But now, if you ask anyone who isn’t one and some of those who are, Millennials are what’s destroying us. They are accused of being lazy, entitled, coddled, and narcissistic. They’re ruining the workforce, the country, and, apparently, Thanksgiving.
It’s not like we didn’t see this coming. Every generation since the invention of the teenager has come of age to eye-rolling from the grown-ups who grew up before them. In 1964, when the toddlers of the post-war Baby Boom were fully-fledged teens, the writer Martha Weinman Lear, described the new generation thusly:
There they stand, on a big threshold and awesomely hip. They cut their baby teeth on television, sharpened their bite on space, grew up to marry sooner, pay later, become dropouts and juvenile delinquents, crowd the colleges and the Peace Corps, act distressingly complacent and painfully idealistic, head straight for hell and be the bright new hope of tomorrow. In short, to mess briefly with Dickens, they are the best of teens, they are the worst of teens, and they are surrounded by adults who know one view or the other to be absolutely true.
Boomers, the 75 million or so people born between 1946 and 1964, were derided for their obsession with instant communication (sound familiar?)—“the instant joke, the instant fad, the instant dance, the instant celebrity, instantly communicated by television and relays of disk jockeys from coast to coast,” as Lear put it. The girls dressed too casually and had (gasp!) pierced ears. Teenagers used slang like “gear” and “tuff” (when they meant “fabulous”) and “animal” and “skag” (when they meant “jerk”).
“The communication may be faster, but the herd instinct is no greater than it used to be,” Lear wrote. “Beatlemania has nothing on the raccoon coat, the Big Apple, or those ‘Three Little Fishes in an Itty‐Bitty Pool.’”
Those little fishies were the subject of a No. 1 song in 1939. A tune that, to a certain generation, still evokes, well, something. I suppose, like anything, you had to be there.
“We're also constantly reminded that decades define us,” John Allen Paulos wrote for The New York Times in 1995. “Is there anything more vapid? In the free-love, anti-war 60s, hippies felt so-and-so; the greed of the 80s led yuppies to do such and such; sullen and unread Generation X-ers (Roman numeral Ten-ers?) never do anything. We should brace ourselves for the millennial fatuities to come in the year 1999.”
Though Paulos seemed to have been referring to the time period, and not just the youths of the era, his use of “millennial” was at least semi-prescient. The term, as a name for a generation of young people, wouldn’t be fully established for more than a decade. Older Millennials—people who were in high school in the second half of the 1990s—used to be known as Generation Y, echoing Generation X that came before them. (The Times, in 2009, defined Generation Y as anyone born between roughly 1980 and 2003.) Some old Millennials and not-quite-Millennials disassociate themselves from the Millennial designation altogether.
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