Tired of the ‘adults’ who hate on Millennials? Here’s a response.
You might think you know me, but you really don’t. You might be my parent, sibling, teacher, boss, or casual friend. You might think you know me since you’ve been young once. Maybe you know something I don’t. But I’ll bet that you just project your delusion of youth onto me and hope that it sticks. I can’t blame you; I do the same to you. You might even love me, and I may love you. But, it doesn’t mean you really know me, get me, understand my pulse, or comprehend my peers. With all of the boneheaded critical discourse about our generation (Y, Me, Millenials, etc.) that grabs headlines and dominates dinner conversation across the country, a lot of people think they know us. But, truthfully, they don’t. If they did, we wouldn’t get called out for all of the annoying crap that you throw our way.
Believe me, I know what you’re saying about me. Not all of my cohort are so myopic and self-involved that we don’t hear or read the dumb shit that older people say about us, even when they try to defend our habits. Some of us are even smart enough to know that we can’t all be grouped into one bubble, that there are so many experienced mediated by every marker of difference (race, gender, SE status, sexual orientation, etc.) that diversify and divide our cohort. But, I’m definitely smart enough to know that you typically don’t understand that subtlety, so I’ll play by your rules, non-descript-mass-of-older-people.
Some of you think that I’m too entitled, that I shouldn’t expect immediate gratification just because I’ve been brought up to feel that way. That behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Maybe we shouldn’t have been pushed to enormous heights by parents who consistently enforced that hard work actually pays off. You’ve all seen the employment numbers – they’re terrible. The hardest working among us, those whose whole lives were races to grab different titles, get to the best schools, earn the highest GPAs, get the best jobs – even they’re struggling. If thinking the economy should be strong enough that hard working, bright (hell, even privileged) college graduates deserve jobs constitutes entitlement, then fuck yes, I’m entitled. That’s why I wallow in self-pity – I can’t believe that I’m at fault, or that this economic climate is my mess to inherit, since that’s depressing and daunting.
On that note, who made the economy crash? Not me. The bankers who gambled with people’s futures, only to get a slap on the wrist from the federal government, weren’t in their 20s (although maybe some of their coke-fiend associates were). A lot of them haven’t lost their jobs, or ended up on death row, despite facilitating a global economic crisis that’s still crippling us. That’s far from my fault, and you know it. And you want to tell me how I’m in the wrong?
You say that I’m overdependent on digital technology, that social interaction is becoming inherently more disconnected and meaningless thanks to me. Maybe you don’t realize how important it is for me to be plugged in – sometimes I can only find a job, after sending hundreds of impeccably-written cover letters, when my employed friend puts something up on Facebook. I miss out on major world-altering events if I’m not refreshing my news feed every few seconds. Technology is a reality, and until that bubble bursts and we descend back to the antiquity of our forefathers, this is how I interact with the world. Deal with it; after all, I didn’t create the Internet.
A lot of this crap comes from Baby Boomers. Boomers, that’s terribly ironic, considering what your parents were saying about you (Rock music? Hippies?? Fraternizing with Negroes?!). Some of you wonder why I haven’t taken on a bad situation the way you did, in the 60s, and then admonish me for not having the determination and perseverance to follow through a goal. Look at us! We had the Civil Rights Movement! Why didn’t you protest when the banks failed? You’re lazy, you’re entitled, that’s why this situation will never change. Did you forget that we had Occupy? Besides, don’t pretend like you’re such saints. Not all of you were there alongside Dr. King, fighting for utopia. Far more of you just worshipped the drugs and the unprotected sex part before fleeing to the suburbs, raising safe little over-achiever clans, and completely forgetting that the revolution wasn’t over. It’s not my fault that the inner city continues to crumble, or that the banks got so powerful that they could ruin everyone’s lives. Maybe that’s not your fault either, but you certainly don’t seem bent out of shape that that your revolution was kind of a hack. Every time you push us to shape up and accept the times, you reek of goals long-ignored and a sense of your own disillusionment. That’s not constructive, that’s just hypocrisy.
Even Gen-Xers like to criticize me. Et tu, Gen-X? Our shared Boomer parents made the same criticisms of both of us, with the difference being that your economy was strong enough that you could afford to be a slacker. We’re criticized for narcissism, yet you forget how truly self-involved your own world was. Your generation’s pop culture was responsible for reality TV, Napster, MTV, and just about every cultural scourge that set the template for our cultural depravity. Your most prominent generational spokesman seemed to never wash his clothes and screamed “Here we are now, entertain us!” at the top of his lungs before shooting himself in the face so that his music wouldn’t become some soulless corporate entity. Yes, he killed himself because money was less important than his “message” – I’ve never heard anything more self-involved. Imagine saying that to your boss.
When I work in your offices, you say I’m too brash or surly. Sorry, I can probably stop acting like a jerk. But please try to understand how tough this time is for me, and how much help I really need. A lot of my generation wasn’t getting job-based training in school, since our parents allowed us (and in some cases, persuaded us) to get liberal arts degrees that don’t translate as seamlessly into jobs as some might think. Even more of us would rather be doing something else that can’t pay us, or would rather not chafe against the weight of institutional hierarchy because it sends us mixed signals (“Take initiative! Be a go-getter! But don’t rock the boat too much, lest you get canned”). Most of the career discourse sends similarly conflicting messages – “Time is a premium! Don’t waste your time (in a dead-end job/flitting between jobs ever year/following your dreams/trying new things/being stuck/going to grad school/not going to grad school/etc.),” Do you even want me there? Or do you just like having me since you don’t have to pay me as much?
Some of you criticize me for destroying the nuclear family, that I have too much casual sex or delay marriage and kids until it’s too late. That this comes primarily from the generations that made “free love” and “career first” part of the cultural lexicon is pretty hilarious. Don’t blame me – I’m not the reason the divorce rate is so high. Maybe I’d have a family earlier if I could hold down a job sooner, or didn’t have to work as much. Maybe you think that the inherent dysfunction of overworked and stressed families is the best model for parenthood out there, but I certainly don’t think so. I’d rather be alone with my career and my hobbies for the rest of my life than raise a kid who’s just going to resent me the way I resent you, or the way you resented your parents.
You might say that I blame you too much. Maybe I do. But don’t act like I have much power over my future. Unemployment, fractured sense of self, media saturation – these can’t be fixed with a can-do attitude and an “honest” understanding of how the economy works. You guys control the media, market, government, and every other institution that shapes our path. I don’t have that power, since I can’t even find a job that would allow me to change the social order, yet I get admonished at every step. The recession’s lessons were loud and clear –powerful, greedy men with too much money cannot be controlled. Even the government can’t control them, nor do they want to on either side of the political aisle. “Stop complaining” and “shape up” fall flat against the weight and trauma of this realization. Forgive us for being delusional, cynical, self-pitying, hyper-sexual, or narcissistic – we’re just doing what we can to cope.
You think I have no respect for my elders. On the contrary, I have immense respect for you. I listened when you lent me your Bob Dylan and Radiohead CDs, your scratched copies of The Graduate and Trainspotting. I was ecstatic when, in your classroom, you assigned One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and (in the cool classrooms) High Fidelity (okay, maybe you gave that when I showed special interest). I worshipped these masterpieces, and they all showed me the same things that you seem to forget – a certain inherent chaos to life, a futility in trying, and a self-awareness that can only stem from those smart enough to see those things. Maybe you forgot about that, or you let it go when you realized that it wouldn’t get you a job.
I’m grateful for the great things that previous generations have done, even if you don’t see that gratitude (honestly, I could stand to show it a little more). Thanks to those who came before us, I live in a less-obviously racist, homophobic, classist, and discriminatory world than we ever have. Maybe each generation is supposed to pick up where the other one left off. Or maybe they’re supposed to abandon childish ideals and take care of their own lives despite what everybody tells them.
But unless you’re willing to meet me anywhere close to the middle, neither of us will be happy. Until then, I’ll be around. My resumes will flood your inboxes; my awful taste in music will dominate the airwaves; and my thirst for something different will keep you up at night.
Image Via: WarmSleepy/Flickr