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The Tokyo 2020 Olympics shows its irony immediately, just by virtue of the name. In the stubbornly maintained moniker (the games are being held in 2021) lies only the surface of the unusual circumstances and reactions surrounding this year’s Summer Olympic Games. 

For Gen Z, these Olympic Games have been the source of extensive commentary, with #TokyoOlympics on TikTok having already garnered 3 billion views. But despite the extensive viewing, Gen Z seems to have an odd relationship with watching the Games. 

Gen Z doesn’t know where, when, or how to watch the Olympic games.

Director of Strategy at JUV Juan Jose Amaya (he/they) cites confusion, saying that they are unsure of how to stream the Olympics.

“If anything I’m going to end up having to watch highlights and not watch live just because I don’t think it was made very apparent to me who’s streaming on what services.”

Amaya goes on to explain their further concerns with the democratization of Olympic viewing, and it’s unsurprising. Across every interviewee, none felt confident that they knew a platform on which they could stream Olympic content, let alone for free. 

Beyond confusion with platforms, Gen Zers cite time concerns as reasons they are unable to view. One Junior Partner at JUV says that “when it gets time to the Olympics, I’m usually only watching highlights. I do not live in a world where I have the privilege or time to watch like 80 million different events.”

The global nature of the Olympics only exacerbates this sentiment. Marianne Purru (she/her), a consultant based in Estonia, says that given the time difference she typically only chooses to watch one event. 

Identity and social justice plays a role in whether or not Gen Zers watch at all.

Junior Partner Malachi Sutton (he/him), goes further, explaining that he doesn’t watch the games because he thinks it’s pointless. 

“It’s just a cash grab for first-world countries to showcase the resources that they have over other countries. I just think it’s pointless at the end of the day because it’s you showcasing the privilege you have that other countries don’t.” 

Molly Kilbourne (she/they), a Senior Partner at JUV, says that their identity has also played a role in whether or not they have sought out the games.

“Being a genderqueer person, I didn’t think about sports being very influential, but I really enjoy watching sports.”

Kilbourne explains that they are a camp counselor at an international camp and that seeing the students from various countries celebrate their own and each other’s victories is very exciting. 

But despite Kilbourne’s excitement for Gen Alpha, a pattern seems to emerge in Gen Z — watching the Olympics is not a priority. 

This begs the question – if Gen Z is so unsure on when (or if) to watch the games, where are the 3 billion views on TikTok coming from?

The answer lies in the extension of Olympic dialogue to something far more than the sports themselves. 

While the mainstream media has largely focused on “controversies” such as the cardboard anti-sex beds in the Olympic Village (later debunked) Gen Z has entered into broader dialogues surrounding social justice concerns within the games. 

Gen Z has complicated feelings about nationalism related to the Olympics.

The first of these conversations is with regards to nationalism, especially as it pertains to countries without certain privileges like the US and other “first-world countries” that typically dominate the games and use it as a signifier of their own strength and prowess. 

Malachi notes that this is problematic for reasons beyond surface nationalism, saying “it puts critical situations for other countries in the background while first-world countries get to celebrate their victories.” 

This becomes even truer in a COVID world, where protests in Japan emerged against the games being held at all given the spread of the Delta variant. The focus on “glory” for individual countries neglects the reality of an event like the Olympics, which brings together people from different countries, and thus different landscapes of COVID. 

Supporting individuals rather than countries is key to addressing these concerns.

For interviewees in the US, the solution is focusing on the individual athletes, not the country they represent whatsoever.

“I think of individuals and their stories and timelines and experiences […] and if it happens to fall under the United States, okay, fine. But if it’s Nigeria, Argentina, South Africa, Chile, whoever, I’m going to go crazy for that individual,” says Kilbourne.

One content contributor corroborates this claim, saying, “Oh my god, I’m cheering for [Usain Bolt]. I want to see him smash another record. He’s from Jamaica. So the way I see it is I’m watching athletes compete, and I’m cheering for the athletes I want to see.”

For them, there’s no other option, as they don’t see the sport-based prowess of the United States as exemplary of anything laudable that’s happening at home.

”I don’t see a connection between what the US is doing and how bad they’ve been to a few people doing flips tricks and hitting a ball.”

People from countries other than the US find value in nationalism, saying it defies expectations for their countries.

The relationship with nationalism, though, changes character for those with national identities other than American. 

Purru says that being from somewhere like Estonia, “[the] population is 1 million people, so we rarely even get athletes who qualify for the Olympics. It’s not that we have a dozen to choose from. So when one of us fulfills the requirement, it’s a national celebration.” 

She explains that her home country’s athletes don’t hold as much celebrity status, so rather than the individual, “it’s more just looked at as a whole, like, Estonia is going to the Olympics. It’s very strongly linked with our country and our heritage.

Amaya goes further, saying that, for them, being from Colombia, a country in the global South means that nationalism is actually an important tool for progress, especially as someone currently residing in the US.

Amaya explains that “[their] support for [their] home country directly challenges American exceptionalism,” as it defies the expectations set for the global South by the Western paradigm. 

”Winning and [Colombia] getting a medal in anything directly challenges the position we were put into as a country from the global South and defies the expectation as someone from the global South.” 

They say that it is affirming to see other athletes doing the same and distancing themselves from the US, citing Naomi Osaka competing for Japan as an example. 

US nationalism doesn’t challenge exceptionalism in the same way, Amaya explains because the expectation for the US is that they will be dominant. After all, the resources and privileges of the nation ensure that their athletes start from a few steps ahead.

Because of this, Amaya poses an important question — “If they are winning in the name of American excellence, what does that excellence stand for?”

Gen Z is tired of how athletes are treated outside of the value of their performances.

The truth is exemplified in the reality of marginalized athletes outside of the moments in which they are competing, and a country that broadly does not support them has temporarily afforded them glory. As Amaya says, “When those Black athletes come back, how are you treating them?”

The honest answer is ‘not well,’ a discussion most demonstrated by the case of Sha’Carri Richardson, a runner who was disqualified from the Olympics after testing positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Although the narrative in the popular media has broadly been that ‘rules are rules,’ Gen Z has a different take. 

Kilbourne explains that “if you’re ignoring [race or gender] then your opinions are going to be skewed on this situation.”

Amaya corroborates, saying that “the stigma [marijuana] has against Black people and the stigma that it has around the world… I think that’s what informed that decision [to disqualify Sha’Carri].”

When discussing the issue, Gen Zers brought up the double standard exemplified by this case as the red herring that what happened to Sha’Carri was a product of misogynoir, not a fair and equal application of the rules. 

Our generation recognizes a clear double standard in how marginalized athletes are treated versus their white counterparts.

One content contributor says that you can make arguments about ‘rule-following.’

“We get Michael Phelps, and I think Ryan Lochte, retweeting a picture of them winning the race in Rio saying ‘we were all high.’ And everyone had nothing to say? Like it was no big deal? What happened to their drug tests?”

White athletes getting away with discussions of marijuana isn’t unique to these swimmers. Twitter blew up after USWNT member Megan Rapinoe discussed CBD as a part of her training regimen shortly after Sha’Carri’s disqualification. 

The difference between all of these cases is identity. Malachi Sutton explains that the Olympics shine a light on a reality of Blackness in society: ”Society loves Black bodies when they’re at the behest of white people, but they don’t like Black bodies when they’re in the participation of uprise against white supremacy.”

This unequal application of the rules is clearly demonstrative of this. The US celebrates Black athleticism but doesn’t show up in the same way for Black athletes. 

So is there any fixing it? Views are mixed. Kilbourne explains that “There’s no better time or place to be using the Olympic case study to dissect and discuss [these sorts of issues].”

However, whether or not these discussions are fruitful is still hard to say. Sutton says, “There’s no fixing it because in order to come to face with the social justice of Black issues people would then have to acknowledge their own privilege, and I don’t think they’re willing to do so.” 

Regardless, it’s clear that Gen Z is here for athletes – we just believe they deserve better. As Sutton puts it, “I can still point out the wrongs of the Olympics and still go on to support the Black athletes within it… At the end of the day I’m still going to support Naomi, I’m still going to support the Black women running in track and field events, I’m still going to be there for support. I just think at the same time [these issues] need to be addressed.”

JUV Consulting is a Gen Z collective that works with companies to create purpose-driven and authentic marketing campaigns that engage young audiences. Contact us at info@juvconsulting.com if you would like to learn how to reach Gen Z. 

Week of July 26th

We’re sharing the biggest trends in Gen Z’s world this week. Want these trends sent directly to your inbox? Sign up for The Screenshot, our weekly Gen Z insights newsletter.

⏫ You get a blue tick, we all get a blue tick…

Idris Elba wants to give everyone a blue tick. Once a reserve for famous faces and public figures, there’s an increasing push for social media platforms to require users verify their identity to ensure accountability. While the idea is fair in principle, it also takes away the vital privacy that some marginalised groups rely on.

⏫ Sports team: New name, new us!

Baseball team Cleveland Indians will be known as the Cleveland Guardian after the 2021 season – a sign of a turning tide for sports teams to move on from controversial pasts. We love to see it.

⏫ Lil Nas X is twerking for charity

We talk about Lil Nas X a lot on the Screenshot but how can we not! He just knows how to stay in headlines – this time he’s twerking naked in his new music video (dw, it’s censored!) to raise money for the Bail Project. Social good never looked so hot!

TikTok says Crypt-NO!

TikTok is banning influencers from promoting cryptocurrency on the app. With crypto scams really a dime a dozen across socials, the platform is standing up to ensure vulnerable Gen Zers don’t get sucked in. Kudos to them.

⏬ Who could dislike Twitter’s new feature?

Twitter is rolling out a dislike button for tweet replies – it takes ratio to another level.

⏬ Tokyo anti-sex beds are fake news..

It was reported that athletes beds at the Tokyo Olympics were ‘anti-sex’ and would fall apart with too much movement. To test the claim, Gen Z Olympic hopefuls shared videos jumping on the beds – lo and behold they were fine!

JUV Consulting is a Gen Z collective that works with companies to create purpose-driven and authentic marketing campaigns that engage young audiences. Contact us at info@juvconsulting.com if you would like to learn how to reach Gen Z, or sign up for our weekly newsletter, The Screenshot, to get Gen Z insights straight to your inbox.

As a kid, I remember spending many evenings with my grandparents on the couch, flipping through thick, laminated albums of photos from their teenage years. They would immerse me in their stories of Pittsburgh, PA in the mid-twentieth century, notes in the margins of the plastic liners reminding them of the context of the shots: ”Beach Trip 1963,” “Disney ‘79,” “Kelly’s 1st Birthday.” I would listen on eagerly, their words giving color to my imagination of the moments before and after the shot. 

Now, there’s no need to imagine. For our generation, teen years aren’t frozen in time like those grainy prints. (Sorry, Grandma.) Our generation is heavily documented, immortalized in TikToks, Boomerangs, Snapchat Memories, and, most notably, in video. 

For Gen Z, photo is where it all began.

In the early 2010s, photo was the medium of choice for Gen Zers hoping to share and archive their memories. Instagram and Facebook took over the traffic once on platforms like MySpace, and users eagerly shared their snapshots to the platforms. The ability to share photos instantly, online, and to a large following was new and exciting; understandably, teens rose to the occasion. 

Video slowly made its rise with the Youtube renaissance.

Slowly but surely, though, video took on the role which photo had played. Youtube became more mainstream in 2009, and ushered in a new era of online content. Later in the 2010s this shift continued, as apps like Vine then TikTok made video even more accessible; the short-form style made the workload for creating internet video less daunting, causing even everyday people without a particular proclivity for production to get in on the trend. Beyond this, apps like Snapchat made video an integral part of our communication with one another, swapping out pictures with texts for the exchange of short videos 1-1 and on stories.

Julia Terpak, Account Director at JUV, describes the migration as a product of how easy it became to create video content as smartphone technology evolved: “In the way that photo took over much of what painting and drawing used to be used for, video is now doing the same with photo. Innovation over the past decade has made it as simple to take a high-quality video as it is to take a high-quality photo.”

Even our favorite apps like Instagram started to veer away from photo.

For a while, though, Instagram was a vestige of the photo-driven world we knew before. Although the app supported sharing videos, it was uncommon. In 2015, though, the app launched Boomerang, a service for creating short, gif-like videos. In 2016, Instagram rolled out their Stories feature, where users could make out-of-feed, temporary posts. Boomerangs and Stories were a match made in heaven, and all of a sudden sharing short clips on Stories became as mainstream as posting photos. 

However, when TikTok became even more popular, Instagram decided to get in on the fun, launching their copycat, Reels, in August of 2020. This feature redefined the landscape of video on Instagram, making it all the more common as a means of communication. Now, in recent statements, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri announced that Instagram is “…no longer a photo-sharing app.”  

Gen Alpha is even more attuned to video than Gen Z.

Things are looking even more video-oriented for Gen Alpha, the youngest after Z. Ed Victori, COO at JUV, reflects on his young toddler: “Toddlers today don’t like scrolling through images, they like watching videos and interacting with them. For me, photos capture a moment, but don’t capture an energy or feeling or little voice — maybe that’s why I have 2,953 videos on my phone since 2018 when my daughter was born, and this is surely the format that’ll continue to shape/interest her.” 

Photo still evokes a sense of nostalgia in Gen Z.

So, is photo dead? With Instagram officially announcing a video focus, the sentiment that the medium has fallen is certainly present. That being said, photo may still hold a place in Gen Zs hearts – with a vintage twist. 

Although the more traditional days of sharing photo may be over, Gen Z has found a new way to express their love, through mechanisms like disposable cameras and Polaroids. Sharing montages of film and disposable photography (perhaps ironically) has become popular on video platforms like TikTok.  Creators share their prints to a coming-of-age style soundtrack (see: Tongue Tied by GroupLove), often with a catchphrase urging to romanticize one’s life. 

This vintage affinity isn’t limited to actually using disposable cameras, either. Editing apps like Huji Cam and VHS Cam have also become popular, which give smartphone photos the same vintage aesthetic as the real deal. 

What makes film photography so attractive to Gen Z?

Although it’s hard to attribute this trend to a singular origin, there are certain theories that make sense. For one thing, it’s no secret that the present state of the world and the future are subjects that would make anyone’s stomach turn, especially younger generations. Vintage photos harken back to a simpler time and a simpler reality, a time before the 24-hour news cycle dominated our psyches with climate anxiety and bad news. 

It’s also possible that the motivation for photo has shifted – less “online” forms of photo such as film and disposable cameras allow photos to be something one keeps for oneself, not something expected to be shared, relieving pressure. 

Whatever the case, while it is true that photo has been de-emphasized as a medium, it still clearly holds a place in Gen Zs hearts. And while we’ll continue to share our lives online in video, maybe we’ll also be curating photo albums to show off to our grandchildren with Tongue Tied playing in the background. 

JUV Consulting is a Gen Z collective that works with companies to create purpose-driven and authentic marketing campaigns that engage young audiences. Contact us at info@juvconsulting.com if you would like to learn how to reach Gen Z.