An interesting interview popped up in Matthew Belloni’s Puck newsletter this week (elsewhere in Puck, Belloni name-checked writers who spoke out unabashedly during the strike, questioning if this will make them un-hire-able going forward. Do not consider this an endorsement of Puck, I just like this one interview). Belloni sat down with a group of young interns, all of them 25 or under. He asked them a series of questions about Hollywood, cinema, movie-going, streaming, celebrity, and where the industry goes from here, and I found some of the answers worth considering.
There’s a tendency to blow off the youths for not knowing what they’re talking about—and it is true, when you’re 20, 22, you don’t know what you don’t know. I think 25 is when it starts dawning on us that we don’t know anything, and neither does anyone else—but 1) Hollywood actually has a youth problem, both in appealing to the youth market, and in hiring practice, as the elders of the industry refuse to retire and let younger people take the creative and business reins, and 2) the insight of outsiders is always valuable. A young person just beginning their career is an outsider who might have a fresh perspective on stale problems. Let’s get into it.
When asked if Hollywood is “doing a good job catering to young people”, the answer was a resounding “no”. 22-year-old Stephanie says that too many stories are centered on “‘this mass force is destroying all of civilization.’ And no one wants to hear that.” Well, this is where you don’t know what you don’t know. Part of that trend is an old impulse for humans to tell stories of existential destruction because on some level, we think we deserve it. War, famine, suffering, now climate change—there’s no shortage of existential guilt for humanity, and the older we get, the more we feel it.
But more specifically, it’s a reaction to 9/11. Stephanie is 22, she was born into and grew up steeped in the post-9/11 miasma, but she doesn’t carry that particular psychic scar like older generations do (just like Millennials don’t carry the Vietnam or World War II scar of our parents and grandparents). Of course, stories that are formed out of a reaction to that event—like, for instance, the entire superhero genre—won’t resonate the same way.
She does, however, state that “[y]oung people want rooted stories that actually have an emotional core with characters that remind us of ourselves, just going through small day-to-day problems, like in The Office or Friends.” So THAT’S why Gen Z is so into Friends! But really, she’s talking about her generation’s psychic scar, which is the sheer chaos of growing up under the constant threat of school shootings, economic disaster, and rapid social upheaval. Gen Z, and the Alpha kids behind them, grew up in a very chaotic world, without even a sitcom’s pretense of stability. Of course, they want their entertainment to be hopeful, uplifting, and to deal more with realistic, solvable problems than existential threats.
Then there’s 20-year-old Jadon, a self-confessed “Disney nerd”, who lost respect for Bob Iger, saying of him, “the Wizard of Oz is just the swindler from Kansas.” This is what I’m saying! Bob Iger irreparably damaged his reputation during these strikes! Of his Wizard analogy, he goes on to say, “That’s how the whole strike has felt, looking at the studio heads—except David Zaslav, who always kind of sucked.” Cue the sad trombone noise for Zaz, constantly catching strays.
And when asked about celebrity and movie stars, they seem pretty apathetic, which is in tune with the “death of the Movie Star” we’ve been observing for the last 20+ years. 25-year-old Kent is a “maybe” on Zendaya, saying, “I don’t think Zendaya has shown what she can actually do.” So…people Zendaya’s age don’t watch Euphoria. That actually jibes with my impression of Euphoria’s audience as skewing older, people more likely to connect it to the high school soaps of eras past like 90210 and Gossip Girl than, like, Riverdale. But also, it fits with Stephanie’s thing about not wanting to see entertainment where problems feel insurmountable.
Finally, 20-year-old Emily declares she “used to like [Chris Evans] before Captain America”. (Chris Evans’ pre-Cap career mostly occurred when she was a literal child, but okay.) Kent added that Ghosted, the admittedly wretched Apple TV+ Evans made with Ana de Armas, was “the end for both of them”. My reaction to this was the physical embodiment of the skull emoji, but pulling back a little, he’s talking about selling out. Ghosted is such an obvious cash grab and Evans and de Armas are just going through the motions, Kent clocked the sellout. If there is one thing the youths will always have strong feelings about, it’s selling out.
Live long and gossip,