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A catch-22: Appropriation and mockery of Gen Z

The ‘comedy’ of SNL’s ‘Gen Z Hospital’ sketch

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On Saturday, May 8, Elon Musk hosted “Saturday Night Live,” anticipated by a plethora of memes and online discourse. However, a lot of heat and controversy also resulted from that episode thanks to a sketch called “Gen Z Hospital.”

This was a sketch that poked fun at Generation Z increasingly calling each other “bestie” and saying phrases like “it’s the ___ for me.” The criticism of the sketch pointed out that these increasingly popular phrases stem out of African American English (AAE). In fact, much of popular culture and trends stem from AAE and Black internet culture

There is a general issue in the mainstream where we imagine that a lot of trendy language is slang created by young girls and white gay men, but this is almost never the case in actuality. For example, the word “tea” is too frequently associated with said groups, despite the fact that it actually originated from Black drag culture.  

On top of this, something less discussed is the frequent use of digital blackface by people on Twitter. Digital blackface is the use of gifs of Black people as reactions online, using Blackness to display an exaggeration of emotion –– and almost make caricatures of Black people. 

“We are your sass, your nonchalance, your fury, your delight, your annoyance, your happy dance, your diva, your shade, your ‘yaas’ moments,” Lauren Michele Jackson wrote in Teen Vogue. “The weight of reaction GIFing, period, rests on our shoulders. Intertwine this proliferation of our images with the other ones we’re as likely to see — death, looped over and over — and the Internet becomes an exhausting experience.”

As we might say, “It’s the appropriation for me.” 

Cultural appropriation is such a big part of Gen Z culture and internet culture that many are starting to lose sight of the fact that what has become cool and trendy was never really “ours” in the first place. Black internet culture is increasingly being used to be “extra,” to be the brunt of the joke, or to be funny.

The issue is that there is a double standard: while the internet hypes up or talks down to Gen Z for their language, that’s not necessarily the reality for Black communities in America. Specifically with Black children, the use of AAE is punished and frowned upon, but here we are, using it as a trend on the internet. It’s the cycle of some parts of Black culture being frowned upon, then hitting the mainstream and having their origins misconstrued.

However, the other issue with the “Gen Z Hospital” sketch, even if it were not related to AAE or appropriation, is that it's a sketch that makes fun of a younger generation, especially of language used by young girls. 

“I just think generational comedy is very lazy — like commenting on the trends of the new generation is very lazy writing, in my opinion,” Jerena Layacan, a fourth-year majoring in drama and sociology, said. 

What’s up with punching down at a generation made up of mostly minors? As many have repeated, good comedy punches up. It hits at the perpetrators, and pokes fun at the world at large. It’s a bit of a weird feeling to see a bit that is meant to target minors and young adults who are just trying to navigate the world, and who are still learning. And it’s especially uncomfortable when you see a male writer mocking language that is now frequently associated with young girls.

“I think the purpose of comedy is to point out how ridiculous some people's takes on certain things are,” Layacan said. “I think that part of comedy should just … put it in a different perspective on how kind of outlandish some things can be in our world.”

The scope of what can be made fun of and whether anything is off limits in comedy and dark humor is often debated. I myself love comedy; it’s probably too much of my personality, if we’re being honest. However, in situations like these, there’s a lot of missed context that shouldn’t just boil this down to “Oh we’re just making fun of those TikTok and Twitter teens.” 

Beyond myself being one of said teenagers, it’s hard to find the humor of punching down at people who will probably be mocked for everything just for being Gen Z and are just trying to move through life. Gen Z has its issues, especially with appropriation on the internet and many of us growing up on the internet, but it doesn’t feel like the best play to make a joke with thinly veiled racism and misogyny.

Reach writer Deborah Kwon at Twitter: @scoobydeeby

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More Inclusive than Thou

How much time and energy do you people expend I trying to be hurt/offended/triggered/marginalized/colonized/victimized/appropriated/etc?

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