5 Lies Millennials And Baby Boomers Believe About Each Other
In October, the Los Angeles Times posted the "Millennial Pledge," wherein a grumpy old man shared his confused ramblings about lazy kids these days who won't turn down their hippity-raps. A significant backlash followed, marking the latest idiotic skirmish in the long-running debate of "young people are dumb slackers v. old people are out-of-touch bores." You've no doubt seen a battle waged in the news, on social media, or at a family gathering when you just wanted to eat chips and talk about football. But pretty much every article, Facebook comment, and drunk uncle makes a series of ridiculous assumptions that only muddles the debate further. Allow me to millennialsplain the problem.
It's Not A New Debate
The Pledge was the latest and dumbest entry in the long-running narrative that millennials are so uniquely poorly equipped as a generation that it's a wonder we aren't all tripping over our shoelaces and falling into open manholes on our way to take out another ill-advised loan. Apparently, we're not inheriting the Earth; we're just throwing a sweet kegger while we run it into the ground. This quote from one stuffy baby boomer sums it up:
"The counts of the indictment are luxury, bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect to elders, and a love for chatter in place of exercise."
Typical, right? Except it's not, because I tricked you, just like my dad tricked me when he said he was only going out for smokes. That's a quote from a 1907 essay about how the ancient Greeks viewed their uppity, irresponsible youth. Some toga-clad senior was grumbling that this Socrates punk needed to show some respect or his so-called "method" would never catch on. The media makes it sound like millennials are the first generation in history to fumble humanity's baton pass, but this complaint's existed since the dawn of recorded civilization. Ever since humans earned some breathers in between hunting and foraging we've used that spare time to complain that our offspring need to save boar meat for their retirement, have some kids, and get serious about cobbling instead of trying to make it as a minstrel.
"You want to get shot fighting Germans? Son, back in my day we got black lung,
and that was good enough for us."
Mental Floss assembled an article of quotes criticizing kids from 1933 back to 20 goddamn B.C. My favorite is an 1869 Scientific American article about how this hot new fad called "chess" is an idiotic waste of time because it doesn't make you smarter or healthier, a criticism that's since been applied to everything from rock music to Pogs. Tell the writer of the Millennial Pledge or one of his comrades in crotchetiness that you're quitting video games for chess and you'd be labeled a role model for your generation. Hell, even the most damning criticism of millennials is written in an informal manner that grumps from centuries past would find appalling. Contractions and slang? What's next, interracial marriage?
Every single generation has this debate, and every single time it all works out in the end. Young people responsibly take charge of the world, grow old, completely forget how much they hated being criticized, and tell their kids to get their shit together. We're treating this like a huge new cultural conflict, but 30 years from now someone my age is going to be writing nonsensical dictates to the Bieber generation, and the cycle will continue until the Earth is hurtled into the sun.
At which point someone will complain that when they were kids they never got hurtled into the sun.
The Past Isn't As Great As You Remember
Earlier this year, Arizona state Sen. Sylvia Allen said Arizona would enjoy "moral rebirth" if church attendance was mandatory, arguing that the '50s were superior because she could take the bus without fear of violence (or the fear of having to listen to the loud music of a black kid with funny hair, she didn't add but implied). You see this argument a lot, usually in the form of a reminiscence like "I remember when you didn't have to lock your doors" or "I remember when you could make hackneyed gay jokes and no one would complain" or "I remember only having to lock my back door when the gays were around, if you know what I mean."
The '50s may have been great for straight white people, but it's hard to argue for the moral superiority of an era that had segregated drinking fountains. Life's objectively better for us straight white guys too, considering I can write this, play a video game, and order a pizza without having to leave my chair. What did the '50s have for entertainment? The radio? Polio? Fuck you, '50s.
Featuring hit programs like Tom Corbett, Space Cadet Gets Space Polio and
The Green Hornet Battles His Tuberculosis.
As another example, Fox News contributor (a word I use in its broadest sense) Todd Starnes wrote a book about "the attack on traditional values." His paranoia disguised as folksiness begins with a reminiscence of growing up in a simpler time, "when blackberry was a pie and dirty dancing meant somebody forgot to clean out the barn for the square dance." That would sound cute coming from your grandma, but Dirty Dancing came out when Starnes was 20. He knows damn well it refers to surreptitiously masturbating to Jennifer Grey because his date got sick of his fruit jokes and left, but he's writing about it like a goddamn time traveler. Either he has the memory of the angry bullfrog he resembles, or he's a liar.
It's easy to dismiss Starnes and Allen as people pandering to an audience as out of touch as they are, and that's because that's what's happening. But their argument shows up everywhere. Here's a Miranda Lambert song about the good old days of crap like payphones, tape decks, letter writing, and paper maps. You know, stuff from back when you had to work for your rewards. But Lambert's 32. She grew up alongside CDs and email; she sang about how everyone used to tough out marital problems a year before she got divorced. She doesn't have some secretive political motive -- she's just trying to sell country music. But she and Starnes and Allen are mythologizing a time that never really existed for them. They're making the past look better than it was to make the present seem worse than it is.
"Hey, I'm calling you from a payphone because I miss their elegant simplicity, and I also miss being able
to doodle dicks on public property while you ramble on about your dumb problems."
This isn't limited to old conservatives and the pop culture marketed to them. Remember people complaining that Michael Bay "raped" their childhoods with Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? You know, movies based on cartoons designed entirely to sell toys? Cartoons that have aged like raw fish left out in the sun? How about all the 20-somethings moaning that Justin Bieber is proof music and culture in general is doomed, as if they didn't grow up listening to boy bands? These seem like trivial complaints, but it's an attitude that seeps into everything. You can be a person who stays open-minded and admits that Justin Bieber isn't half-bad now, or you can be a person who makes blanket complaints about modern pop culture when you're 25 and blanket complaints about 25-year-olds when you're 60.
Today's Youth Do Have It Easier, And That's A Good Sign
On the angry old person side of the debate, many complaints boil down to "kids have it easier than I did." It's easier to go to a job interview in jeans than in a suit, it's easier to dash off emails and texts than to handwrite letters, it's easier to anonymously buy novelty butt plugs online than it is to meticulously craft them in your workshop. Comments that people no longer show respect or patience are often code for "I had to suffer through a bunch of arbitrary bullshit to accomplish my goals, so you should too. I hope the Nazis rise again just so you have to fight them before you get to go to college."
The hip counter-argument tends to be "Actually, old man, our lives are harder in ways you can't even begin to understand. Now I'm going to do a skateboard trick off your face. Raditude!" It's true someone who's been retired for five years after working the same job for 40 is going to have trouble relating to the perils of a shaky job market, but they're right on a fundamental level. Our lives are better. Generally, we have more educational and professional options, we're more tolerant, we own a dozen devices that can stream porn at a moment's notice. I can't begin to imagine writing this one-handed on a typewriter.
I think I'm OK in this case, inspirational stock photo.
And this isn't something we should be defensive about. We should acknowledge that in many ways our lives are easier, because that's a sign humanity is continuing to progress. If our lives aren't easier than our parents' lives were, something in society went sideways. And if our children don't have it easier than we do, we fucked up. It's bizarre to either deny that young people have advantages or acknowledge that they do but argue that's bad for civilization, because the goal of humanity has been to make life better for the next generation ever since we realized that sleeping in a cave is nicer than sleeping outside.
So we have false conflicts. Pissing matches where we argue we're worse off, because that makes our struggles seem more dramatic. "I can't get a good job because the previous generation ruined the economy" provides a clear perpetrator to blame. "I can't get a job because, like pretty much every generation in history, I have to live through some economic hardship that's far beyond our control" just reminds us how frighteningly arbitrary life can be. And being a victim doesn't feel as good if everyone's a victim.
At least we can still blame the government, God, and foreigners.
We can acknowledge that the current generation is struggling somewhat but also enjoying a higher quality of life, because that's how life's supposed to work. It's not an all-or-nothing, "one generation had it objectively worse in every category imaginable" debate people should be trying to win. Then you're just trying to blame someone so you can feel better about your problems. And on that note ...
Entire Generations Aren't To Blame
When the writer of the Millennial Pledge was called out for achieving such a bold new low in observational comedy that people who joke about airline food and PMS thought he was stale, he doubled down with a defensive and equally humorless response. This time he backed up his insulting generalizations with insulting generalizations made by other people, like a retired hiring manager who agreed that millennials are universally entitled and arrogant. He gathered out-of-touch people together to create the illusion of authority and relevance, like an NRA meeting. He fully deserved the mockery he received, but let's look at a widely posted response.
It falls into the exact same trap: assuming the Pledge writer represents all baby boomers, therefore opening up an entire generation to criticism. At least it's just parodying the format, but it's part of a trend. You may have seen this comic make the social media rounds:
The same message is in this meme:
And this one:
See the pattern? Every baby boomer is conservative and hates kids. Every boomer got an education and a great job handed to them, even the droves dying prematurely thanks to economic hardship. Every boomer is responsible for ruining the country, like they had a meeting and decided to screw over millennials instead of individually fumbling their way through social and cultural factors beyond their control like the rest of us. Hey, look at all these terrible headlines with arguments more vapid than those trying to convince you the moon landing was faked by ISIS.
Millennials, or at least the ones directing the conversation, are responding to accusations that they're all immature and blind to reality by calling all baby boomers immature and blind to reality, which is like telling a 12-year-old Call Of Duty troll that you're going to make his mom airtight. And that's a problem, because ...
You Will Become Out Of Touch
Here's the image a lot of people, including myself, used to mock the Millennial Pledge:
But here's the thing: Thirty years from now, young people won't get that reference. "Oh, is that from that terrible cartoon in its 57th season? The Simpson Guy?" We're calling an old guy out of touch with an image from a show that hasn't been relevant in a decade.
It's fine for millennials to vent frustration over how we're viewed by society, but making sweeping conclusions about our critics is the worst possible way to go about it. We're never going to change the minds of people who write nonsense like the Millennial Pledge. But we are going to perpetuate the idea that economic and social problems are the universal fault of a single generation, rather than struggles everyone has to muddle through together. And then we're going to grow old, and instead of trying to understand and help our successors, we're going to be that old man yelling at a cloud because we've internalized the idea of generational conflict. We're perpetuating the very problem we're opposed to now. And then someone's going to blame us for every issue in their lives, dismiss our complaints with an iconic image from an interactive VR porno we never watched because videos were always good enough for us, and leave us confused and upset.
"Wait, so what does the giant cock represent? Just post a nice, simple
Condescending Wonka, you damn kids."
It's an easy trap to get caught in because it's so alluring. Telling yourself, "Sure, today's middle-aged people forget what it's like to be young and looked down on, but when I'm old I'll remember and break the cycle that's existed since time immemorial," reassures you that you'll always be hip and relevant no matter how many gray hairs creep in. But then your kid tells you he failed his cyber-psionics test because he and his friends stayed up all night snorting spider eggs and rocket-punching each other in the nuts like all the cool kids, and suddenly you want to grab him by the shoulders and call his entire generation moronic no matter how vividly you remember your own youthful alienation. Something like, "My generation wasn't perfect, but compared to you guys we looked like geniuses," will slip from your mouth, and suddenly you will become everything you feared.
Again, these conversations are going to continue until the Earth turns to dust. But instead of growing up to tell kids that their generation needs to get its collective shit together, only to have them roll their eyes and complain about our generation on Future Facebook, we can be the cool, open-minded adults. Which will still elicit rolled eyes and complaints, because ugh, young people are the worst.
You can read more from Mark at his website.
Baby boomers might scream about millennials and teen pregnancy, but it turns out they were the ones doing the wild dick-slinging. See more myths debunked in 5 Complaints About Modern Teens (That Are Statistically B.S.), and read why the viral news stories you're sharing are bogus in 6 Shady Ways The Media Makes Millennials Look Like Idiots.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel to see why the biggest threat to our generation is Disney movies in How Classic Disney Movies Made An Entire Generation Suck, and watch other videos you won't see on the site!
Also follow us on Facebook before your parents make Facebook completely uncool.
Join the Cracked Team as they sit down with scientists and special guests to discuss the accuracy of post-apocalyptic movie worlds in a LIVE PODCAST at UCB on Dec. 9 at 7 p.m.! Tickets on sale here!