Elspeth Reeve at the Atlantic Wire has some fun dismantling Joel Stein’s “get off my lawn” Time article, in which Stein denounces the millennial generation as a bunch of self-satisfied narcissists. (It’s behind a paywall, so this famously broke generation is unlikely to find out what mean things Stein is saying about it.) Reeve objects to Stein’s evidence, but the real meat of her post chronicles the long history of articles like Stein’s—essays in which a member of the older generation dismisses the youngsters as self-involved. The WWII generation did it to the Boomers, the Boomers to Generation X, and now Generation X to the Millennials.
What becomes apparent in all these articles, which go back at least to 1907, is the egotism not of the accused generation, but of the writer. The writers invariably fancy themselves part of a generation that, unlike the youth of today, has deep thoughts and knows the value of hard work. Stein even starts off his piece by saying, “I am about to do what old people have done throughout history: call those younger than me lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow.” But even though he knows it’s unlikely that every generation is less awesome than the one before it, he’s going to plow right ahead and say it anyway.
If one bothers to step outside of the cycle of whining, the more honest conclusion is that today’s kids are pretty great people, especially compared to the rest of us screw-ups. Millennials are more liberal than the generations before, suggesting a shift away from the politics of resentment and toward a politics of generosity and social support. They’re pretty responsible, too. They’re the ones who managed to cut the teenage pregnancy rate by 42 percent since 1990, and even though there are as many of them as there are Baby Boomers, they managed to come of age without creating the same massive spike in the crime rate. Even though they’re starting out their adult lives in an period of economic crisis, they’re an optimistic crew. Frankly, as someone from the tail end of Generation X, my main problem with this generous, optimistic, tolerant generation is that all their goody-two-shoes stuff is insufferable. I’ll just be sitting in the corner with my punk records and inability to say anything that’s not drenched with irony, secretly glad that such good people are taking over the world.