Let’s just get this out of the way. I’m in my early 20s. I’m white. I grew up in a middle-class suburban household in a boring city in a moderately liberal state. From an outside perspective, I present as cis-gendered and straight, although I don’t identify as either. I have, as the kids say, hella privilege. And if I hear another goddamn social commentator talk about how people in my generation are frittering our lives away, I’m gonna lose my fucking mind.
I’ll be the first to say that I was kind of a spoiled kid. I was my parents’ first child, and they hovered to a degree that I found truly trying, even in my early preteen years. I was, for example, the only kid in my class not allowed to see "Titanic" when it came out in theatres.
My mom and dad never let me do any rad stuff like TP my friends’ houses or run around barefoot in the park. And, I learned much later, my elementary school labeled them as “high-profile parents:” the obnoxious hand-wringers who would fret about their first-grader not getting enough “stimulation” even as she happily gnawed on the edge of a desk.
In short, they were the kind of people whom this New Yorker article roundly criticizes. And it’s true: I am, through and through, an “early millennial.” I had an AOL screen name when I was four and a complex about getting straight-As by the time I hit fifth grade. A whole host of random adults lived in my house and gave me the side-eye throughout my entire sad pubescence. I mean, my dad made me take the SATs a grand total of seven times.
By all rights, I should be spending my post-collegiate life buried in the safety of my mother’s nightgown, drooling in terror and unable to tie my shoes without the helping hand of a nearby caretaker. It is a sheer miracle that I can refrain from dissolving into garbled tears every time I interact with a public transit system.
According to the New Yorker (and a whole slew of other moderately respected publications), my generation’s parents’ compulsive need to suckle us on the relentless teat of postivity has doomed the planet to sweatpantsed mediocrity for the next twenty-odd years. The New Yorker looks to the everyman protagonist of Judd Apatow’s movies as a sort of potbellied idol to the hordes of sweaty, confused youth: at night, we apparently toss and turn dreaming of fame and vegetarian chili, unconcerned with the unglamorous trappings of adulthood. We’ve been told our whole lives that we’re worthy of praise, so when we’re actually supposed to work for it, we react with the sort of swarthy indignation usually reserved for Pixar villains.
We are, as the New Yorker clearly relishes writing, “adultolescents.”
I see where all of those social analysts are coming from. I do. Like I’ve said before, I’ve been grappling with the idea that I’m not a delicate unique flower since hitting puberty. I understand that for some people, the notion that they weren’t put on this earth for others to adore is a difficult one to grasp. So yes, some of my peers are probably still living under their parents’ roofs, drinking all their Blue Moons and cowering at the thought of maintaining a service job to pay the electricity bill.
I also think, however, that relying on the inherent “laziness” of 20-somethings is both unoriginal and completely incorrect. Ever since the 1950s, it seems, adults have been making horrifed faces at the slouching teenaged masses. Somehow, though, all those Elvis-dancing heathens all managed to grow up and spawn equally horrifying mini-people of their own without unnecessary torment.
For starters, I don’t think that being told you’re destined for greatness is necessarily a disadvantage. If fame (or at least historical significance) is a legitimate goal in your desired field, all the more reason to bust your own ass until you get there. “Potential” is a word that’s haunted me since I was old enough to scrawl my name in the margins of stolen hymnals. It’s certainly not endowed me with any sense of entitlement. In fact, quite the opposite: it’s generated so much anxiety that I occasionally find the prospect of greatness strangling.
And you know what? I have a job. Lots of my friends do, too. Personally, I’ve been working at least 40 hours a week, usually more, since I graduated school. And that’s not just because my mom had a tendency to recite “Get up," in a monotone without leaving the couch every time I fell down the stairs as a toddler; it’s because I’m a human being capable of growth, just like a whole lot of other people born between 1978 and 2000. The notion that too much nurturing made me into an unholy hybrid of that girl from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and every character on "Girls" is just ridiculous.
But hey, maybe I should give my parents partial credit for this. Although they've always told me I was special, they’ve done so in a baffled, slightly panicked way ever since I expressed interest in interning for BUST at the age of 14. I vividly remember once having a conversation with my father that went like this:
“Dad! I just finished a fan fiction!”
“Yeah? Uh. Well. That’s great, honey!”
“It’s 20,000 words long! And has 245 reviews!”
“Great! So, uh. When can I read it?”
This has actually continued to the present day. Although they know I write for the Internet, I have never actually sent them a piece, both for their own mental well-being and my own. “They're just not parentally appropriate,” I tell them, which they seem to accept. And it’s all for the best. Just think of the special-snowflake ego boost I would get if they ever got access to Disqus.
At this point, I can’t actually think of a single person in my acquaintance who’s happy being financially and emotionally reliant on their parents. Even my friends who do live with their families aren’t doing it because they’d prefer to laze around in piles of their own fingernail clippings and dirty laundry instead of contributing to society or however else Mitt Romney is putting it these days. It’s because they came of age in a recession, when (you may recall) it was really freaking hard to find a job. These people don’t relish the idea that they’re going to bed under the same poster of Orlando Bloom that they did when they were twelve; they don’t really have a choice.
One major flaw of the majority of those “millenials are screen-addicted parasites”-style articles is, I think, the impulse to conflate financial independence with emotional independence. Many social commentators seem to think that needing a little extra help with the bills automatically saddles one with all the charm and hairiness of the average teenage boy. This, they argue, is worthy of repugnance (and, lest we forget it, probably all our parents’ fault).
Conversely, it also seems that a lot of my own teenage boy tendencies get a pass because of my financial independence from my parents. A young woman with a job who can’t follow a recipe that has more than three steps is quirky and charming and probably wearing an ironic poodle skirt! A young woman without a job who can’t do that is contributing to the failing economy and should be taken out back and shot before she can do any more damage.
This is idiotic. Ultimately, a person’s life skills, whether they’re social, practical, or intellectual, are often far removed from one’s ability to earn a viable paycheck. The American notion of picking oneself up by one’s bootstraps is nothing new; it’s just fascinating to me that it’s become inextricably entwined with millennial-shaming. Regardless of your background, it seems, being financially unstable automatically reduces you to “adultolescence:” incapable of making mature decisions, better off eating Ice Pops and tying tin cans to the neighbor’s cats than actually participating in the democratic process.
Calling someone an “adultolescent” automatically robs them of their agency. It suggests that they deserve whatever’s coming to them, whether politically, emotionally, and financially speaking. And that’s just plain fallacy.
The way these publications cast it, the whole world is a few decades away from crumpling into apathetic, pot-scented misery. I’m just not buying it. The peers I know are way too dedicated, too stubborn, and too goddamn contrary to lie back and let the world be run into the ground by a bunch of old white dudes. No matter how special our parents told us we were.