Aha! You probably clicked on this story because you wanted to revel in another Millennials takedown, but you overlooked that apostrophe. This post isn’t about the problem presented by Millennials, it’s about the problem faced by Millennials. That they face any problems at all might come as a surprise to you, as most of the coverage they receive presents them as spoiled and entitled and lazy. But the reality is that being a Millennial is pretty freaking horrible.
Today’s reality is that when the young Millennial graduates from college, they’re faced with two equally unsavory choices; get an office job and enter into an elaborate pantomime in which you pretend to be an adult, or basically just take your chances on the margins. If you opt for the first choice, our culture will extend you every courtesy and assistance imaginable; lines of credit, organic grocery stores, online shopping, advanced algorithmic dating sites, happy hour text alerts to your iPhone. The only downside is that you’ll be miserable. You’ve gone from the cradle directly into the veal pen. You have no real life experience (college doesn’t count; at best it’s a dress rehearsal) and you’ve now insured that you won’t get any. What, are you going to get all your livin’ in during your two weeks paid vacation a year? You’re going to spend half that time catching up on sleep debt and the other half answering emails from your boss. And forget doing anything after work; you’re going to be so tired and bleary-eyed that all you’ll be able to do is either sit back and take in passive entertainment (ever wonder why sports is so popular? Bad jobs, that’s why), or drink yourself into a blackout to erase the memory of another wasted day.
If the young Millennial opts for the other thing – to live, basically – they face a hard road. Unlike your white collar contemporaries, there will be no helping hand, no well-trod path, no spectrum of options, no safety net. Even a decade ago, one could easily find a part-time sinecure to finance a few years of leisure, but now those jobs pay half of what they used to, and the competition for them has increased exponentially. There’s a reason that all the members of today’s bohemian class have trust funds (with a concurrent nosedive in bohemians’ authenticity quotient); they’re the only ones who can afford to opt out. One might see this narrowing of prospects as a sign of the deterioration of American society, but if you think about it, it’s probably closer to a refinement. The end goal is full employment, everyone at the oars, and the real Shyamalan ending is that they’ve somehow convinced the masses that this is an ideal we should strive towards. Every time I see a politician on TV calling for “jobs, more jobs!” I want to reply, “no, less jobs! We want fewer jobs!” Jobs aren’t the solution, they’re the problem.
If the young Millennial tries to avoid or just delay getting onto the cubicle treadmill, not only will America not extend you the aforementioned help that it lavishes upon its worker bees, it will do everything it can to demean, demoralize, and sabotage you. At best, you’ll be a nonentity, at worst an anti-citizen. You could literally starve to death under a bridge and no one will acknowledge it in any way, save for maybe an internet commenter who will write “get a job hippie” in the comments section of your funeral announcement. And here I assume some of you are saying, “aha! Here, finally, is the entitlement of the n, showing its smug face, its outstretched hand.” But entitlement is a relative term; prisoners will deride a new inmate as entitled if he wants to shower in private. This doesn’t mean a bathroom with a door is for spoiled brats. It just means standards are a function of circumstance, and the fact that complaining about a raw deal is characterized by commentators as “spoiled whining” says more about the commentators than it does about the complainers. Most of the harsher critics of Millennials are of a previous generation, and motivated mainly by ressentiment – a fancy academic term that boils down to “I’m miserable, why should you have it any better?” We like to think of the older generation as possessing the wisdom of age, but we forget that most of them never grew up. They just got older, which is not the same thing. Inside they’re a venomously bitter 22 year old who never got to sleep until noon and have casual sex, and they’ll be damned if today’s youth have it any better.
The strange thing is that Millennials don’t have anything close to a monopoly on entitlement. After all, no one is more entitled than the middle-aged professional class from whom most of the critiques originate – they demand granite countertops, Whole Foods, artisanal sorbet, and bendy smartphones, and the rest of the world falls all over itself to give it to them. And yet we don’t hear about their entitlement, because they pay in the coin of the realm – literally but also figuratively. Their entitlement is labeled “demand.” But let one Millennial ask for a reasonable amount of vacation, or for a 35-hour workweek (still too long by a full third), and the cries of “Slacker!” go up. When you look at it like this, you see that the conflict isn’t over entitlement or attitude or work ethic; it’s about money. Or, more precisely, about the drive towards total monetization.
Progress being what it is, this younger generation can’t help but be a little wiser to the big con game than previous generations. Sure, not everyone is opting out – there are plenty of salmon-pantsed bros who’ll gladly foreclose on your grandma – but there are quite a few. And every time another article about how Millennials don’t buy houses or cars comes out, the Establishment gets a stomachache that can only be soothed by writing another think piece about how Millennials need to “get their act together,” i.e. buy houses and cars. America can barely keep its head above water as it is, the last thing it needs is the next generation riding bikes around and shrinking the tax base.
And this then is the ultimate irony of Millennial criticism – that the people accusing them of being entitled, immature brats are, in a roundabout way, just whining that this new generation isn’t jumping at the chance to repeat their mistakes, to pay down the debt accrued by their predecessors, to generate the taxes that will finance free trash pickup at their retirement homes. (And they are very determined to be the last generation to experience retirement.) In the end, it’s these critics of Millennials who are the big stupid whiny babies.