Are Millennials Really the Worst?

A lot of my posts are about millennials who are cynical to older generations. This post goes in the other direction–it’s for older people who are cynical toward millennials. My inspiration is this video that was bouncing around my newsfeed. It’s part of a booming social media genre: millennial bashing.

The video makes the typical anti-millennial talking points. They’re all pointless.

Don’t worry, I’m not trying to start an intergenerational war. My argument isn’t that millennials are great and Baby Boomers are terrible. I think we’re all equally terrible.

But that video would have us believe that millennials are the worst generation ever. For those who didn’t actually watch it1, here are the singer’s points:

  • He saw a millennial who doesn’t have a job, but thinks he’ll be rich someday.
  • He saw a millennial who takes lots of selfies and wants to change the world.
  • Millennials are over-sensitive to criticism2.
  • Millennials are losers who live with their parents into their twenties.
  • Millennials have too much self-esteem–probably from all those participation trophies.
  • One day, a Millennial will (gasp), be President3.

To summarize, millennials are selfish, naive, soft, and entitled. In fact, they’re probably the worst-ever generation of young people. When the singer was growing up, things were different. Everyone was tougher, harder-working. They earned everything they got–nobody gave them handouts. Not like these freeloading millennials with their soft morals and ridiculous expectations about life. Boy, do they have a lot to learn about the world.

Here’s a passage from a favorite novel that illustrate the singer’s point. A police officer asks an older woman a question, and she explains how much better things were in her day:

“Land’s sakes, I wish I could tell you, young man…Folks ain’t safe a minute in this town. When I come here twenty-two years ago we didn’t lock our doors hardly. Now it’s gangsters and crooked police and politicians fightin’ each other . . . so I’ve heard. Scandalous is what it is, young man.”

And here’s another one. An older lady stews over all the ways young people bug her:

“The present generation was shamelessly lax–in their carriage, and in every other way

Everyone made such a fuss over things nowadays! They wanted injections before they had teeth pulled–they took drugs if they couldn’t sleep–they wanted easy chairs and cushions and the girls allowed their figures to slop about anyhow and lay about half naked on the beaches in summer…

She would like to make an example of certain people.”

Wait.

The first passage is from “Farewell, My Lovely,” a Raymond Chandler book from 1940. The second is from “And Then There Were None,” an Agatha Christie book from 1939.4

The “young people” the characters were complaining about are older than my grandparents.

Apparently, young people have been the worst for at least the past century.

And when you look back at that video, this makes sense. The criticisms are aimed at millennials in particular. But they could really be against any young people who have ever lived. For instance:

  • Millennials are selfish! Well, young people tend to be selfish. They aren’t responsible for anyone else yet.
  • Millennials are naive! Sure. Because young people don’t have life experience yet, they can hardly help it…
  • Millennials are entitled! Yup. Young people have just left a home where their parents literally provided everything for them.
  • Millennials are soft! Yes, please tell us about how technology was inferior when you were young, and how that made you so tough.

For Baby Boomers rolling their eyes and thinking back to their idealized past selves, there’s more. I present to you this passage from Dave Barry describing what it was like being a young Baby Boomer. After discussing the adversity his parents faced in the Great Depression and World War II, he shares his generation’s view of the world:

“We came of age in the sixties and seventies, the era of sex, drugs and rock and roll. We were cool, we were hip, we were groovy, man. We mocked the suit-wearing Establishment squares grubbing for money in their 9-to-5 jobs. That was not for us. We did our own thing, you dig? We raised our consciousness. We tuned in, turned on and dropped out. We lived in communes. We went to Woodstock. We had strobe lights and lava lamps. We wore bell-bottom trousers, and we did not wear them ironically. And we had fun. At least I did. I am thinking here of my college and immediate post-college years, when my main goal in life—a much higher priority than academics, or a career—was to have fun. I’m not talking about “fun” in the sense of playing charades, or canoeing. I’m talking about a more hard-core kind of fun, the kind where you might end your night under arrest in an entirely different area code from your underwear. I’m talking about partying.”

What a bunch of selfish freeloaders! They’re so entitled, so naive! The older generations were so much tougher.

But seriously, these are the exact same things the video criticized. If there was Youtube back in the sixties, some guy would have posted a song making fun of these lazy kids. Just like the characters in the Christie and Chandler would have done for kids in the 30’s.

The Point

Again, I’m not trying to score points for Team Millennial in a generation war. I’m just saying that none of these criticisms are unique.

When people my parents’ age were young, people my grandparents’ age thought they were a bunch of lazy freeloaders. When my parents’ generation got older, they thought my generation were lazy freeloaders. Twenty years from now, people my age will say the next generation are lazy freeloaders. It’s the circle of life. And it moves us all5.

This sort of thing happened when the young hotshot cavemen tried showing up the older mammoth hunters. And it’ll keep happening when the young generation of Mars colonists irritates the daylights out of their parents.

Yes, it’s fun to gripe about how things were better in our day, or complain about how the older generation just doesn’t get it. But all the old-timers used to be young punks, and the young punks will turn into old-timers.

So instead of complaining, maybe we should give each other some grace instead.

________________

1  And let’s be honest, in today’s fast-paced world, who has the time?

2  Come to think of it, this post would be good evidence for him. Hmm…

3  This might be a good time to point out that the Baby Boomer candidates are Trump and Hillary.

4  And yes,the fact that I chose these two books says something about my reading habits.

5  I thought we could all use a Lion King break. You’re welcome.

__________________

Photo: Garry Knight

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