You’re tired of hearing this, but it’s true: millennials haven’t had the easiest time of it. Economic disaster and widening inequality hit us hard, and now we’re scolded for being late to parenthood and home ownership — or else blamed for “killing” any number of industries once supported by people in their 20s and 30s. Within the job market, we allegedly lack work ethic, being frivolous, entitled, oversensitive and under-skilled babies addicted to iced coffee and avocado.
But think about who created that millennial edition of Monopoly, for example, which openly sneers at our misfortune through these miserable clichés. It wasn’t a bunch of old geezers yukking it up over at Hasbro headquarters; it was other millennials. The company said as much in the marketing copy they shared with the media: “With many of us being millennials ourselves, we understand the seemingly endless struggles and silly generalizations that young Millennials can face (and we can’t even!),” they wrote, “so we created the game to provide fans with a lighthearted experience that allows millennials to take a break from real life and laugh at the relatable experiences and labels that can sometimes be placed on them.”
Taking a break… from real life… with a game about how hard real life is… sounds pretty awesome, not gonna lie.
This is an uncomfortable truth of the intergenerational conflict that plays out across social networks and employment sectors: Although we tend to view Baby Boomers as the villains keeping us down, ravaging the planet and our most hallowed institutions in the process, we’re equally susceptible to millennial-on-millenial crime — we are, in classic self-loathing fashion, our own vicious critics, far more likely to hold a negative self-image than the silent generation, Boomers or Gen X.
But this is also possible because some of us lucked into the very power structure that a radicalized portion of the demographic hopes to destroy. Take, for example, 35-year-old John Winning, CEO of Winning Group, an Australian appliance company, who recently characterized his fellow millennials as lazy, debt-ridden slobs. “People are expecting more than what they put in,” he complained. “Some of the people coming in for interviews, their expectation of what they should be paid versus how much they’re expected to work is just crazy.” In addition to claiming that decent millennial employees are “few and far between,” he also attacked his age cohort for using Instagram, eating at restaurants and going on vacations.
As you might’ve guessed, Winning shares a name with the business he runs because his family has owned it since 1906. No doubt he made enormous sacrifices to inherit his success, and therefore, he’s within his rights to blast millennials for not rolling up their sleeves and working themselves to the bone.
Apart from indicating the split between those born into status in the 1980s and 1990s and peers who have clawed their way to near-stability, these comments point to a related issue: the political meaning of “millennial” versus the literal one. Because conservatism in general, and Trumpism in particular, gravitate toward an image of left-leaning youth as “shiftless layabouts who text all the time,” per Jeet Heer in The New Republic, their mouthpieces have released the millennial label from its moorings. Now it can be shorthand for anyone younger than oneself who voices (or is assumed to harbor) progressive ideals. That’s why curmudgeonly right-wingers still talk of snowflake millennials as college-aged when the eldest are in fact pushing 40, while the last of the group are already in their mid-20s.
Gen Z, too, appears poised for internal strife, aided by a classist contempt for the less fortunate. Those making the transition from their teen years with the means to buy property are given to a certain style of online brag — typically a photo of their new house, maybe with their significant other, and a caption along the lines of “I’m not even 21, what’s your excuse?”
Absent from this taunt is any clue to the circumstances of the investment; it strongly implies great personal toil, yet it feels detached from a realistic notion of labor, and invites hostile speculation as to who really ponied up for the down payment. The trope is now common enough to generate memes mocking the delusional privilege of those who earnestly invoke it. This is the millennial situation all over again: a few well-placed individuals shitting on the rest of their age bracket for struggling in a system that has, in its dynastic fashion, rewarded those who started at the top of the heap.
If millennials impart anything to kids now reaching maturity, perhaps it should be that generational solidarity matters. That we try to distance ourselves from everyone in the same sinking boat prevents us from working together to salvage the vessel, and it reinforces the capitalist nightmare of zero-sum competition — not accidentally, the defining principle of a brutal ideology that would see us eliminate the social safety net and privatize every public resource.
At this moment, no one is doing more to smear millennials than millennials. Contrary to the claim that we shirk responsibility, blaming our problems on the middle-aged, we take failures straight to heart and turn them into relentless guilt. We are, remember, the ones writing most of the headlines. The jokes about us lean on the “participation trophy,” this emblem of artificially inflated self-esteem. But we always knew the hollow nature of such rewards: They were what you got when you weren’t good enough.
As you can tell, it did wonders for our confidence.