As we contemplate social, economic and political change for the next few decades, a familiar fixture is quietly gathering strength: the “millennials ruined everything” myth. While true that millennials are entering their peak career years with massive student debt and the smallest number of jobs relative to their general population peers in history, this excuse for a lack of progress in both economic and political arenas has increasingly lost its appeal.
Millennials need not save the world, but there are legitimate questions about how we treat these challenges. What, if anything, have millennials done for this generation that their parents’ generation didn’t do for them? Perhaps most importantly, why does this generation need to be good for everyone else? Some have instead defended millennials’ narcissism in the face of a sometimes unfriendly economy by arguing they’re not interested in “doing the right thing.” I’ve spent more time than I care to admit worrying about what my generation would be like if we choose to use all our time and energy to fight for, and ultimately do nothing with, all the current challenges facing our country.
I think the resurgence of the millennials-invented-everything meme is a consequence of a trend that has come out of this period: a naive fascination with a new generation. While the millennial myth has made a sharp resurgence this past few months, it is not surprising. You can never tell what’s going to be fashionable. (And these days, with beauty companies fronting the newest industries like facial peels, we always knew this was coming.)
But the millennial myth reaches beyond confusion into outright paranoia and fear about what could possibly come. “If we just go fight for them, this entire situation could be fixed.” “Young people couldn’t do that.” “They’re just going to be some evil millennial dictator.” “Your whole generation screwed everything up.” As long as these assumptions persist and the pursuit of the Millennial Myth continues unchecked, the rest of our generation will be forever defined by these specious stereotypes and misunderstood controversies.
A new Twitter parody account gives a pitch-perfect parody of the oft-repeated meme. With names like “Everything millennials ruined” and “This generation is not shit,” the tweet collects a series of honest quotes, like “millennials have made boring work environments easier,” or “millennials made college mandatory and now are the first generation to not be proud of graduating.” The great missives from the Generation-Y accounts can be seen in its entirety on the Twitter page of Adelante PR.
The reason I think the millennials’ whole Generation-Y meme carries peril is because these shortfalls are not a function of limited resources or apathy. If you care about the youth of our country, we need to reconsider the generation that will inherit us as they move into their prime earning years and enter the world of social media and and virtual peer pressure to argue for the causes they consider correct. If we want to send millennials to jail for their crimes, not much good will come of it. But if we want to send youth to college for the sole purpose of marketing products to them or to subsidize them to get through the coursework they cannot do without help, is that really what they want?
The question is not whether a millennial helped this or that type of issue get more attention. It’s whether their actions were rooted in education, research, perseverance, and success. Only then will the myth of our millennial generation be reined in.