2660: Gen Z

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Gen Z
Curdled milk, of a peculiar kind, made after a Bulgarian recipe and called "yaghurt," is now a Parisian fad and is believed to be a remedy against growing old. A correspondent who has tried it, says he would prefer to die young. (1905, The Elk Falls Journal)
Title text: Curdled milk, of a peculiar kind, made after a Bulgarian recipe and called "yaghurt," is now a Parisian fad and is believed to be a remedy against growing old. A correspondent who has tried it, says he would prefer to die young. (1905, The Elk Falls Journal)


Older generations are often confused by the trends and norms of younger people, and this comic aims to contextualize this common situation by placing it in a historical perspective — featuring the usual cast of xkcd in historical garb. White Hat (wearing a white boater) has seemingly just finished introducing a topic of discussion to the rest of the group; he knows the rest of his group will find the topic weird, but is willing to defend Gen Z with the excuse "that's just how they do things." Black Hat is expressing a notion that sounds a lot like juvenoia, and is quick to make sweeping generalizations about the younger group. The other reactions depicted are representative of the broader spectrum of possible responses: either surprised interest or cautious acceptance. There is no evidence that White Boater is correct about how Gen-Z does things.

Neither knee-jerk rejection nor forward-looking sympathy are specifically praised by the main text of the comic, but the example highlighted in the title text seems to imply that Randall would like to emphasize openness to new things.

The title text quotes a newspaper from Elk Falls, Kansas, which on May 18, 1905, told of a "Parisian fad". The item was a shortened version of an account which also ran in many other newspapers. In this case, the "fad" is the introduction of yogurt (spelled "yaghurt" in this publication, probably because English spelling of the word was not standardized yet and may have been influenced by the French spelling ("yaourt") and phonology). In the modern day, yogurt is enjoyed as a common food in most cultures, but in 1905 the concept was bizarre and repulsive to many readers. This shows that things which are dismissed as "strange" because of preconceived notions of a particular group (that curdled milk is necessarily bad) may, in fact, be perfectly acceptable once more context is obtained. It is also worth noting that yogurt was not invented in 1905, but had existed for centuries prior; despite this, the recent introduction to French culture is what prompted its recognition as a nascent "fad". This may be analogized to various fads and trends which Gen Z is embracing which may appear unfounded to members of older generations, but which nevertheless represent acceptance of ideas which did not originate with members of that generation. Randall may have chosen this particular version of the item in part because it omits some of the statements in the longer item, such as that consumption of yogurt could “prolong human life to what is its normal span - a century or so.”

This is not the first comic to identify "modern" complaints or viewpoints as having been present throughout history in various forms (see comics 1227: The Pace of Modern Life and 1601: Isolation).

The humor in making generalizations about people born in specific time periods is also seen in 973: MTV Generation, 1962: Generations and 2249: I Love the 20s.


[Six individuals in clothing representing early 1900s' American fashion stand in a line. Four of them have speaking roles, from left to right, and two stand in silence, contributing to the feeling of a conversation amongst a crowd gathered around the first speaker]
Speaker 1 (white brim hat): Now, it may sound strange, but it's how Gen Z is doing things!
Speaker 2 (wavy hair, dress with belt): Gosh! Is that really true??
Speaker 3 (dark hat with indent): Ridiculous. It just goes to show what I've been saying about them.
Speaker 4 (hair in bun, dress with lace hem): Now now, maybe we just need to change with the times.
[Caption below comic:]
People ascribing qualities to "Gen Z" have the same energy as small-town salespeople in 1905 talking about what the ladies in Paris are up to.

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It makes sense that Randall isn't calling out any particular fads, trends, tendencies, or commonalities in Gen Z to comment on, but some immediately came to my mind as I read the comic. Is it worth putting a list of possibilities in the explanation, or just one or two examples? That knowledge probably isn't going to contribute to the understanding of the joke, which is that for *every* generation there have been such observations and complaints from older folks. Dextrous Fred (talk) 21:28, 17 August 2022 (UTC)

I don't think there's a need for that, but someone should add a definition of Generation Z. The Wikipedia page that it links to should describe the notable features of that generation. Barmar (talk) 22:41, 17 August 2022 (UTC)

I found the title text in the New Zealand Mail, Issue 1729, 19 April 1905, Page 15 (https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZMAIL19050419.2.44).

Not quite the same, though both articles were probably based on reading the same medical communication that one references. The Kansas one, however, appears to be the source of the quote in the comic. -boB (talk)

holy shit randall is based -- 01:35, 18 August 2022 (UTC)

Based on what? 03:33, 18 August 2022 (UTC)
Binary 14:46, 18 August 2022 (UTC)
Based is a term I have heard of, it means really like something but you say it in a jokey, possibly sarcastic way. 06:10, 18 August 2022 (UTC)
https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=based Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 07:11, 18 August 2022 (UTC)

I'm pretty sure the five listeners represent the five generations between the Lost Generation (when Boater hats like the speaker is wearing were popular) and the Gen Z that he is talking about. The middle character with the flower in her hair is definitely a hippie, for the Baby boomers. I mentally associate the white Flat cap with post-WW2, which would be the Silent generation, although I'm not sure why I have that association. Extending this, the Millennial is the one saying "Gosh", the one in the black hat would be a Gen Xer (no idea why), and the last one with the hairbun would be from the Greatest generation. I don't think I can describe those associations well enough to actually write it up, though. Does this view make sense to anyone else? -- Bobson (talk) 21:13, 18 August 2022 (UTC)

I think that's an interesting interpretation, but I would invoke Occam's razor to suggest that the fashions depicted could all be from the early 1900s, and that the gathered crowd is composed of "small town salespeople in 1905" as the caption describes. I think if Randall wanted to make it clear they were from different generations, he would include more obvious cultural touchstones in their clothing or speech, and he wouldn't have them conversing with each other unless there were a reason to introduce time travel

I agree with the Elk Falls Journal correspondent. -- Hkmaly (talk) 21:15, 18 August 2022 (UTC)

Is anyone else unable to load the page for comic 1962 when logged in? I can load it when logged out, but when I'm logged in I get an error. I pasted the error message to Talk:1962: Generations. --Orion205 (talk) 23:24, 18 August 2022 (UTC)

I don't think French ever wrote "yaghurt". But it writes "yaourt". -- 07:12, 19 August 2022 (UTC)

The hats are: straw boater/skimmer, definitely of the 1905 period; perhaps homburg or fedora, mostly kind of the period; Greek fisherman’s cap, I say anachronistic. My impression is that such caps were popular in the 60s, 70s with men of the Greatest Generation. (Such as my father!) Randall has used that kind of hat to indicate elderly men in other comics, so maybe a joke? -- BuckyE (talk) 15:35, 19 August 2022 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

It's a cloth-type cap, but I think it far predates the '60s, etc. And while greek-sailors contemporary of '60s/'70s films do ring a bell, I had other classes and eras of person in mind.
Anyway, if you look in here in the Golf Caps section, and even a few of the images slightly above there, there seem to be styles which could have directly inspired what turned up to adorn the stick-figure heads in characature line-drawn form. 20:25, 19 August 2022 (UTC)

I think all the characters are 1905 versions of the stock-characters in xkcd, I'd say from left to right they are White Hat, Megan, Black Hat, Science Girl, Cueball, and one more that I cannot figure out. 18:50, 22 August 2022 (UTC)Bumpf

OH DUH, THE LAST ONE IS HAIRBUN 22:25, 28 August 2022 (UTC)Bumpf

It is possible that the alt text is an actual quotation from a 1905 cookbook, based on a reference from a cooking blog [1], however, the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine shows no record of this page from its 2021 archives, so it may be an elaborate retcon, including a dated comment from 2021. 18:28, 1 September 2022 (UTC)Bill