Gen Z: Theo George

12 April 2017

Photographer Cecilie Harris
Special thanks to IMPOSSIBLE
Words Matthew Regan

How does your smile relate to the stars above? Theo George at Select Model Management has a mind connected by the paradox of definitions. Behind his laid-back nature is a natural curiosity, one that pushes him towards the perimeters of questioning the presence of humanity itself. As a continuation of our Generation Z project, he is captured by Cecilie Harris and could be hailed a boy of the universe, given his knowledge that we exist in relation to everything around us.

There is an ease in his body language, a total sense of contentment that abstains from the masks that others feel they have to wear. Between inspiring touches of advice for boys younger than him, he is honest about his years spent doubting himself and the sometimes crippling stages of adolescence. Now he grins while discussing the unexpected streams that have opened up before him. The individual fragments of his being that once made him insecure are now his assets; his red-hair transitioning from school-yard jokes to the covetable signature of his look.

Blissful hours spent in his bedroom searching and absorbing the minds of great existentialists, such as Albert Camus and Alan Watts, have led to his new definition of time and generational divides. Cutting through the manmade binary of the past and the present, he redefines modernity with a demand to question the limits we oppose on ourselves. Radiating out of his words is a genuine adoration for philosophy and the streamlined opinion that to simply exist is enough. After all, to question the stars above is to divide ourselves from them; yet we are essentially living in a shared orbit of thought.

How long have you been modelling now?
A while, around four years, and I feel like a pensioner in modelling sometimes. People talk about the real world as though this industry is some kind of limbo, but I think that’s an illusion. People have this illusion that you have to work hard to have value, but that doesn’t make logical sense to me.

How would you describe your generation?
It’s hard, because obviously I am this generation, I don’t have a frame of reference in an empirical sense. I’ve only experienced what I’ve experienced, but I guess now things are quite liberal. Then you could say with politics it’s always a constant yo-yo. They say people start off liberal when they’re young and then get more conservative as they get older - it becomes this constant rotation that never actually changes. It’s that phrase; ‘the one’s that don’t know history are the one’s most at risk of repeating it’, and that’s what always happens. I think what happens if you look at human nature in general, people think things are changing, but really it’s the same things happening just in different forms. I don’t think we’re fundamentally any different from any other generation, it’s just representing itself in a different form.

What would you say are the good things about it?
I guess its our awareness of environmental issues. That’s something that I’m quite interested by, the whole global warming debate and there are people like DiCaprio who are endorsing it now. I also think diversity is more acceptable than it used to be, but I have to say that the good things are mostly based on geographical areas - so for example in London, because it’s a cocktail of cultures, people seem to be more aware. If you go to where I live it’s generally pretty ancestral, history sort of repeats itself; you are a product of your environment essentially.

What are the challenges of your generation?
The problems with things like Brexit, there’s that almost warfare between the ages at a certain point. I think that will subside, but it’s important too; a lot of people look at it as a conflict and you could say that it’s a bad thing, but it’s healthy actually to see things from both sides of the perspective. If you talk to your parents or the older generation, they’ve seen the cyclical things happen before and they want to be less at risk of them repeating again.

What are your personal passions?
Above all is certainly philosophy. I did a degree in it, which I finished about 18 months ago. I’m thinking about maybe doing a Masters, but it puts things into perspective - I know it’s compulsory now, but it’s so important just to apply broader reasoning and objectivity to things. If you look at society now, a lot of people get kind of caught up in primal desires, and they miss the bigger picture.

Are there any specific philosophers that appeal to you?
I’d say Albert Camus and Alan Watts, they share a similar type of philosophy based on logic. I’m personally interested in existentialism, which basically poses the ultimate questions. Recently I’ve been reading a book called ‘The Myth of Sysiphus’ by Camus, and it literally addresses the question; ‘is life worth living?' - and that comes before all other questions. Of course it gets to the point that I’ve realised that even to have consciousness is a paradox. To even talk about existence or the universe you assume that you’re separate from it, already the answer you’re looking for is contradicted by looking for it. Everything we see as a human is subjective; for example, I could say you’re wearing a navy blue coat and you could agree, but how do we know we’re both seeing the same colour? You can only really use reality in quotation marks, because it’s always subjective. The way we say we have meaning or purpose in our lives is almost an empty thing to say, because Camus said essentially what has happened is that humanity has been dropped on a stage with no directors or producers, so we just invent things for the audience. Purpose and meaning are a human invention that don’t exist beyond our minds.

How would you describe yourself?
A free-thinker, definitely. One of my friends always says that I’m quite a unique person, but I’m not really sure what that means, because everyone is. I’d never big myself up or my personality, I don’t think you can say that your personality gives more value than anyone else, but I’m a relaxed guy. I’m laid-back. I’m very logical too, I don’t ever act on impulse; in the club I’m not the type of guy who goes and raves on the dance-floor, I chill at the bar. I’d never dislike anyone for being different to me, because it’s what you need. For example, you could never define me as relaxed if there wasn’t people who are crazy and out-there. You need both things to exist to get the balance right.

How would you describe your current lifestyle?
I don’t like structure, I’d say I kind of float. A lot of models have that lifestyle too, because we’re not prescribed normalicy if you like, the 9-5 thing which I used to think was a bad thing. My dad was always harping on about me getting a full-time job, and when you think about it; do I actually need to? I’d describe my life as being very erratic, there’s no real structure. A lot of people say that they’re ambitious or they’re working towards something, but someone once said; ‘you can only conceive progression when there’s an end’; so if you’re looking for progress, then you’re looking for an end.

How would you like your life to be in the next 5-10 years?
I want to do this Masters in Philosophy, but it’s a bit of a grey area and the first question is what would you do with it? That assumes that you must feel like you have some purpose or value in what you do. I don’t think that’s entirely necessary though. As I get older I think things become more immediate to me, just really small things like walking out of the door and taking in the air or having a conversation like this face to face. Taking in the natural thing every day, people miss those every day things, because of their job or the email they have to reply to - all these signs that are competing for our attention kind of miss the miracles that are happening all around us. In the next 5-10 years, I think I’d like to find a practical way to define philosophy in some way.

Who do you see as the influencers of your generation today?
You could look at politics, but then arts does the same. If you look at countercultures and things in the digital age, I guess that the digital age kind of began in the late 80s-early 90s, so the fact that we’re sitting here now and you’re recording me and you have a laptop, means we’ve definitely become one with that in a sense. Just to stray from the question slightly, I think this question relates to the idea of the self. If you strip everyone back to when they were born, there are no signs or prejudices, so essentially you’re just an accumulation of things. You’re everything you’ve ever done, you’re everything you’ve ever seen and you’re everyone you’ve ever met - so where is the ‘you’? That’s the same for everyone, so you realise that everyone and everything is the same fundamentally. Even if you look at the language of today, it participates in that illusion that we’re anchored to that imaginary self that doesn’t actually exist. Essentially we come out of the universe - if the tree appled, then the universe peopled.

Do you think social media is affecting this generation?
A year ago I would have gone along with this type of rhetoric of all those pictures you see of people with their heads in their phones and everyone being disconnected. I used to have this real problem with authenticity on social media, so for example someone could be very quiet in real life and on social media it’s the complete opposite. Of course there’s photo filters too, so aesthetically there are issues around authenticity too. Then I realised that to say that is to assume that the world without social media is truly authentic. Also, people imagine distinguish things as the real and the virtual world, but it’s the same thing. You could argue we’re living in a virtual world anyway, just in the way we could say that bush over there is green. It’s just as virtual as being on Instagram, it’s always subjective, there’s no true rendition of reality in the first place. People get quite annoyed about laptops and the internet, because they’re not natural biologically and they’re artificial, but all they are is an extension of our minds. We used to use sticks when we were primal to make a fire, it’s the same thing. You could draw the Vitruvian Man by da Vinci with an iPhone in his hand, because it’s just an extension of your mind. The fact that we can just crush space and time and I could send you a text from the other side of the world is a manifestation of the human.

What makes you happy?
The thing that really gets me going is a conversation like this to be honest. I don’t often get the opportunity to talk in modelling, it’s almost unfulfilling in a sense standing in front of a camera, but I’m happy because I know that I’m assisting someone else in their artistic creation. It took me a while to get to grips with that, because I enjoy modelling now. I used to be under the illusion previously that I was the centre of attention in the photograph, but you realise amongst all the myriad elements of the photo you’re just an object. Once I realised that I was completely at ease, because I knew I was just a part of somebody else’s art. What makes me happy is my lack of routine, it’s like I’m meeting a new person with every job - that’s why I love this industry.

Would you say that you’re an emotional person?
I’d say so, but more in my spare time. Some of the concepts that I come across in philosophy make me really emotional, literally I’ve been sitting there in a flood of tears when I find something out. Albert Camus says that it’s impossible to be logical to the bitter end, because humans always bring emotions into things. If you look at the human search for meaning against the impossibility of it, that contradiction creates a thing in the middle called the absurd. We have this premise that we must have value and meaning in our lives and when you realise that there isn’t really any - that’s what makes me emotional, when I’m studying at home. I wouldn’t say that my personality comes in peaks and troughs, I’m just kind of a constant.

Do you feel like you have control over your emotions?
To answer that question again assumes that the mind and the body are separate, so I guess no. A lot of philosophers call it the ‘bodymind’, because it’s the same thing, but because we are essentially animals we can only control them to a certain extent. If you’re walking late at night and feel like someone’s behind you, you can’t help but naturally want to check. I’m a level-headed guy though, so I’m quite good at controlling my emotions. I never shout or have an outburst; I was at university for three years and I always remember this line this guy said; ‘I still haven’t seen Theo angry’.

How do you handle things when you’re in a stressful situation?
Again it comes back to the logic. If you look at anything, the way to solve a problem is reductionism. Looking at science and mathematics, that’s all reductionism, you know its definition. You think; ‘right, what’s the problem?’. If something looks very intricate, if you just take it apart to all it’s pieces, you find the answer. When I was younger I used to have friends, you know how I spoke earlier about having different personalities to define your own? It was that binary opposition with my friends that I grew up with. A lot of them were hot-headed and they would always get into fights and stuff. I was always the voice of reason in the group. I don’t really get too stressed about things, because does it help? Of course it doesn’t. I try to stay connected to the present, but if you look at a clock - even the fact that it’s round and how the hand ticks from second to second, it’s almost like there’s a hairline fracture between past and future and then the present is never there. It’s a constant illusion.

With mental health being a buzzword at the moment, what does that mean to you?
Yeah, so for years I had depression and social anxiety. From the age of about 14 to 18, I hardly left my house and I found it really difficult to go outside the door. Also, I used to get really self-conscious about how skinny I was, and of course with my red hair at school you’re subject to all kinds of things. The funny thing was I was always a popular kid at school, which was strange, because you’d always associate that with high levels of confidence, but I had a self-esteem at rock bottom. I totally understand anyone who has mental health problems, it’s definitely close to my heart. My issues closed me off from the world. My mum always used the phrase; ‘don’t make your world smaller’, just go into things. I had therapy and things, but they obviously can’t help you - they’re just giving you that foundation to help yourself. The catalyst that really helped me was that I did some volunteering work, it was just taking it by baby steps.

Now I’ve got to the point where in this industry I’m lorded for things that I used to be ridiculed for. My message to anyone who is like 16 and going through that type of thing, is that you have to remember that the phase you’re in now can be literally turned on it’s head. If you look at something like suicide, which I thought about often at that stage - I think it’s only addressed as a social problem, but it needs to be dealt with existentially, because it relieves you. Once you realise that the universe is essentially meaningless and all you can do is be, that’s all you have to do. If you look at a tree, what is it doing? It isn’t trying to go anywhere, it isn’t trying to transcend itself - it’s just existing. People say life is a game, but it’s not. It’s more of a dance. When you dance you don’t have a destination, you’re just being. Even if you don’t have mental health issues, we’ve all had that moment when we’ve looked up at the sky and thought; ‘why am I here?’.

At this time the concept of gender is becoming more fluid, especially in fashion. How do you feel about that?
I’m a total fan of it, and you used the word fluidity there which I like. If you look at any form in humanity, to look at politics for example, I think it’s an insult to human capacity to have however million people living in the UK and you get that fluidity of consciousness reduced down into either left or right. Where’s the logic? I think that’s the same for the definitions of gender, so I’m all for it. Again, that’s why I love this industry, because it’s so dynamic and conceptual. My friends back home don’t understand these types of things, and I’m so glad that I’ve been introduced to this way of thinking. It’s definitely a mark of our generation.

Do you think that masculinity is changing for the young generation today?
Being emotionally aloof is that prescribed personality of masculinity - to just not talk about your problems, which I definitely found hard when I was going through depression. I do think that society now is going towards a place that is more conducive to that. I do think that lines are blurring for our generation in social fields. What is it to be masculine? I don’t know fundamentally, a lot of guys live up to masculine stereotypes, which I don’t really understand. It comes down to an invention, that’s all it is. Of course it could go back to something innate and primal, like when the men were the hunters and the women would nurture the children - but we’re just not the same as we were then.

Are you spiritual or religious in any way?
Well, this is a funny one, because before studying philosophy I was of the opinion that believing in a God is completely illogical. Then you realise that Atheism itself is classifiable as a religion, on the same grounds that Christianity is, because you’re believing in science. There can never be objective truth in science, because it’s only being explored through the limits of the five human senses. In spiritual realms, I mean my dad is Buddhist, so he’s of the opinion of oneness with the environment, and I think Eastern philosophy like the Tao and Zen is certainly further along than science, because science misses out that point that you can’t have the known without the unknown. Of course you could say that none of them exist, because it’s all in the same universe, so I don’t think any of them can be defined. It’s all just the universe as one.

Have you ever been in love?
Going on the guidelines of what it is, I’d say I haven’t been, but what is it? That can sometimes be a problem in relationships if you think ‘oh, is he or she the one’. I think it puts a misconstrued pressure on it that doesn’t need to be there.

What is your ultimate goal or dream?
I think when I get to the end I just want to know that I’ve lived in presence. We’re often told to measure our days in productivity, but I think they should be measured in presence. I don’t think you can be productive in infinity, so why would you try? You just have to be, that’s all you can do. I’d want to help people understand these ways of thinking as opposed to superficial oppositions and things. If you look at it from a fundamental perspective it irradiates allot of conflict and warfare. Scientists have talked about finding an algorithm that completes all of our menial tasks, and then we can get on with focusing on the here and now, which I think would be great.

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