This week, James Plunkett challenges his fellow millennials to stop pretending.
Anyone in my generation can tell you we’re tired of all the critics; those who say our youth represents the age of apathy, the millennial, the lazy kids who can’t even spell “Reaganomics.” And why should we know how? We have spell check.
I have heard the arguments time and time again: “Our generation needs to look inward in order to get ahead! The times have changed, man! Why should I iron my shirt for a job interview? They’re lucky I even sent them my resume!”
We don’t need the same class identification, sense of nationalism (or hell, even anti-nationalism), or work ethic of previous generations. Our parents had the Beatles, we have Adderall. We’ll be just fine right?
Wrong. As a millennial myself, I have grown tired of the overused excuses for moral apathy, lack of activism in civil society, deservedness, laziness, and false class identification. But I get it, I really do. Our parents told us we’d be special, we’d be the “different” ones that would change the world. But when we finally got around to applying for jobs and were faced with the realities of a recession we threw a tantrum.
We started blogs and took part-time unpaid internships and cuffed our pants and pretended to know struggle. We listened to Vampire Weekend or Bon Iver with stoic looks on our faces and politely asked our parents to fund our careers as “artists” or to pay for “just the first few months” of our rent in Williamsburg. I hear all that, I do. But it’s time to grow up.
Now a lot of folks from the old guard of the modern hip are pissed about this influx of kids from Westchester who buy their clothes at Goodwill or leave their cardigans on the floor of their studio apartment to get that perfect raggedy look. And they should be. Before Facebook was a vehicle for public relationship quarrels or updates on what kind of shoes you were considering wearing right now, these older twenty-somethings (or dare I even say the ghastly words…thirty-somethings?) were running this scene before it got, to phrase it carefully, entitled.
These folks actually had the chance to make a new youth-culture out of liberal, educated, active individuals who were working towards creating collective communities in the now ultra-hip meccas of these United States (i.e. Portland, Seattle, Brooklyn, Austin, etc). I really believe that.
The older guard of the modern millennial was working hard for some kind of stability, call it affirmation or self-satisfaction, or just call it rent money, I don’t care. The point is that there was a beautiful balancing act a number of years ago when “hipster” wasn’t yet a code word for “new yuppy.” Before total gentrification of some of these hip destinations occurred and way before millennials started pretending to be the new working class. To put it quite simply (though I know many of us stopped reading three paragraphs ago and started blogging about our informed opinion on this anyway): somewhere along the way, we fucked it up.
Now of course I’m not talking about every single twenty-something out there but those of you who are reading this with some semblance of understanding know what I’m talking about. I don’t mean to minimize the potential or struggle of so many young people out there because I know there are many kids trying to make it on their own and I respect that more than anything. What I’m discussing is a phenomenon with a specific subset of individuals from specific class and culture backgrounds.
These are mostly white kids who graduated from small liberal arts schools that were probably not the most diverse locales politically, ideologically, or, especially, demographically. Trust me, I was there. They are more likely than not from fairly well-off families, or in some rare occasions they are just lucky enough to scrape together enough money for tuition and photocopy necessary books in the library. But those are the minority.
I’m not upset with these types of people, these kids, because I grew up with them, I’m the inside man, I get it; different strokes for different folks. What I am pretty upset about though, what really gets me going, is that a lot of these kids, my peers, pretend that they are somehow in the working class. That they know the underbelly of society, the proletariat, the laborers.
With ripped jeans and not being able to eat out every day and only having an iPhone 4 (“but Siri could be SO useful!”) these individuals are yuppies in blue-collar clothing. They are playacting at struggle. One day they will get bored with this and they’ll go get MFAs that some unknown entity will pay for and they will proceed to buy a Brownstown and redo the master bath because they got bored.
I’m upset with these people because in America right now there are people actually struggling, actually running around like bats out of hell looking for work so they can eat; actually trying to breathe despite the ocean of debt they’re treading water in. That’s real, that’s America today. It’s not glamorous or hip or cool. It’s falling on the ground and getting your knees bloodied and getting back up. It’s patching holes in your pants so they’ll last longer, not ripping them so you’ll look edgy at a warehouse concert.
There is a real working class in America today, not the increasingly ambiguous middle that politicians keep making promises to and certainly not the millennial hip with our internships and indie rock. So whatever you do, lifestyle choices or political affiliations aside, please remember that appropriating a blue-collar aesthetic does not make you more genuine or your life more visceral. In fact, it does the opposite.