07/17/2015

An epistolary

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Final word: As the term “millennials” starts to wear thin, people are realizing that there’s so much more that this generation is offering.

Dear people whose names I don’t know yet,

The labeling problem is really getting to me. Maybe some of you have experienced it. I’m a nice, middle-class kid; grew up in a nice household, a nice neighborhood, a nice family. Smooth sailing all the way. My problems are localized, limited, decidedly bourgeois, supposedly millennial. Whatever that means. I lean left of center, but no one believes me until I open my mouth, because I’m a nice, middle-class kid. I’ve been called nice, but not good; concerned with form, but not so much with substance. A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s labor — yeah, that doesn’t apply to me, because I’ve never worked with my hands. They’re soft as a baby’s bottom. I’ve never lived through any revolutions, though clusters of my peers have made mini-revolutions of their own. Or is that politically incorrect since we’ve never lived through any revolutions? Are we still allowed to be “incorrect” these days?

My professor came late to class one day, all huffy and disheveled (we were on the third floor), brimming with righteous anger over what he felt was an irreparable slight. An associate had walked out on him (him!), citing her need for a more competitive salary, more flexible work hours, and maybe a less antagonistic boss. My professor whips out his phone. Reads from his ex-associate’s Facebook post:

“I leave the house at six AM. Leave work at TWO AM. Repeat cycle. GET. ME. OUT. OF. HERE.”

He clicks his phone off. Steams and fumes and glares at us, the class. He points a finger. “All you millennials think you can get away with everything. That you’re above hard work and humble beginnings. But entitled brats is what you are.”

His finger trembles like a leaf in mid-air, and I stare at it, imagining a separate, disembodied being. This professor was only 36.

There’s that word again. “Entitled.” It’s overused, trite. Shows but doesn’t tell the whole story. “Entitled,” from the Latin intitulare: “to give a name or a title to.”

The way I see it, we didn’t choose to be called Millennials, Gen Y, Gen Why, Generation Next, The Echo Boomers, Generation Rent, The Cheap Generation, Generation Now, The Internet Generation, The MyPod Generation.

Can we stop and pause for a minute to remember that generational marketing is a big business? We are being boxed into a brand, simply because it is easier to collapse youthful individuals into one umbrella category. We become easier to digest that way, to rile up and to control. In local folklore, calling an evil spirit by its name enabled you to ward it off. Name a thing and you control it.

Sure, generational profiles are helpful in understanding consumer groups. This is based on the singular premise that, since each generation came of age during a particular period in our cultural history, we ergo share the same worldview. Forget about nuance! There are no class-specific, geographical divides in the new century! Poverty is no excuse for feeling like an outsider looking in! We are our gadgets, after all.

Maybe this activity, this neurotic adhesion to labels, involves some separation of body from identity, some decoupling and deselfing.

So who am I then? Just a body? Can the consciousness of my unique self just go the way of the homogenized, the stereotyped, the generalized? Does it simply regress into a shadowy state of communal ownership with beings who don’t know me, who can’t possibly probe through every facet of my life, yet who’ve already lain down judgment as if my existence were tied to every artisanal coffee, swanky rented (unpaid) apartment, smartphone, and vapid idea of social responsibility on the planet?

Identity theft, that’s what it is. I’m already gone, and yet it’s just a bunch of old people, a bunch of digits, a bunch of corporations arguing over whether I can make a viable consumer/employee/scapegoat or not, dissecting me in terms of the numbers I can crunch.

This is not really my story, dear people whose names I don’t know yet, but echoes of my story. I am not my generation or my social class, my degree or my pedigree. Or maybe I am, but it doesn’t define me. I mean the real me. I can decouple — as an individual, first and foremost; and secondly, but only tangentially, as a millennial.

Best wishes,

S.

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