Are We The Worst Generation?
Are we all fuck ups? The general consensus, if you haven’t heard, is “yes.” Even the cover of Time Magazine this week asks the question about whether millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists. Oh wait, nope – I had that wrong. They don’t “ask” that. They accept it outright on their way to playing the contrarian card. Ultimately, to their credit, they defend millennials. But hey, guys, apparently we need defending.
I’m sure, like me, you’re not surprised. You can see only so many selfie Facebook albums and shitty tweets and, ahem, “comedic columns” before you want to put a spike through your eye (but not without Vine-ing it). Our grandparents fought in wars we don’t even remember (Korea, it isn’t just known for its BBQ) and lacked convenient access to contraception (I’ve only had to use shrink wrap, like, two times). Our parents quietly carved out lives for us without complaint, and lacked convenient access to shorts that covered their upper thighs. But us? I literally stamped my feet today when the line at Starbucks was more than seven people long. I’ve checked the “likes” tally on one of my Facebook posts probably eight times in the last hour – it was about farting on the subway. And now for the coup de grace: I quit my job two years ago to be a stand up comedian. My Grandmother asks about my “thing” as if it were an orgy she didn’t want to directly address. And when I explained my move to comedy to my grandfather, he looked at me like I was zoo animal. I’m sure the only thing he had running through his head was all his buddies who died face down in the dirt so I could stand in front of fifteen people and talk about the intricacies of my boner for twenty minutes.
How then, can we deny the naysayers? How can we say that we DON’T suck? A friend of mine, a sub-thirty-year-old manager in a financial firm, had to attend a training course on how to “manage millennials,” as if we are crickets to be herded. He relayed how it turned into a middle-aged bitching session (it was an awesome tweet), each manager taking turns prattling on about the excesses and expectations of the typical millennial. Even he got in on the act, before realizing he was a card-carrying member of the “Me” generation. Ultimately, the conclusion everyone reached was that their younger employees needed to be a little coddled before they eventually “get it.” Ouch. Guys, our generation is the cousin who just got out of rehab: keep it light, nothing too stressful, and try not to make it obvious that you’re worried about him. Maybe he’ll get it together.
Maybe I can’t defend what we are, but I think I can explain it. The question my buddy’s company was really asking was “How do we retain people who don’t want to be retained?” As a generation, we have this idea that if a job (or a hobby, or anything) doesn’t work out for us, then it’s not the thing for us. That’s something the older generation never wrestled with, and maybe the crux of our differences: never before has choice been so available. I had a buddy visit from NYU when I was at Penn State. He commented on how jealous he was of our lives. I said, “Why? You have all of New York to pick from.” And he said, “That’s the problem – you guys know the one or two bars that will have all the hot girls that night. We don’t – there’s too much.” People like to believe our generation suffered for all the trophies we got, but that’s only a symptom of the real issue. The real issue is the insidious thing our parents beat into us our whole lives: “You can do whatever you want if you set your mind to it!” All this choice we have now – jobs, cities, Tinder, YouPorn – gives us reasons to retreat. The internet makes life feel like a smorgasbord of opportunity we’re all just missing out on. I swear Facebook exists only to make us jealous of our one buddy that’s bumming it in Belize. All of this glorious choice surrounding us, and the belief we can have it all…and we’re crippled by it. We can’t decide between the steady paycheck and the dream, so we end up half-assing one, or both. The worst generation? We are only a result of everything that came before us, the culmination of the comfort every generation before us tried to create.
Today, I watched a hunched over old man alone in a booth at a diner. His hands tremored; he could barely hold onto his toast. That will be us. But instead of a paper in front of us, we’ll have some kind of floating hologram iPad or whatever – and instead of staring at lifeless words and shaking and feeling the vacuum of old age bending to death, we’ll be able to type into our Facebook feed: “shaking a bit less today” or “I miss my wife” or “I just pooped myself.” And it will be narcissistic and self-indulgent but it won’t be nearly as sad, because someone, somewhere is reading that. A moment of connection. And then we’ll think about starting a food blog. And we’ll order a ukulele off of Amazon. And we’ll wonder if our meager pension could get us a loft in Chicago. Because that’s how we Millennials tame death: by trying, desperately, to live more.
Let the magazines and middle-aged middle-managers argue. Someday they’ll lie on their deathbed and wonder what Tinder was like, or another career, or a new town, and they’ll realize their careful, conservative calculations on how to live life brought them to the same end as everyone else. But me? I’ll be double-middle fingers blasting at the heavens, shouting at God to leave me for just another month. I never got to Belize.