As millennials we’ve grown uniquely accustomed to going about life with the dark, inescapable, undeniable knowledge of our own imminent deaths.
Every year the scientists keep coming out with new estimates for how long climate change will afford humanity’s continued existence on planet Earth. And every time, these estimates give younger generations fewer and fewer years to imagine having a future.
So can you blame us for making FaceApp’s old filter go viral despite the abundance of privacy concerns, as we cling to the coping mechanism we never knew we need to help stave off the unending existential anxiety of our doomed prospects?
Please, let us at least have this one brief, tantalizing glimpse at what is now the ultimate domestic fantasy for youths in 2019: surviving long enough to reach a ripe old age.
Our fascination with FaceApp’s old filter highlights a huge gap in our generation’s mental state. The olds have what you might call Climate Change Denial Entitlement, or the privilege of debating the destruction of life as we know it as a concept rather than an impending reality. In their minds, even if climate change is real (it is), shit won’t really hit the fan until they’re dead anyway (or so they think).
For the youngs, latest estimates give us a whopping dozen or so odd years to continue pretending before we have to face the likely scenario of living out the rest of our years in a hellscape of environmental collapse. It’s basically the latest nihilistic iteration of the classic This Is Fine Dog meme.
Millennials and Gen Z have lost the basic human and constitutional right to a future — which is the basis for an actual lawsuit making its way through the courts right now. Yet researchers keep pondering why we’re having less sex, getting married later or not at all, and not making babies. Meanwhile we’re over here trying to do the math on whether we can hold off paying our crippling student debt long enough for the banks to get gobbled up by the apocalypse.
Tellingly, there are multiple other and far less viral free filters on the controversial AI face editor app: one for smiles, hair color, beards, bangs, and even youth. You’d assume all of those would be more popular than posting decrepit aged versions of ourselves, especially since the most popular app filters on Snapchat and FaceTune are geared at making us look younger.
But nope. None of that. Young people today want to stare into a wrinkled reminder of our shared human mortality. While boomers grew up chasing visions of a white picket fence and 2.5 children, the pipe dream of our too-old-for-this-shit generation is downright geriatric.
Sure, arguably the old filter also carries an allure of the Cursed Image, warping our hot, taut, supple youth into a nightmare we can all comment on with a hearty, “Thanks I hate it.” But I mean, have you tried out the smile filter at all, too? It’s just as equally, hilariously haunting as the elderly horror of the old filter.
The pipe dream of our too-old-for-this-shit generation is downright geriatric.
We’re not the only ones seeing the connection between the virality of FaceApp’s old filter and a preoccupation with the ever-looming climate crisis.
The Tampa Bay Times covered how their state, particularly the city of Miami, is getting a moment of recognition thanks to the app, as one of the most densely populated places endangered by climate change. Similarly, both the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and United Nations hopped on the trending #FaceApp hashtag to remind us of the IRL horrors of future-gazing.
Yet while we commend these attempt to use memes to bring our attention back to the real problem, they’re doing it wrong. FaceApp’s old filter isn’t just a meme because it’s an unconscious fantasy for anxious youths. It’s the comic relief that punctures the numbing, paralyzing nihilism we feel whenever we think about our futures.
After people across the nation sat in a pool of their own sweat during the warmest June ever and now prepare to be roasted by a heat wave this weekend, we needed this. We needed FaceApp to give us an excuse to ignore the ugly reality outside and instead scroll through our phones in air-conditioning, laughing at the quaint imagined future we’ll likely be denied (while also potentially giving the Russians all our faces/data).
But to be fair, almost every generation of young people believes with varying degrees of legitimacy that, for one reason or another, theirs will be the last. Or at the very least, throughout history the care-freeness of youth has been sapped by the stark anxieties of a world ever hurtling toward entropy.
The Lost Generation did its best to cope with surviving the horrific advent of modern, world-wide warfare by turning to art rather than memes. In the ’50s and ’60s, an ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation hung over youths’ heads, culminating in the Bay of Pigs bringing us to the absolute brink of World War III.
For the first time in the ’70s, the horrors of war beamed into most American homes as footage of Vietnam played on loop from their TVs, and then thousands of kids started coming back in body bags. The Cold War made the ’80s bear the brunt of a more political sense of catastrophe, with pervasive fear of an apocalyptic shift in our way of life.
The youths of today might even remember the last iteration of this cycle, when Y2K made us wonder if that powerful, wonderful new technology we so naively embraced would turn on us.
In a way, imagining the apocalypse has always been a fantasy for young people — kind of like Freud’s theory of the death drive. An unconscious part of the youthful psyche might almost hope for the end, so we can stay like this forever, never growing up and having to inherit the mess of a world our parents left behind for us.
The FaceApp meme [is] a cry for help from young people hoping they might be saved from the inevitable.
Maybe — hopefully — in retrospect we’ll also look back at this time, chortling at how naively arrogant we were for believing we’d be the last generation. Maybe FaceApp will be excavated by historians as a funny example of our generation’s ultimately unfounded panic.
But all evidence and data indicates otherwise. And I’m much more able to imagine the remnants of humanity centuries from now analyzing the FaceApp meme as a cry for help from young people hoping they might be saved from the inevitable.
Unlike the previous generations of young people dealing with the apocalypse blues, every single one of us is now bearing witness to the catastrophic consequences of global destruction, all the time, every day, with our own eyeballs, whether online or by just looking outside our windows.
FaceApp’s old filter might turn you into an AI nightmare of melting, wrinkled flesh. But it’s nowhere close to the nightmare future we know is coming.