The Desensitization of a Generation

Ella York - Teen Aspect - May 24th, 2022
St. Johns County School District
 

Two weeks ago, when I walked into school for one of my exams, I was ready to concentrate and score well on a test I’d spent countless hours preparing for. The last thing I expected to see was the corpse of a shark hanging in the school courtyard, blood dripping down from its maw. The story has made national news; some say it was a senior prank gone wrong, others say it was a couple stupid kids with too much time on their hands.


Whatever really happened, one thing is for sure: the sight of the animal was a grotesque image that nobody anticipated would be on a school campus. But despite having smelled the rotten stench and seen the bloody carcass, I had an exam to take. I felt focused and calm and walked out satisfied that I scored as highly as I could. In fact, I had forgotten about the shark incident entirely. After all, I had a quiz in chemistry later that day, I couldn’t let something so trivial distract me from that.


By the time I got home, the shark was old news. I was almost surprised when my family asked me about it. But as I reflected on it, I was shocked that I had brushed it off so quickly. When did I become so used to such violent acts? In fact, who could ever even come up with such a horrific idea in the first place?


This got me thinking and led me to the realization that my generation has become so desensitized that even dead sharks hung in schools doesn’t seem entirely outlandish for us.


This left me even more curious, because of all generations, why ours?


I came to a few conclusions about why this might be and found them rather intriguing.


First, and this might seem obvious, Gen Z has undoubtedly experienced a multitude of historic events that happen once in a lifetime. Or, if you’re a high schooler about now, they happen maybe twice a year.


It reminded me of something my mother told me in April of 2019 when Notre Dame began to burn. She told me that every generation had something that would stick with them for the rest of their lives. 9/11, World War ll, and the Vietnam War would all be good examples of these events. At the time, I’d assumed that the burning of the ancient cathedral would be it for us. It was less than a year later that the entire world changed.


We all know what happened during that first year of the pandemic; virtual everything and quarantines defined our daily lives. One of the most controversial elections ever seemed a fitting way to end the year. After 2020, we thought the worst was over. And little Ella York was convinced yet again that we’d had our big event.


2021 seemed like a new dawn, a new year where things would get better. Yet less than a week in, and there had already been riots and uproar over the recent election. Regardless of your political affiliation, I think it’s safe to assume that January 6th was not how we planned to start off the new year. Of course, we can’t forget all the variants and new strains of the virus that drove panic to an all-time high. And then, most recently, we experienced the absolute shock of Russia’s horrific invasion of Ukraine.


Basically, we’ve been through quite a lot in quite a short period of time.


But certainly, we aren’t the only age cohort with plenty of stories to tell around a campfire.


However, we are the only ones who had the Internet.


During COVID, while many of us were stuck at home, we weren’t exactly alone. Our Wi-Fi connection made sure that we could still interact with people from across the globe. So, while we might not have been together in-person, many of us remained in contact with friends and family. This hyperconnectivity in isolation is what I believe truly led to the desensitization of the youth of today.


Mental health took a nosedive during the pandemic with over 40% of people under the age of 18 reporting at least one mental health or substance abuse condition. With a staggering amount of the population of Gen Z facing mental health issues, the general humor and vernacular started to take a turn. It became commonplace to poke fun at and laugh about mental illness, especially with how frequently these things were experienced. ‘Dark humor’, as it’s come to be known, has been adopted as the favorite coping mechanism of teens today. But with inflation as high as ever and therapy rates not going down, it’s hard to blame us.


This turn in mental health doesn’t just present itself in bleak humor; the media popular today has adapted to its consumers, becoming edgier and more dramatic than ever. Crime shows have become a favorite to binge while quarantined. Ultra-dramatized shows like Euphoria have also dominated the industry, as teens look for ways to experience life vicariously through Zendaya.


It seems like everything we consume, from the news to popular TV, has become infused with a certain level of darkness and morbidity unique to our generation.


Whether it be the fault of the Internet, current events, or simply a higher tolerance for the darker aspects of life, it’s clear that Gen Z is not unaffected by the changes in the world today.


When you look back at the shark that was found hanging in my high school, it doesn’t seem as unexpected or ludicrous. Gen Z has a certain immunity to the bizarre; and sometimes things get out of hand. So out of hand, in fact, that a pregnant, endangered shark ends up beaten to death for the sake of a prank. It’s all a part of the desensitization of a generation.


References

Czeisler, M., Lane, R., & et al. (2020, December 29). Mental health, substance use, and suicidal ideation during the COVID-19 pandemic - United States, June 24–30, 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved May 8, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm


Vella, E. (2021, December 25). What happened to... the notre dame cathedral fire? Global News. Retrieved May 8, 2022, from https://globalnews.ca/news/8428101/what-happened-to-the-notre-dame-cathedral-fire/#:~:text=On%20April%2015%2C%202019%2C%20a,worked%20to%20save%20the%20building.




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