We live in an age of a 24-hour news cycle dominated by climate change, school shootings, and world leaders standing trial. As a result of the perpetual weirdness of the time, teenagers are very anxious, very stressed, and—at a time when they should be excited and full of hope—mostly very worried about the future. With little reassurance and few answers, they turn to art, entertainment, and culture for ideas. Teenagers are searching for themselves in media and looking for help on big issues like growing up, navigating the terrifying delta between childhood and adulthood, sex and sexuality, addiction, relationships, family, mental health, and all the other huge challenges that go hand in hand with coming of age today.
So it comes as no surprise that the series Weird Times from Flight School Studio and Meta’s VR for Good program is resonating so strongly with global teenagers. Each of the five episodes deals with a “fail”—#sexyfail, #straightfail, #culturefail, #happyfail, and #brainfail—whereby the viewer goes way beyond projecting themselves onto a fictional character on screen and actually becomes that character, going on a visceral and emotional journey with Cassie, Owen, Shemi, Luke, and Anna.
I’m Chloe Combi, a global Gen Z expert, author, researcher, journalist, and podcast host, which brought me to the attention of Flight School and afforded me the enormous privilege to first consult on the show and then co-direct two episodes of Weird Times. I’ve shown the series to many teenagers, and without exception there’s a “fail” that resonates—an issue close to their hearts and current life experience.
Kyra, 15 (UK): “I’ve struggled with depression loads for the past three years, and I felt Cassie, you know? She is me, and I’m her. They absolutely nailed that sense of being in a hole and not being able to get out and everyone trying to “help” and just driving you deeper. The game show element was genius. I actually felt better having watched it, knowing I’m not alone.”
David, 17 (USA): “I’m trans* and am having to go through everything you might imagine getting accepted in my chosen body and identity. I cried in #sexyfail because even though Owen is worried about his weight, that terror of taking your shirt off and revealing yourself is me!”
Hynam, 20 (UK): “#straightfail is so many kids coming out, including me five years ago. The passive/aggressive parental assumption that it’s “just a phase” is something millions of LGBTQ+ kids will hear all the time.”
Paulo, 17 (Portugal): “I live in a country where learning difficulties are not so easily recognized, and I’ve been Luke—in a classroom where you understand nothing, so you just fool around because you are just embarrassed and feel ashamed. I’m going to work on my Super Paulo now that I’m coming to the USA for college!”
We’re proud to be releasing the final episode in Season 1 of Weird Times—#culturefail—which focuses on the conflict immigrant teens often feel in their desire to fit in with their adopted country whilst retaining their cultural traditions, particularly at a time when issues like culture and identity are so politicized across the world.
And that’s what’s so groundbreaking about Weird Times: We’ve explored huge, scary issues that are affecting millions of teenagers globally, but because we aren’t constrained by reality and have the luxury of virtual reality, we can also give name and shape to feelings, emotions, and fears that are often amorphous, terrifying, and hard to identify. Depression becomes a hole, inner dialogue is felt, fears become literal monsters, and superheroes can be found. And when we give name and shape to both our metaphorical villains and heroes, only then can we both beat them and become them. Weird Times takes the therapeutic response and enjoyment teenagers derive from watching fictional young people overcome their demons and monsters on screen and takes it to the next level by allowing them to be part of that action, too.
Charlotte, 15 (UK) shared #straightfail with her parents when she came out as bisexual, and though she admits they still don’t quite “get” her identity, it made “the conversation a little less weird.”
Check out Combi’s podcast about Gen Z at podimo.com/en/YouDontKnowMe.