No one is quite sure exactly what a millennial is, but everyone knows that it's bad to be one.
Some eminently hatable millennials in a Getty stock image
Millennials, we need to talk. Specifically, we need to talk about how we talk about millennials. For a while now there's existed a genre of journalism that takes a few studies, bundles them together, and creates a ridiculously broad, generalized portrait of a generation. Millennials hate going out! Millennials hate free speech! Millennials are bored! Millennials aren't investing! If you want to sell furniture to millennials, boost your digital presence!
Every generation is inevitably reduced to a stereotype: The greatest generation wore hats, died on muddy beaches; baby boomers marched against the war while tripping on acid and listening to "Stop Children What's That Sound"; generation X learned how to live and love while saving their beloved independent record store from demolition. Millennials, in the popular imagination, are all 25-year-old startup employees who complain about low pay in Medium posts, get fired for it, and subsequently go back on Medium to whine about the firing. They hoverboard around their open offices, drinking energy drinks, selfie-ing, refusing to fuck, monetizing their social media presence, pining for the imagined past of the 90s, drinking kale smoothies, whatever.
No one is exactly pumped to be a part of this picture, so props to 26-year-old occasional Game of Thrones recapper Johnny Oleksinski for handling this stereotype in the most millennial way possible: writing a screed about it online, in this case, for the New York Post.
Oleksinski's problems with his compatriots are the usual complaints, like their addiction to smartphones and emojis, their love for Bernie Sanders, their inability to socialize face to face, their tendency to blame others and praise themselves, the way they create online identities more interesting than their sad, shy IRL avatars.
Sure, those people sound awful, just as their alter egos sound brave—those millennials hamstrung by inequality and flat wages, handed a bag of shit by their personal-responsibility-preaching elders and left to grow up in the wake of 9/11 and the global financial crisis. Those poor orphans of circumstance, forced to change jobs all the time because there are so few good gigs; they retreat into online life as a refuge from their shitty offline existences; they follow Sanders around because he promises to lift them up the same way Donald Trump promises to lift old white people up.
There are, give or take, about 75 million millennials in America. That's a lot of messy human experience to pack into one thinkpiece. Millennials have gone off to wars they didn't understand and seen their legs get blown off. Millennials have been killed by the cops for no damn good reason and other millennials have protested those deaths in the street while other millennials in police uniforms fired tear gas at them. Millennials have worked shitty jobs because the economy was busted, they've had the usual humdrum anxieties about the future, they've married each other and had kids and divorced and killed themselves and done too many drugs and got clean. Millennials have gotten rich because their YouTube channels or parody Twitter accounts got unimaginably popular. Millennials hop trains, get drunk, have bad opinions, lie to their girlfriends, listen to embarrassing music in their cars, date Tom Hiddleston as part of a complex web of celebrity publicity. Millennials, in other words, are being utterly unremarkable human beings.
When we tell stories about the differences between generations we always rely on statistics that create trends. (Millennials are less religious! They're more risk-averse!) But it's never clear whether the numbers are indicative of actual shifts or mere aberrations. In any case, the point is the stories that we erect around these numbers.
A few years ago, it seemed like these stories were being written about millennials by others, the point being to explain the mysterious alien youngsters to the non-snapchatting adults. Now that millennials have aged into those cushy journalism jobs where you turn data into op-eds, we're thinkpiecing our peers.
Before Oleksinski there was Alexis Boomer, a woman who a few months ago recorded a vlog from her car about how Kim Kardashian was bad and Tim Tebow was good and we all ought to apologize to our parents for being so shitty. Boomer's rant has a more overtly conservative edge to it, but Oleksinski hits some of the same notes: Hating millennials is a way to demonstrate your seriousness and your adultness while also nodding to a kind of nostalgia that's deeper than, say, me getting excited because the Replacements were reuniting.
"People like me are called 'old souls,' or '26-going-on-76,'" writes Oleksinski. "We're chided by our peers for silly things such as enjoying adulthood, commuting to a physical office and not being enamored with Brooklyn. Contentment has turned us into lepers. Or worse: functioning human beings."
Maybe he gets shit from his friends for preferring Manhattan to Brooklyn, but the fact that Boomer's video scored more than 30 million views should tell you how hated the stereotypical (and largely fictitious) vision of millennials is. Or, fuck it, let's look at a poll: Pew found in September that millennials tended to describe their generation as "self-absorbed," "greedy," and "wasteful" rather than "moral," "patriotic," or "willing to sacrifice"; a majority rejected the "millennial" label entirely. Oleksinski says most people his age are garbage, and most people his age would happily concur.
So that's the latest millennial trend, after orgies and lying to your boss so you can go build a treehouse—hating other millennials with a passion, and feeling good about yourself for it. The fact that no one in the history of the world has ever been as awful as the millennials we imagine in our head doesn't deter us. Once you tell a story that many times, reality pales in comparison.