There seems to be a tremendous market for articles about how millennials are destroying society as we know it. Headlines that allege that those born between 1984 and 2000 possess puny attention spans, are obsessed with our newfangled technology, and have no concept of a hard day’s work are like crack to the Internet. They are the “10 Generic Signs You Went to -Insert University Here-” clickbait of the older generation, just crammed in the editorial section of the Washington Post. And, just like the Ten Signs you Are Affiliated with Some Sort of Community posts, millennial-bashing articles are just lazy journalism and shouldn’t be tolerated.
Last Tuesday, a blog post from WaPo went viral, claiming that millennials don’t eat cereal because we’re too lazy and entitled to do our dishes. Apparently this aversion to cleaning up after ourselves was instilled in childhood when our parents didn’t make us do our chores.
Really, Roberto A. Ferdman? First and foremost, even if I grant your premise, you think “kids are spoiled” is news? Secondly, I couldn’t find the “Mintel” survey that Ferdman and others cited, stating that 40% of millennials reported they balked at cereal due to its labor-intensive clean-up. I would wager a bet that he couldn’t find it, either. My guess is that the survey was worded in a problematic way–otherwise, it stands to reason that the consumption of all food requiring plates and bowls among millennials would be down. …And yet.
Here’s an alternative: maybe millennials eat less cereal because cereal lacks nutrition, and we are more health-conscious than previous generations. The New York Times suggested young people are swapping cereal with “hot grains, smoothies, yogurt, or breakfast sandwiches.” You know what has more day-sustaining protein than Frosted Flakes or Lucky Charms? How about hot grains, smoothies, yogurt, and breakfast sandwiches. There’s no way I am ruining my 7 AM workout with a bowl of soggy sugar pellets when it’s not even going to get me through my mid-morning meeting. (This example raises the question: if I’m waking up at the crack of dawn to attend to my fitness before work every day, how exactly does that fit into the millennials-are-lazy narrative?)
On the other hand, the generation before ours may have cultivated the first obesity epidemic in the history of mankind. Our parents’ generation was so lazy that they literally invented prepackaged, frozen dinners to be heated up in the microwave because they couldn’t be bothered to cook. The positive implications of the rise of the “career woman” notwithstanding, TV dinners are a dish-washing evasion technique if I ever saw one.
Yet I won’t fault my parents. Maybe all people, regardless of age, avoid doing dishes because chores are boring and time-consuming, not as some reflection of a deep-seated character flaw.
Nevertheless, groaning about “kids these days” is not a novel complaint. Older generations have been bashing their younger counterparts since the dawn of time, when your grandmother had to walk uphill both ways in the snow barefoot to get to school. The generation that directly predated the wheel probably kvetched to their children, “In my day, we carried our loads on our backs to get them from point A to point B!” The obvious response to this is, “Maybe because you were too myopic to innovate the process.”
In the same week Cerealgate went down, a 25-year-old former Yelp employee endured an onslaught of backlash for the blog post she wrote condemning her CEO for not paying her a living wage. “Back in my day,” another millennial contributor to Business Insider claimed (paraphrasing), “I had to work two jobs and live with my parents to support myself!” Because clearly one person’s adversity necessitates that others suffer as well.
Furthermore, I don’t understand why the reflexive response to elite business owners not compensating their workers fairly is to demonize the workers for being lazy and entitled. I’m sure the CEOs of these corporations, however, are loving all the bickering among the proletariat that allows them to continue to shaft the lower class with impunity.
Millennials’ anger about unemployment and low wages is not a reflection of entitlement. Entitlement requires that one feels inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment. I’ll concede that, perhaps, previous generations may not have held the same expectations about the infinite nature of their personal and professional opportunities. However, many millennials are actually deserving in their own right to the version of the American Dream we were fed our entire lives — if you work hard enough, you can be whatever you want to be. Hordes of overachievers scratched and clawed their way to the top of their graduating high school classes to vie for gladiator spots in the intellectual colosseums of top universities. Thus, being squeezed out of the crucible of the most competitive higher education landscape in history and off of the precipice of the worst economy since the Great Depression came as a bit of a shock to say the least. And if similarly-educated, similarly-unemployed members of prior generations didn’t complain about it as much, maybe that’s because they weren’t tens of thousands of dollars in debt on the cusp of the impending education bubble burst.
This same debt may explain the behavior behind criticisms that millennials are emotionally stunted and infantile: student loans are discouraging homebuying, delaying marriage, and preventing us from saving money that we do make.
This is all to say that if you are in the camp that thinks millennials are whiny and entitled, it’s probably your fault. And when previous generations weren’t turning the housing market into their own communal toilet, they were blasting aerosols through the ozone layer, using lakes and rivers as landfills, and saturating the atmosphere with CO2 exhaust from their SUVs that turned our earth into a sauna.
Yet as a testament to our conscientiousness, millennials are more focused on the environment than our parents. More of us report accepting the scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to climate change. Perhaps millennials don’t appear as frugal as we could be because we are more likely to spend more on sustainable products. “Why would you spend the extra $2 on a product with recycled packaging when you can cast another plastic bottle into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?” you ask? Because we give a damn about not trashing the world any further for our children, and maybe even salvaging what is left in the wreckage.
And, as for the argument levied against millennials that we are too picky about the jobs we are offered, in a society where we can expect to spend almost half of our waking hours in the office, shouldn’t the criticism be that all people should be seeking fulfillment and work-life balance in their jobs, not just the younger working generation? And if the mechanisms aren’t in place for this goal to be realistic, shouldn’t we be striving to make it so? Am I the only one who Death of a Salesman in the tenth grade?
In advocating for work fulfillment, I acknowledge a) that I sound like a dirty, dirty Marxist; and, with greater relevance, b) my privileged position in society. I recognize that this proposition is, in many cases, a pipe dream for the less affluent. However, the assumption that work should be soul-draining in contemporary society is and has always been unhealthy for people across socioeconomic strata.
The point is, the End has been Nigh for a long time–since even before some ancient Sumerian with an inexplicable amount of extra time on his hands carved the first version of Gilgamesh into stone in 2100 B.C. There’s a reason Coppola went with Apocalypse Now and not Apocalypse Later, or Apocalypse Quit Making Excuses, Bill, the Sun isn’t Set to Become a Red Giant and Expand into Earth’s Orbit for at Least Another 7.59 Billion Years; I Think You Can Take the Trash Out. But if older generations continue to insist on blaring their foghorns of righteous indignation into the internet, mongering their fear and pinning the blame on millennials who are just trying to get by, perhaps it will be time to relinquish the mantle to a more creative generation.