Millennial Overkill – the media branding that handcuffed an unknowing generation

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In 1940, The Syracuse Herald Journal wrote, “Stocks with a war flavor bounded up to more than four points in today’s early market, in the fastest sprint since the ‘baby boom’ of last fall.” And with that, the first generational moniker was coined, along with a society obsessed with viewing its’ population through the lense of generational differences.

In 1940, The Syracuse Herald Journal wrote, “Stocks with a war flavor bounded up to more than four points in today’s early market, in the fastest sprint since the ‘baby boom’ of last fall.” And with that, the first generational moniker was coined, along with a society obsessed with viewing its’ population through the lense of generational differences. Every 20 to 30 years, writers eagerly jockeyed to cleverly label the unaware infants. 

Generation X. Millennials. Generation Y? And of course the retroactive naming of past generations who were appropriately uninterested in catch-all phrases devoid of meaning. Unlike previous generational labels, “millennial” has not merely been used as a descriptor, but increasingly it is being used as a pejorative. So much so, that the Wall Street Journal issued a direction in their style blog that they should try not to write about millenials with so much disdain. In it they said, “‘Millennials’ has become a sort of snide shorthand in the pages of The Wall Street Journal. We have blamed them for the housing shortage, their fickle shopping habits…and at other times we have treated them like an alien species.”    

As a millennial, I do not resent the term because there are some negative characteristics attached (selfish, unfocused, non-committal) in the same way that I do not take pride in the positive ones (confident, adaptive, independent). I resent it because it is lazy.   

It is impossible to browse the internet without being bombarded with inane headlines like, “25 words only millennials say,” “I’d rather chill and relax: Why millennials don’t go clubbing,” or “Millenials are fueling the rise of an artisanal cheese movement.” It is a bizarre feeling to read these articles, as if everyone over the age of 35 is suddenly Jane Goodall and we are hapless apes obsessed with locally sourced bananas. I presume the people who assign these stories and write them work with young people, maybe on occasion they even talk to them. The need to build these imaginary boundaries seems so unnecessary, we are all much more similar than these superficial articles let on. Nobody likes clubbing, of course words evolve over time, and guess who likes cheese: everybody. Don’t get me wrong, there are differences among pockets of our populations that are interesting and worth exploring, but the fault lines of those differences do not magically emerge every 25 years like clockwork. 

The truth of what makes up the differences amongst us lies in the the evolving environment and circumstances that surround us all. If you see stats that say young people don’t use travel agencies and find their jobs online, that is not because they have a phobia of social situations as is often implied. It is because the circumstances of those procedures have changed. Many of the “behaviors” of millennials can be de-mystified by thinking about the effects of the technology boom first, before thinking about the attitude of the new generation. Context is king.  

Part of the reason it will be difficult to reverse this trend is because it feels good to write-off and assume you fully understand people who are not quite like you, whether the difference be age, race, or sex. It is hard work to understand the “other.” There is no easy remedy for this tendency to rely on lazy, clear narratives as opposed to nuanced, complex ones. Nuance is always less exciting than a string of bombastic claims. The steps The Wall Street Journal and other publications like them have taken to analyze their use of this infectious label is a step in the right direction, but we can do better, and we must. 

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