Millennials are garnering rather a lot of hate in the media right now; we’re the generation everyone loves to bash, just as older generations bashed on the generations that came after them throughout history. It seems to be a rite of passage, but, of course, as someone who’d be classified as a Millennial, I’m particularly interested in the way this, my generation, is framed in media and pop culture, because it informs my perception of the way society interacts with me and fellow members of my generation.
We’re spoiled. We’re obnoxious. We have a ridiculous sense of entitlement. We’re born into privilege and don’t realise, or care. We’re the epitome of self-centred people without a sense of community, united only in our sense that the world is our personal oyster. We abound with hipsters and smug, self-satisfied people. We are Girls and urban farming and Google Glass and all that comes with it, steeped in technology and disconnected from society and culture, unlikely to pick up a daily newspaper when we can just Tweet or text a friend.
We’re profiled in the New York Times, being our usual privileged and obnoxious selves, and we show up to ruin all your fun, everywhere we go. This is the Millennial Way, and we live it proudly, crashing through life in our usual entitled fashion, utterly unaware of the damage we wreak and the havoc that follows in our wake. It’s not that we don’t know any better — it’s that we simply don’t care, because this is our lifestyle, and we’ve been raised to be that way. By our helicopter parents and our nannies, our electronic tools, or social benefits, by the fact that we’ve never known hardship and can’t imagine a day when we don’t get what we want, and can’t have whatever we think we need.
Uhm, I’m sorry. This has not been my life experience. And it hasn’t been the experience of many of many contemporaries. To sweepingly refer to an entire generation as an entitled, selfish mess is to do a grave injustice to the serious social and economic inequalities we endure, and to the huge spectrum of lived experiences within the Millennial generation. Yes, some of us are privileged and entitled and have had everything they ever wanted or needed — but that hasn’t been the case for all of us.
For every Lena Dunham, there are thousands of people at the economic and social margins who have struggled. They’ve been educated in substandard schools, fought for college educations, struggled to advance in a society that tries to keep them down. For every entitled young man or woman living at home and enjoying the luxuries of a middle class life, there are people struggling to make do in rural and urban areas alike, people in the same age range with totally different social and cultural experiences. For us, the privileged Millennial lifestyle is totally beyond our ken.
I didn’t grow up in a nice, middle class home with middle class parents, getting everything I wanted. I grew up in a tin house with a single dad who worked his hardest to provide the opportunities he could, but was well aware that he’d never be able to give me what many of my classmates had. I didn’t know hunger, like some of my classmates did, but I didn’t have the experience of effortlessly getting what I wanted, when I wanted it. I had to work if I wanted something, and I say this not in a ‘in my day we had to walk two miles uphill through the snow’ kind of way, but in contrast to what is socially cast as the universal Millennial experience. For me, that experience doesn’t resonate, and the narratives in media and pop culture don’t really make sense to me.
I was talking with a friend the other day about Girls and how it depicted a kind of life, history, and experience that was alien to me, but must resonate with someone, and I realised that this is how many people think the Millennial experience works — impossibly large apartments in Manhattan, getting your own television show because you have influence and connections in the world. This world is so far removed from my own that it’s like a funhouse mirror to me.
Millennials are almost invariably depicted as white, privileged, and spoiled, thereby erasing a huge portion of the population that was born in the same era. It erases those of us who were born white and poor, it erases the people of colour who’ve grown up alongside us and contributed so much to society and culture. It erases the lives of the young men and women who have gone to war in our generation, the experience of growing up with endless wars and police actions. It erases the very genuine and painful classwar originating from the Millennial generation — this is not discontent at not getting what we want, but genuine class rage coming from people who have been living on the margins, and subjected to gross social inequality.
We may not be as fun to profile or as easy to pick on, but we are here, alive and well. We are fighting on the ground to make a better society, and we are Millennials too — even if society, and our own fellow Millennials, refuse to acknowledge that we exist and instead insist that our generational experience is uniform. We are here, and we demand to be counted.
Image: Containing the Sky, Andrew E. Larsen, Flickr.