Monday, May 27, 2013

Us Versus Them

I have watched Stephen Colbert's commencement speech to the graduating class of the University of Virginia many, many times this evening. It very neatly addressed the growing dissonance between competing generations, though I'm certain that wasn't his overall intent. He ever so gently reminded his contemporaries, the Boomers, that their children are not the source of our economic drains. Millennials aren't, in point of fact, the whining, self absorbed babies in the room. Not like the way Gen Xer Joel Stein would have you believe, in any case.

Remember that time Joel Stein wrote an article about how horrible it was that his previously white neighborhood was being taken over by Indian immigrants?

Baby Boomers are fond of decrying Millennials as the source of our economic troubles. Our dear parental generation. Don't we know its just not that hard to do right by this country? Why when I was your age making $12,000 a year was a great start! Of course adjusting for inflation this causes things to tilt in a slightly different direction, but let's not focus on that. We're lazy, we little baby Y's. We aren't contributing as we should to the still struggling economic climate. We're cheap. We aren't buying houses. We're living with our Boomers or renting for far longer than anticipated. We aren't buying cars. We have bus passes, bikes, and zip cars. We're a waste of resources and time.

To Gen Xers, the asshole older brother generation, we're a bunch of whiners. Don't we know they had it hard too once? They had an internship for a while. And yeah, they make 40k a year now, own a home and have three kids, but they worked hard for it! Didn't AT ALL benefit from Clinton's administration and the far more stable American job market. It was all on them. And we Millennials are all a bunch of jack holes sitting around crying about working two to three jobs at a time, all for minimum wage, while balancing internships and volunteer positions, still trying to wedge our foots in the proverbial door. Why don't we just shut up about it already and a get a real job?

This is what I hear in a constant thrum across various media sources. Millennials are the worst thing that has happened to America since Obama. Who we consequently worked our asses off to put in office, so maybe the two things are related. While I am in no position to be a speaker for a majority, I feel I can become a speaker for my friends. For my coworkers. For the people I spend my days with, meticulously counting single dollar bills to discern whether you can splurge for that beer tonight or not.

I have spent the better part of a year either underemployed, as I am now working two jobs that (combined) give me less than ten hours a week, or underpaid, when I was working sixty hours a week at three jobs and still came up short for bills and rent. Whether these older generations wish to acknowledge it or not, the current America is not so simple or so generous to young graduates. It has been almost five years since I heard my own commencement speech, which I now remember very little of, but I wish someone had just been honest and said that it was going to be hard. That I was going to think about things like unemployment support and food stamps, but decline them out of pride, because my predecessors would think less of me for needing them.

Here are our allegations:

1) We are narcissists. The evidence for this case is in our penchant for technology. We won't buy those shiny new houses and cars, but we will invest in smart phones and computers. This seems a confusing trajectory to most Boomers and maybe some Gen Xers too. But that is because to them technology is a luxury item. It is a toy. Something you own to display a certain brand affiliation, a la Apple devotees.

This is not what technology is. Not to a Millennial.

Technology is a gateway. It is a tool. You need a smart phone now, yes you do. Don't pretend you're above it hipsters. You need technology, because you need to be online. We have lived through the progression of the internet. We are human timelines. From weird late night AOL chat rooms to myspace to livejournal to the birth of facebook, the great social networking game changer. And even that is changing now and we're apart of it. We have left facebook as you showed up on it, Boomers. We're tweeting now. Snapchating, instagraming, night blogging on tumblr, and blowing out the parameters of how we connect to one another. Because that is actually what the internet is. It is the way we reach out and communicate. To you this seems cold. And objectively I can see why. But that is because you did not grow up here. This is not your space. It's not for you.

When someone instagrams their lunch you may think it is childish, self indulgent, or even mundane, but this is Millennial communication. This is a way of saying, I tried a new recipe. I am proud of myself. I am making things work right now, because tomorrow could be a hot mess. Twitter operates in much the same way. Is there a flood of minutiae as well? Of course. But don't you have friends who tell you useless things in conversation? (Warning: if you don't, you are that friend.) Your brain filters out what you do and do not want to retain the same way our friends list settings do.

2) You should just get a job already. It doesn't matter what job, just get a job and start making money so you can help us the economy out. That sounds lovely. I would be really interested in this job. I have three years of formal work experience in an education setting, five years of various museum positions, and a solid decade of childcare. Would you like me to tell you how many applications I have submitted since graduating from college? Wait for the punch line, because I lost count at 100.

I have held "any job" before. And been laid off twice for the effort, thanks. I'm not alone here either. Most young graduates will enter into a grind of underemployment for years to come. Many employers have found that the fastest way to cheap labor is the myth of the internship. If you work as an intern, unpaid for an unspecified amount of time, then maybe some day far off in the future you will have a better chance of becoming an employee with a desk or something. This does work. I do know people who have gone through the whole carrot dangling routine. But for every one person that succeeded, how many countless interns were left behind in their wake? There's only one job. There are many interns. And so it goes. You push and you shove and you hope its enough. I'm fortunate that my Boomers are more sympathetic and understanding than most. They don't ever tell me I'm not doing enough or that I'm not applying in the right places, they know first hand how hard the process is. But I have far more friends who receive the standard, "You're just not doing it right" line.

3) Probably you are Satan? I don't even know. I don't understand why there has been mounting interest in labeling Millennials as the Worst Generation to Ever Worst. Because all this has served to do is separate us. Gen Xers have decided to suck up to daddy and mommy Boomer, siding with them. A wall has been placed which we are not invited to cross. The wall of adulthood. Any one born after 1980 need not apply.

Here is the larger problem with the blame game. While you may feel safe on your side of the wall, smug that you have done everything right and we are the ones fucking up you seem confident that we still want to be you when we grow up. That we are trying so hard to be in your club. Has nothing we've done so far shown you how wrong you are? Generation Y will no longer measure success by square footage owned. By neighborhoods bought into. By the number of cup holders in cars. The more you turn against us, the more we turn against you. We are becoming insular. One day, not to far off, we will turn to each other and say enough. We are what matters and they are nothing but chaff in our way.

One day you will die, Baby Boomers. You will not hold office any more. You will not make policy. Your children will. And what have we become? What have our parents made us? Because on this count you should stand up and take a bow. We are your products. A direct reflection of the world in which we have come of age in to. We will be hungry, tired, and penniless. And we will be deeply mistrustful of you. Good luck in those nursing homes you are rapidly less able to afford.

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