherently know better than politically engaged young people.
Right now we’re seeing this disdain aimed at Greta Thunberg for her leadership in climate activism, with her critics going as far as to pathologise her autism in addition to attacking her youth – when the pressing issues are the profound failure of (certain) world leaders, industrial capitalism, the deliberate distribution of misinformation, and the legacy of colonisation and white supremacy. As others have noted, Thunberg’s whiteness provides a level of platform and protection that young activists of colour are not afforded, despite indigenous and PoC communities being disproportionately affected by climate change, and leaders in advocating for their environments
I’m aware that in the same breath I’ve said that, I’ve also linked three videos of two white boys just being friends, as though their relationship is equivalent to the energy and determination climate activism demands of young and marginalised people. They’re not.
These videos are heart-warmers for me; we all need something to buoy us when we feel cynical, and friendship is a powerful thing. It’s rough online and in the world – for some more so than others. It’s important to join protests, donate, show up; and when you’re full of desperate despair like I am, seek out functional models of intergenerational relationships you’d like to see more of – even if they’re just videos of two friends doing trust falls and giving each other compliments.