What Generation Z Can Learn from the Baudelaire Orphans
*This article contains spoilers for Season 2 of A Series of Unfortunate Events.*
Why does Season 2 of A Series of Unfortunate Events feel so familiar?
Chaos, deceit, neglect, wild appearances, absurd circumstances, and the feeling that there’s no one in charge. Am I describing A Series of Unfortunate Events or America’s political climate? The second season of the show premiered on Netflix at the end of March, and I couldn’t help but notice the striking similarities. A major theme in the series has always been the ways that adults fail children, and that they often have to rely on their own ingenuity to problem solve, survive, and find purpose. The original series was written in the early 2000s, but here, nearly a year and a half into the Trump administration, the message seems more timely and apt than ever before.
While the first season of the series set up the premise — three orphans, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are passed around to different guardians as the quirky and nefarious Count Olaf chases their fortune — the second delves into richer narrative and conspiracy. The Baudelaire parents were involved in some sort of secret organization called V.F.D., that may be noble, but may be wicked. The Baudelaires encounter another set of orphans, the Quagmires, visit several new locations, and the mystery of the sugar bowl thickens. There’s a lot of questions, and not many answers. But one thing is for sure: no one is coming to save the Baudelaire children. They are on their own. With Violet’s clever inventions, Klaus’ brilliant mind, and Sunny’s sharp teeth, the children save themselves over and over again.
Meanwhile, the adults put their focus and energy to things that are ultimately meaningless and unhelpful. At the Austere Academy, the children are subjected to absurdly detailed standardized tests. In the Vile Village, everyone bends over backwards to follow rules that make no sense. The Hostile Hospital has a library that’s just endless rows of file cabinets that holds paperwork that no one will ever look at again once it’s been tucked away. All of these things are held to a higher standard than the way the Baudelaires are treated. The well-being of these children comes second to upholding bureaucracy and adults’ own self interest. If only this was simply fiction.
Since the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, America has seen Generation Z make its official, roaring debut. The activists that we have seen rise up against America’s gun violence problem have been young. And why shouldn’t they be? They are the afflicted. The CDC has reported gun violence is the third cause of death among children from 1 to 17 years of age. After a lack of legislation, compromise, and progress on the issue, high school students have had enough. Parkland students have organized, rallied, and leveled their privilege to make their voice heard. Furthermore, they acknowledge that adults haven’t just left them behind, but feel the pressure of the ways adults are actively trying to disenfranchise them.
The Parkland students aren’t the first of their generation to start doing the work, nor are they even the youngest. There’s Little Miss Flint , Marley Dias, DACA activists, and the list keeps growing. Since the politicians, adults, and authorities haven’t done their jobs, it’s time to take matters into their own hands, with or without their permission.
Who is the worst adult in A Series of Unfortunate Events? It turns out there is stiff competition. At first it might be tempting to name the show’s main villain, Count Olaf, but perhaps it’s the disgustingly self-absorbed Mr. Poe. Esme Squalor is pretty awful, but so are the Elders in the Vile Village. Even the ones that are well-meaning don’t pay attention like they should, or they are just too cowardly to do the right thing. The adults at V.F.D. say they are helping, but their secret operations often end up being too roundabout and indirect to actually be helpful to the children.
Maybe the worst adult is Principal Nero, who only allows the library to be open ten minutes a day.
Oh, the library.
It’s not a coincidence that the one beacon of hope the children wherever they go is the library. As ineffective as V.F.D. is, they are right about one thing: We will never disappear. Not so long as there are noble, well-read people to take up the torch. Olivia Caliban, may she rest in peace, was the kind of librarian that I wish I could bestow on every child of this upcoming generation. If I could give any advice to Gen Z, it is to do like the Baudelaires do and find the answers at the library. The library, while an institution, has accessible resources, important books, programming, and free public spaces to congregate and empower each other.
Episode after episode, Count Olaf pulls the wool over everyone’s eyes. He sings and dances, tries different accents, throws people into pits with starving lions — all to entertain people while he tortures the Baudelaires. Aren’t you dazzled? Aren’t you distracted?
Well, the young people refuse. They put their hair up in a ribbon and start tinkering. How will we help them take up the torch?