I am a member of the Love Generation―those Americans who reached adulthood in the ’60s―and am sometimes asked what I would tell the young people in Generation Z (born since 1996), who feel that their concerns about climate change and other pressing global challenges are not being heard by their government or the United Nations.
One of our global problems today is the lack of uplifting popular songs, as we had in the Love Generation while struggling to advance civil rights and to stop the Vietnam War, like the Youngbloods’ “Get Together”:
“C’mon people now
Smile on your brother
Ev’rybody get together
Try to love one another right now…”
There is a view, articulated by music-critics Rick Beato and Ted Gioia, that “Gen Z doesn’t care about music.” Kids care about video games, which are visual and addictive. Bo Burnham’s “Inside” and Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” might be typical. These are self-produced YouTube specials, which deal with issues like mental health, climate, pandemics, social movements and the internet in a comic or multiracial way, where music is a mere accompaniment. Chris Christodoulou, of the Westminster School of Art, argues that, like the internet, pop culture is far more global than in the past. So, just as rock music was unintelligible to our parents and served to connect us kids in our struggles with the older generation, so video specials or pop music may again come to our rescue.
I am a little impatient with young people today who despair of the future. Do you think that we in the ’60s had it so easy? We were in the midst of racial segregation—legal and cultural—so bad our cities were aflame. We had yet to experience stagflation and the economic inequalities at the root of the injustices that now plague our country and the globe.
Young people today should know that they are faced with a comparable challenge. It is to unite the globe, even the U.N., in novel ways to solve our global problems.
Dr. Joseph Preston Baratta is professor emeritus of history and political science at Worcester State University.