Anxious, distrustful, angry: meet Generation K

In your favour: Jennifer Lawrence has spoken out against Hollywood’s gender pay gap © Lionsgate

The final Hunger Games sequel is the most anticipated film of the year. The franchise is so popular that its heroine has provided one common label for today’s teens. Are we all Katniss now?

By the beginning of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, Panem — North America’s dystopian future state — has been plunged into war. The poor and oppressed members of the ‘districts’ outside the luxurious Capitol are coming together to rebel against the corrupt and sinister President Snow.

Meanwhile Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is severely traumatised by three films’ worth of brutal violence and emotional torment. She never wanted to be part of this war — and she is trying, above all else, to stay alive.

The first book in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy was published in 2008, just as the financial crash stripped the world of its economic security and prosperous, optimistic outlook. By 2012, 65 million copies of the three books in the series had been sold in the USA alone. The first three films have made £1.5bn.

But as the franchise gathered success, the generation of Katniss readers grew up in an increasingly troubled world — one of tough austerity measures, government surveillance, and rising terrorism.

Earlier this year, the economist Noreena Hertz surveyed and interviewed teenage girls born between 1995-2002, and found that they were more anxious about ‘existential threats’, more distrustful of authority, and less interested in traditional ‘social mores’ like marriage and parenthood.

The phenomenon led Hertz to name current 13-20 year olds ‘Generation K’ — a reference to The Hunger Games’ long-suffering but strong-willed heroine.

‘I think The Hunger Games resonates with them so much because they are Katniss navigating a dark and difficult world,’ she said. ‘But like Katniss, Generation K also has a strong sense of what is right and fair.’

Let the games begin

Today’s teenagers have no shortage of things to be worried about, says New Statesman’s Laurie Penny. It is no wonder they identify so strongly with Katniss. The obsession with dystopian futures stems from fears over questions like ‘How will I survive when the world I know collapses?’ and ‘How will I protect my family?’ The young people of 2015 are more serious, more afraid, but ultimately more principled than any other generation.

But teenagers have always been given many different labels by adults who don’t understand them, say others, and they are nearly always wrong. ‘Generation selfie’ or ‘Generation Z’ has a diverse set of desires and attributes — and their lives are not so awful. This is not Panem; Western governments are not actively trying to murder their citizens. In fact, this new generation has unprecedented access to free information, cheap travel and equal opportunities for different genders and sexualities. Today’s teenagers are the luckiest ever born.

You Decide

  1. Do you see yourself in Katniss?
  2. Is labelling the generations a useful way of understanding their characteristics?

Activities

  1. In pairs, list as many descriptions of teenagers in 2015 as you can. After reviewing the evidence, choose your own label for your generation and share it with the class. Then vote on the best one and post it in the ‘Comments’ section below.
  2. Write a short story set 100 years in the future. What does your imagined world look like, and how do its people behave?

Some People Say...

“If ever there was a cohort born to save the world or die trying, it’s these kids.”

Laurie Penny on ‘Generation K'

What do you think?

Q & A

I’ve never seen The Hunger Games .
That’s okay — you can still engage with the debate. The story draws on, and amplifies, many of the themes which are present in society; Suzanne Collins famously came up with the idea while channel hopping between US news coverage of the war in Iraq and reality TV shows.
Are things really all that bad?
The attacks in Paris led to a particularly scary week of news, and the UN’s upcoming climate change conference is likely to create more headlines about possible future disasters. It’s easy to feel gloomy about what lies ahead. But it’s important to retain a sense of proportion — you are statistically very unlikely to be caught up in terrorist attacks, and humanity has faced difficult challenges before — so far, the world hasn’t come to an end.

Word Watch

Panem
In the world of The Hunger Games, Panem is the nation which emerged in the post-apocalyptic North America. It was split into 13 districts, each providing a different resource to the Capitol at its centre.
65 million
From the series’ US publisher, Scholastic.
£1.5bn
From the-numbers.com.
Austerity
Since the 2008 financial crisis, UK governments have cut public expenditure (on services, such as police and social care) with the aim of reducing Britain’s deficit, and eventually repaying its £1.5 trillion national debt.
Surveillance
In 2013, the former CIA employee Edward Snowden leaked a series of classified documents to journalists and the Guardian and Washington Post. They revealed the vast extent to which US and UK governments could access their citizens’ private communications data.
Rising terrorism
Yesterday, a new report revealed that in 2014, the number of deaths by terrorist attacks rose by 80% thanks to Boko Haram and Islamic State.
Surveyed
From a poll conducted by Hertz, in partnership with Survey Monkey, in April. It polled 1,000 American and British teenage girls.

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