The Scourge of the Millennial, Pt 1: Let’s Generalize!

Ephebiphobia is defined as the irrational, exaggerated fears surrounding the youth by older generations at any given time.

Millennials, or Generation Y is (roughly) anyone born between the late 1970’s and the early 2000’s. Since they are the current youth generation, they are the current magnets for condescending “back in my day…” criticism. Ephebiphobia. These generational critiques rely on falsely equating the babies born when the original Star Wars film was released all the way back in 1977 and the babies born when the Star Wars Prequel was released in 1999. Considering the rapid evolution of technology in that period, we can safely say that these two groups of babies will generally have wildly different cultural fixations, neuroses, and mindsets. I find it easy to disregard such vague and incendiary critiques as shameless social media click bait targeting the very millennials they disparage for ad revenue, but I do not want to write them off entirely.

I see this bullshit as the fertile soil of an important discussion.

Critics of Generation Y claim that the youth are entitled narcissists, obsessed with social media, and have unrealistic ideas about their own future and spectacular self-worth.  Gen Y is characterized as immature navel-gazing cretins convinced by media culture and fawning parents that they are so special that the world is going to be handed to them based on their inherent merit. Millennials don’t work hard enough, they are adverse to challenging themselves, and they all see themselves as the stars of their own fictional reality TV shows. Their facebook friends, in their addled minds, are their adoring fans.

Counter-critiques of these articles and sentiments have been numerous and have generally focused on the changing economic realities that millennials are facing.

Because of inflation it is argued that jobs pay less than they did when their parents were the same age while productivity expectations have almost doubled.

The cost of post-secondary tuition is skyrocketing and then when post-secondary is complete there are less jobs to compete for with higher expectations of personal sacrifice.

As for consumerism, the young don’t require flashy cell phones for superficial vanity- there is a cultural requirement to be hyperconnected to participate and compete in the jobs marketplace. The cost of living and the new technological amenities mandatory to meet the cultural standards imposed by peers and employers is putting Generation Y in a tight economic bind.

This type of ephebiphobic critique has been made before but is currently prominent on social media. There is an irony in the fact that the criticism is finding its legs on the back of the very technology it demonizes. Either the Gen X scholars who can see the folly of Gen Y are guilty of the behavior they accuse Gen Y of (namely, using social media to build a narcissistic internal idea of your own cult of personality based on their enviable social media prowess and so on) or, more likely, the very oblivious members of Gen Y who are the targets of critique are themselves seeding the meme and making these ideas popular. This is not a superficial irony. Critiques of millennials being proliferated by millennials is indicative of a larger pattern with real potential consequences.

Millennials are achingly self-aware, and they hate themselves and they hate one another. Millennials are autoephebiphobic. Through this they are paralyzed against unmediated expression through the fear of outside judgement.

So the point that millennials strive on an internal belief that they are distinct from others holds true in this context. Why would anyone post an article about how terribly delusional their own generation is unless they were attempting to say implicitly “my peers are delusional and outrageous, but personally, I am distinct and genuine” or “I am delusional, I am aware I am delusional, read more about how I am delusional on my personal website of delusion?”

We can clearly observe this trend in the culture surrounding the use of the word “Hipster”.

The pejorative use of the word “hipster” is a defining characteristic of millennials. At the same time, meeting the common criteria of the word “hipster” (eclectic taste in music, wearing tight jeans, owning a smartphone and laptop) are also defining characteristics of millennials. This paradoxical loop of self-hatred is perfect microcosm of modern autoephebiphobia.

Let’s be honest about what the word ‘hipster’ refers to.

“Hipster” is a catch-all that refers to having a specialized interest in anything, as long as that thing does not have an existing marginalizing descriptive term such as ‘metalhead’ or ‘nerd.‘  It can also refer to being between the ages of 13-40 with an interest in fashion and music. Hipsters like video games. Hipsters like movies and television. Hipsters like the same music as everyone else. Hipsters are obsessed with liking music no one else likes. Hipsters like to eat healthy. Hipsters try to be socially conscious. Hipsters are totally apathetic. “You are a hipster, and that is bad. Me, however, I am not a hipster. Congratulations to me.”

‘Hipster’ refers to almost all millennials. If the millennial drives a car, they are a Yuppie. If they are interested in cultural or political change, they are a Hippie. These pejorative labels place negative social capital on falling too close to any trend or established pattern, which incentivizes eschewing established patterns, which is the paradoxical criteria of alleged hipsterdom. Attempting to avoid prescriptive social group identifiers is one of the many ideas strongly associated with the word.

The spectrum of critique here is so large (and indeed self-contradictory) that no millennial can truly escape its radius.

These conspicuous labels are intended to foster distance between the labeller and the labeled. In much the same way the posting of an ephebiphobic article represents a self-made personal distinction from the critiques of the article, using the word hipster represents a self-made distinction from the signified. The concept behind the word in most colloquial use is not a specific type of ”hipster” it is an unconscious meaning.

Other. Outsider. Too <adjective>. I do not identify with them. You don’t identify with them either right? 

What makes millennials hate themselves?

Increased access to information dulls the pleasurable effects of novelty. If everything is ”old news” to you it’s hard to see the world as a beautiful and magical place.

The influence of the advertising and media industry on body image issues and the cultural focus on conspicuous consumption. The youth want to reject commodity culture, but commodity culture is the easiest path for rejecting commodity culture.

Worth noting in a generational competition sense: the advertising industry is largely run by members of Generation X. This is not to say they represent the values of Generation X.

To make such a generalization about any generation would be ignorant and stupid. No generation is homogenous, and no generation is responsible for the totality of the worlds problems.

This toxic set of advertising-imposed values is multiplied by social media and internet culture. Everything is critiqued first. Nothing is ever good enough, especially not ourselves. There are enormous industries based on celebrity-worship culture (where the real currency of worship is irrational hatred) and reality television culture (where you affirm yourself as better than the people on the screen.)

On the internet cruelty thrives in pseudonymity. Many millennials have grown up reading the results of this verbal freedom and internalized the vile ramblings of cruel strangers insulting celebrities and one another. Millennials are intimately aware of what is said to people who are deemed not good enough. The millennial who worries they are not attractive enough knows what is said about ”ugly” people. The millenial who worries that they are not smart enough knows precisely what is said about ”stupid” people. Millennials do not need to be bullied to feel bullied. They bully themselves.

Millennials are taught from a young age to be ashamed of everything they want to do and the culture and world they have inherited. They are alienated from their own bodies and clothing to the point that every fashion choice has to be a rebellion or a counter-rebellion. When they see a rebellion in others that they would be ashamed to see in themselves, they hate the person. Sometimes, they snap a picture of what they hate and share it online. Their friends, in tune with the same values of elevating yourself by distinguishing yourself from others, publicly agree with the shallow criticisms of other’s appearances and fashion choices. I hate x, and you hate x. Through this mutual love of the hatred of x, we are now in fraternity.

We can’t stop at blaming the youth for their behavior. For many technology-alienated and media-shamed millennials this is the closest thing to feeling a part of a community that they get.

The problems lie deeper than the millennial discourse probes at.

EXERCISES:

1. Try to think of a time where the word “hipster” has been used as a weapon in your presence.

2. Try to think of a time where you used the word hipster and write down what precisely you meant, conceptually. Rewrite the sentence you used and convey the same meaning without the word hipster. Do this with your mouth for the rest of your life.

3. Think of three things you hate, and a friend that you know who also hates that same thing.

4. Make a list of communities you feel a part of and rank them each on a scale where 0 means you feel totally alienated from the community and 10 means you feel totally accepted and loved by the community.

To be continued!

Shawn Vulliez

Shawn is the most X person sitting at the Y table. Amplification journalist, cartoonist, and former leader of the Pirate Party of Canada. As of this writing he still has faith in humanity.

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