The millennial obsession with bleak humour

An unorthodox stress-reliever: Laughing at your fears

It’s that time of year again. As Concordia’s fall semester nears its end, students are no doubt preparing for the incoming deluge of finals and research papers.

A quick look at the Spotted: Concordia Facebook page reveals a hellscape of pre-exam anxiety: pictures of students in a tired stupor using textbooks as makeshift pillows lie sandwiched between close-ups of empty hard liquor bottles tucked discreetly behind toilets. In among these moments of cinéma verité, one can find dozens of memes (or “image macros” if you grew up in the 1940s) whose messages can basically be reduced to a single, common point: “I am stressed, therefore, I want to die.”

The millennial obsession with nihilistic comedy has always been a fascinating subject to me. Popular TV shows like Netflix’s BoJack Horseman and Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty revolve around perennially depressed main characters who live in uncaring, occasionally violent worlds. It goes without saying that this sort of comedy has developed for a good reason. A 2014 study by Statistics Canada indicates 54 per cent of post-secondary students felt hopeless at some point that year. They face stress from balancing part-time jobs, competitive academic fields and a job market that is in poor shape.

Effective stress management skills are essential for excelling, especially in university. Of course this seems obvious, but it always bears repeating that prolonged high stress levels can impair the physical and social health of students. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, this can manifest itself through a litany of unpleasant physical and mental ailments, including moodiness, insomnia and anxiety, among others.

One might assume many of these feelings and symptoms will gradually disappear once exams are over. Yet this is often not the case.

Much like pre-exam stress, post-exam stress can also have a detrimental effect on one’s physical health. Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City tracked people who had recently experienced high-stress in the workplace, and found they had a greater likelihood of asthma as well as problems with digestion and skin irritation after they were removed from that environment. Even worse, some of these symptoms can arrive at a time when students are gathering with their friends and family.

While cliché advice—eat well, sleep well, exercise and take time to breathe—still applies, what about taking the time to laugh? Too often, I find, blogs and websites will make top 10 lists that only include the aforementioned unoriginal tips. Lurid neon headlines like “This year’s best ways to BEAT UP stress” always have the same content. On occasion, authors will actually take the time to update their article with the newest dietary trend, a recent variation of yoga or CrossFit or some unholy combination thereof.

Yet, not one website I visited had the fortitude to write about laughing at your own fears. Bleak humour allows students to offload some of their stress and turn it into something less dangerous.
In a sense, one can say that nihilistic comedy represents a sort of crowdsourced therapy. By inviting others to poke fun of their own insecurities, one makes them less tangible and, therefore, weaker.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


The millennial pursuit of monetizing passion

One student’s realization that passions are valuable whether they bring you success or not

An interest in yoga has transformed into the pursuit of becoming a fitness model. A knack for style has evolved into the goal of owning your own fashion label. A passion for music has morphed into a dream of becoming a world-renowned rapper.

Among other defining characteristics, millennials’ willingness to pursue their dreams sets them apart from generations past. Unlike our parents, who weren’t necessarily encouraged to envision futures beyond desk jobs, millennials live in a world constantly inspiring us to nurture our passions and interests.

To be in our 20s today is to live in a time of endless possibility—a time when social media can become your ticket to superstardom, like it did for Justin Bieber; a time when your own voice can propel you past homelessness and poverty, as was the case for The Weeknd.

Despite a generation of baby boomers who tend to label us as lazy and entitled, our reverence for creativity makes us one of the most ambitious generations this world has ever seen. We believe there is nothing hard work and perseverance can’t achieve, and we are unapologetic and fearless in the pursuit of our dreams.

As a millennial myself, I am an avid believer in unearthing individual talents and interests. Art, dance, cuisine, writing—whatever it is, I encourage you to discover the joy and fulfillment that comes with asserting yourself as a unique individual.

I am, however, troubled by the sense that a materialistic mentality has pervaded my generation. What started as a goal in the name of passion has been overtaken by a thirst for money and fame. Our passions matter as much as the attention they receive. This is particularly evident through our changed relationship with social media, where our posts and popularity are as valuable as the likes and followers they generate. The song you post to YouTube isn’t impressive because you made the beat yourself—it’s impressive because of its view count. It doesn’t matter that I took the time to write this article—what matters is that you took the time to share it on Facebook.

In the pursuit of careers that will satisfy our intrinsic interests, millennials disregard passion for passion’s sake—doing something simply because you love it, with no ulterior motive like making money or getting noticed. Our sense of purpose becomes tethered to popularity, and we wait for the day when we will finally be recognized as the superstars we really are. In the meantime, we disregard things that make “everyday” jobs appealing, and overlook those who work nine-to-five jobs instead of pursuing a career they’re passionate about. Stable hours, benefits and a reliable salary aren’t good enough for the go-getting millennial, who scoffs at the idea of working in a cubicle.

But just because someone else hasn’t made a career out of their passion doesn’t mean they’re living a mediocre existence. They have worked just as hard to get to where they are. And they too are individuals with talents, interests and passions. Conversely, just because someone hustles in a field that they love, doesn’t mean they’re ever going to find success.

For those of you who think I’m saying these things because I don’t have any dreams, you are wrong. I hold a desire in my heart which many have called a pipe dream. I no longer measure the value of my passion based on whether or not I am able to turn it into a career because I made the disheartening discovery that, sometimes, hard work doesn’t actually pay off.

Indeed, contrary to what we’ve been told our whole lives, working towards your passion is often not enough. The difference between being good at something and getting paid to do it depends on a variety of factors beyond your control, like connections, timing and luck.

In a world that constantly measures you in likes, followers and cash, I urge you to remember that the value of your passion goes far beyond a dollar sign. You do not need recognition from others in order to enjoy or be good at something. Whether you are able to turn your passion into a career is irrelevant. The beauty of your passion is that it is yours, and that is valuable beyond measure.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

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