Saanya Gulati's Blog - Millennial Syndrome

The Media’s Fascination With The Millennial Syndrome

Much has been said about the millennial: an individual reaching young adulthood around the year 2000 (If you didn’t catch get the Mean Girls reference from the title, there’s a chance you may not be one).

The description of millennials that you may be more familiar with, however, is ‘lazy, entitled, narcissists who still live with their parents,’ what the Time Magazine termed the ‘me me me generation’ in their infamous cover story from 2013. And thus began the media’s fascination with the millennial syndrome.

As far as media consumers are concerned, a Google Trends report shows that there has been a spike in the searches for millennial after the times Magazine published its piece. Safe to say, the hype is real.

Recently, an article on Buzzfeed India went viral for coining the term ‘urban poor,’ which is meant to aptly characterise the monetary predicament faced by millenials who are “broke, hungry, but on trend.” The piece was unsurprisingly shared by a ton of millennials, who could identify with, or have observed the phenomenon around them.

But that’s not all, for a brief scan of my newsfeed, and often WhatsApp inbox, tell me that there are tons of pieces floating around in cyberspace that attempt to describe different aspects of what I have taken the liberty to call ‘the millennial syndrome.’ Two pieces I was recently forwarded include ‘We Are The Generation That Doesn’t Want Relationships’ and Why We Are Not Happy Despite Our Well-Paying Jobs And Happening Social Lives.

Generational or Generic?

It doesn’t take a genius to identify the common patterns in most millennial syndrome pieces. Aside from their click-baity titles (which I won’t condemn them for, as I spent a fair amount of time contemplating the title of this piece), is their overuse of rather clichéd – and often fatalistic – sounding contradictions. Let’s consider the following sentences from the 3 different articles I mentioned:

“We dress for the jobs we want, forgetting that most salaries are tailored to afford dressing for the jobs we have.”

“Because the problem with our generation not wanting relationships is that, at the end of the day, we actually do”

 We should be celebrating, and yet, here we are, anxious and worried to death.”

If one is to accept that there’s some truth in these statements then the vast majority of 20+ year-old individuals are essentially living beyond their means, afraid of admitting that they want serious relationships, and unknowingly suffering from anxiety or depression. Now even if that were the case, none of these claims are substantiated with hard facts. While the Times piece may have been an exception to this rule, there is equally convincing data to disprove the claims made by the magazine. 

Other pieces tend to rely on anecdotal data. For instance, the piece that claims millennials are unhappy, writes, “when we sleep at night, the last things we see are the screens of our phones—wandering aimlessly over timelines, trying to find something amusing to laugh at, or something fascinating to long for.” Clearly the writer did not consider the possibility that the need to check your phone could also just be a bad habit, and doesn’t represent complete despair with one’s life. Even more problematic is the claim, “our attention spans are terrible; we get bored easily and quickly, I checked my Facebook account 18 times while writing this article.” So did I, but when did that give me the authority to speak for an entire generation?

Similarly, the writer who coined the term Urban Poor claims that she got an outpour of responses when she started tweeting about this particular brand of urban poverty. “I got stories about marketing guys who starve all day to buy one coffee at a five-star hotel.” As for the piece on relationships, it doesn’t even try to justify its claims. It’s simply a string of sentences that start with ‘we.’ Like many millennial syndrome pieces, it’s high on stylistic effect, but low on substance.

Constructive or Constrictive?

While any generational depiction is bound to be generic to some extent, my bigger problem with the new crop of millennial syndrome pieces is that that they usually rely on feel good factors rather than constructively criticizing what obviously appear to be a rather problematic phenomena.

Let’s take the Urban Poor piece, which talks about millennials’ overwhelming need to keep up with appearances and forego some of life’s most basic necessities. For example, those marketing guys who starve all day to buy a coffee at a five-star hotel, or the girl (also in marketing) who bought a car with her first salary and now sleeps in it. Nowhere does the piece question these life choices for being unwise, or downright ridiculous. It essentially suggests that such phenomena are an inescapable result of the appearances that one needs to keep up with in contemporary society.

The piece that suggests millennials aren’t happy, similarly blames the external social environment where “everyone told us to be perfect. Everyone told us to go have fun” and “sadness is acceptable but not poverty.” But accepting these circumstances at face value suggests that they are unchangeable, and beyond our control, which is neither constructive, nor true. The message it communicates is that you either identify with these conditions because you face them, or commiserate those upon whom they are forced – but nowhere does it encourage you to question the circumstances themselves.

A Hopeless History of Generational Thinking

Fortunately, there are others who share my concerns with millennial syndrome piece. The urban poor piece, for one, received some scathing responses from those who rightly pointed out that there’s no excuse for poor life decisions. As for the Times Piece, its argument is a tad bit more balanced in that it both attacks millennials, for being lazy and narcissistic, but then celebrated them, and proclaims  that they will save us all.

However, a particularly interesting counterargument raised here – which is apt for the whole tribe of millennial syndrome pieces – is that the stereotypes used by Time to describe millennials are almost identical to those attributed to previous generations.

Consider this: In 1968, Life Magazine’s cover story called out baby boomers for being entitled. In 1985, the Newsweek cover story termed the video generation preening narcissists who have to document every banal moment with cutting edge technology. In 1990, it was Time Magazine itself, who questioned whether Generation X was laid back, late blooming, or just lost. As Adam Conover, the host of TruTv’s ‘Adam Ruins Everything,’ points out, in his episode called Millennials Don’t Exist, generational thinking has historically been reductive and condescending. Now there’s something to think about next time you fall into the click-bait of millennial syndrome pieces.

About The Author

Saanya is a blogger on contemporary culture, politics, travel and lifestyle. She has previously been published in Times of India, DNA, Youth Ki Awaaz & more. Her blog seeks to provide a unique perspective on topical issues.

2 Comments

  1. shivani_nirula@hotmail.com'

    Hi Saanya, thank you for breaking down this topic so well, and also calling out some of these ridiculous generalisations! While it’s true that there are some interesting attributes which seem to be exclusive to our generation, it is slightly reassuring to know that this sort of negative generalisation seems to be a historical trend, accusing all those before us too! A good outcome of these articles is that some of the subtleties in our psyche are being spoken about so openly, making us aware of possible thought patterns (like the article on relationships) which are getting extremely common in our environment. So in one sense, it does help us in noticing these patterns which may otherwise go ignored or be overlooked.

    • Thank you Shivani! Glad you enjoyed the piece. And I agree, it definitely is re-assuring (in a slightly twisted way I suppose) to know that this is not exclusive to the millennials. In fact the video I refereed to (Adam Ruins Everything) breaks down this topic really well, and makes the argument that these ‘generational’ trends have been invented by people to make a ton of money. You should watch it 😉 And yes, it’s good to point out potential problems within a certain generation, but most pieces don’t problematize these phenomena (which is essentially what I pointed out) 😛

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