Issue 17

Diving into the life of Jacques Cousteau: What can Gen Z learn from this French icon?

A man plunges into the depths of the ocean wearing an eye mask. A cylinder strapped to his back. We see him place a strange-looking object on the ocean-bed. Before we have time to wonder what it is, we see a flash. Kaboom!

“Commercial fishing with dynamite is illegal, an act of vandalism. But for the purpose of scientific study, it is the only method for taking a census of all the varieties in an area”,  says a firm heavily accented voiceover, as dozens of fish sink to the bottom. A man goes back into the water, grabs a dead fish, his fingers shoved far into its bleeding gills. Coming back to the surface, his bag is filled with many open-mouthed creatures, cold and stiff. He empties them onto the sand. 

This is a scene from the 1956 Oscar-winning film The Silent World. Regarded as the first documentary on oceanic life in full colour. Co-directed by Jacques-Yves Cousteau, it is an adaptation of his 1953 book. 

Sounds pretty horrifying, doesn’t it? What if I say this man who set off a bomb in the middle of the ocean, eventually went on to become one of the first advocates for underwater life? How could someone who did something that would be considered unforgivable in today’s world, possibly even cancellable, also be someone famously known as the world’s ambassador of the oceans? Or an early guardian of the aquatic voiceless – what he believed to be the silent world?  

Liz Garbus, the two-time Academy Award-nominated filmmaker has recently released a film about him, Becoming Cousteau. From National Geographic Documentary Films, this 2021 American documentary uses a lot of the real footage originally shot by Cousteau. It takes a close  look at his undersea life, touching upon the great many firsts. 

From co-inventing the first-ever scuba gear to being the one to make underwater filming possible, the French icon did a lot for someone with no scientific degree. The trailer of Becoming Cousteau calls him an adventurer, innovator and legendary filmmaker. Yet could he be boxed into either of those three categories?

An AP News article mentions how one of Cousteau’s editors found it so difficult to label him, he finally went with, “A man looking at the future.” Perhaps it was as simple as that for Cousteau. ‘‘We go see it for ourselves”, says the 2021 trailer referring to his life motto. Wanting to dive deeper, he simply co-created a device that would allow him to do so (the Aqualung, the world’s first self-contained underwater breathing apparatus). Wanting to show the world what magic lies within the blue depths, he authored over fifty books and created waterproof filming equipment. “You only protect what you love”, says Cousteau’s voice in the trailer of Becoming Cousteau. 

Or perhaps his own unwillingness to take himself seriously was what attracted people to him. “I am not interested in myself, I am interested in the world outside me”, says the scrawny man in a red beanie, who spent 68 years of his life quite casually changing the face of underwater exploration. 

Image Credit: CALYPSO

Being the first to film the oceanic wonders earned him a Cannes Film-Festival win, two Academy Awards, and a couple of long-running television shows. The shows documented his adventures across the world carried out in his special vessel, the Calypso. It was during these long expeditions that Cousteau realised the urgent need to protect marine life. 

He started the Cousteau Society in 1973. It is still working today to set up protected areas for endangered species, under Francine, the second wife of Jacques Cousteau. His children and grandchildren as part of the society, are involved in constantly improving the explorer’s inventions. Taking forward the work he started.

Cousteau soon became an environmentalist over everything else, laying the foundation for ocean conservation. He even made headlines when he spoke passionately about the warming oceans and the rights of future generations to live on an uncontaminated planet at the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit.  

The 2021 biopic truly comes full circle in terms of showing Cousteau as someone who started off killing marine life to battling for their protection. While he followed unethical practices in his early days of filming, he was unafraid to retain the clips. He was willing to call himself out on his mistakes and wanted the world to do so too. An important lesson for us to learn as a generation, so reluctant to display our own shortcomings.  

Most importantly, Cousteau was a man completely at peace in water from a very early age. He thrived in the depths of the ocean. As a review by Variety suggests, Cousteau’s life outside the sea was not exactly a smooth ride. His love for the sea meant his family life suffered. A few years after graduating from the naval academy, he had to give it all up after a near-fatal automobile accident. One that broke both his arms. Hitting rock bottom, he was advised to do swimming exercises to nurse himself back to health. That journey of recovery recharged his seafaring passion. 

Makes me wonder – how many lives were on a pause during the pandemic? How many people felt paralysed and unmotivated in the midst of isolation? As the world takes small steps towards normalcy in 2021, perhaps Liz Garbus, through her documentary, wants us to draw inspiration from this legend who was determined to make a comeback, and boy, what a comeback it was! 

Featured Image credit: Combined Military Service Digital

Meera Anand is a third year undergraduate student of Ashoka University pursuing a major in Economics and a minor in Media Studies. 

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).  

Issue 8

Boomers’ Guide to Gen Z: Intro to Texting 101

Gen Z in its natural online habitat can seem intimidating and a little baffling. I would know, despite technically being a part of this generation, I spend more time than I’d like to admit deciphering it. If you’ve ever had to google what “afaik” or “iykyk” means then this is for you. Texting etiquette is central to Gen Z culture, highlighting how we’ve expertly moulded language to create communities and best express ourselves online. 

I’m risking my fragile membership by undermining the very first principle of Gen Z communication: don’t explain it. Two things happen then: first, it’s not as funny anymore and second, it may open up the community to potential detractors. Remember the wildfire term “on fleek”? as soon as it spread too far like on the Ellen Show, it immediately lost all its charm. 

Although there is no consensus on Gen Z’s age, suffice it to say that we don’t remember a time before the Internet. Most are already tired of Facebook after having joined back in school, instead migrating over to Instagram—away from constantly being tagged in embarrassing family photos. That said, we do simultaneously possess an instinctive understanding of this ‘culture’ while being unable to explain it to anyone or ourselves. So, here’s to trying: 

Let’s start simple: texting or calling? 

Easy, texting. Of course, as with anything, there are outliers who would disagree. However, it’s common practice to watch the phone ring into oblivion and then immediately text: “hey, you called?”. 

Texting unfolds throughout a busy day of multi-tasking. We text in windows between or during online classes, while taking a break or just in bed procrastinating sleep. That’s not to say we’re anti-calling, it just costs us an exponentially larger amount of effort given our waning attention spans. Texting is great for a quick dopamine fix and we’ve been wired to love the ring of a notification ever since some got their first smartphones at 12. When we call, we are required to focus on nothing but the person’s voice. In other words, it’s a big deal. So if a gen z-er in your life offers to call, take it as the ego-boost that it is. 

Now that we’re talking texting, what are some dos and don’ts?

Seen-zoning is a thing, and possibly a social weapon of war so, beware. 

This one is difficult to pin down, sometimes it’s intentional and sometimes it simply isn’t. In budding romantic relationships, leaving someone ‘on read’ is often a carefully cultivated art of courtship. For example: “I want to text them, but I don’t want them to think they’re all I think about. Wait, are they all I think about?” which can then spiral into dangerous overthinking territory. This rationale prompts some of us to leave texts unattended for a pre-selected range of hours. 

In new friendships, it can become a matter of not seeming too eager but eager enough. In unwanted interactions or advances, it’s often a retreat onto safer shores. Sometimes, it’s just thinking that you already replied or just not having the energy to tend to all your burgeoning messages. It’s safe to say that no one has those blue-ticks switched on anymore. 

Source: @jaboukie on Twitter

Ghosting, on the other hand, is a harsh reality when seen-zoning is taken to its extreme. This is when a person stops texting you cold-turkey, and fades away first from your phone and then life. Needless to say, this is the nuclear missile in your arsenal of social weapons: only last-resort, and always destructive.


Irony is the key 

Too many exclamation marks or emojis in one text is, as we like to say, just not it. However, if you do it ironically? That’s a different story. It’s a subtle art of balancing out the unassuming enthusiasm we encounter in family groups while showing that we’re not serious about it. For example, you’ll see gen z gravitating towards (too many) off-center emojis for the desired effect. 

To flip this over, some just won’t use any emojis at all. 

Instead, they’ll use 🙂 or a :)) or a ^___^ but rarely a 😀 and god forbid if someone goes for a xD unironically. They can all mean different things too, a 🙂 can be a naively friendly ending to a text, passive aggression or sometimes just plain anguish. 

Exhibit A: “i just got my 5th assignment of the day haha i love college :))))))))))” 

Translation: They don’t love college. 

Choose Your Own Case 

Notice the all lower-case register? This is for when you want to present yourself as nonchalant as it contains the non-verbal signal of informality. To achieve this, it’s best to blacklist autocorrect off your phone. 

Speaking of lower and upper-case, we like to switch things up or “sWiTch tHinGs uP”. This is the texting equivalent of siblings fighting when one mocks the other as soon as they turn away.


Gen Z humour is absurdist and cryptic. It’s gratifying to have something that only you and your friends can laugh at, while your parents shoot you their best “what did I do wrong” look. 

Source: posted by u/Explodernator343, Reddit

To Full-stop or Not to Full-stop

In a 2015 study, participants rated “texts that ended with a period as less sincere than those that did not” while no such difference was found for handwritten notes. This can be confusing: should one subvert grammatical rules for the sake of appearing amiable to a gen-zer? Linguist Lauren Collister calls herself a “code-switcher”, mirroring the texting tendencies of the recipient: if someone is informal, then she might drop the uppercase but if someone ends with a period, then she does too. 

The way we communicate is no less better or worse than how older generations used to—it’s just different. Every generation, be it the Boomers, Gen X or Millenials all created their own vocabulary, finding respite in the exclusivity of an inside joke. If Gen Z is starting to show the tell-tale signs of a cult, then you’re well on your way to understanding and maybe even moonlighting as one of us—grammatical warts and all. 

Devika is a second-year Economics and Media Studies major, an aspiring coffee-snob and always on the hunt for a new addition to her already overflowing to-be-read list.