One of the things that has been gnawing at my mind for the past year or so is how the present generation, my generation (though we’ll be replaced soon) is talked about. Formerly known as Generation Y, we’ve been dubbed much more recently as the millennials. That’s been an about face that’s been hard for me to wrap my mind around, since Millennial is the ‘new’ term my brain always wants to apply it to the teenagers I see instead of 30 year olds like myself.
I’ve sat through many conversations about “this generation” or “kids these days” (kids, in this case, being 30+ year olds). I’ve heard about our lack of respect, our lack of morals, how we’re lazy and self-entitled. Generally, this talk is tied to how this is the worse possible time to be alive and how much better things were in the good old days. The good old days, I’ve come to understand, are represented in TV comedies set in the 1950s. If only we could return to the 1950s, forget the falling violent crime rate we’ve for the past few terrible decades. Let’s return to the days of political witch hunts, the Cold War and 74%-91% tax rates.
The problem isn’t that this generation, or even the next, are the worst, most selfish humans to have ever existed, it’s that humans have always been the worst, generation after generation. Those who complain about how my generation, collectively, possesses no morals seems to forget the free-love movement of the 60s. Complainees who bemoan our lack of respect forget about the internment camps and open segregation, lynchings that have occurred within living memory.
Let’s take a quick look at a video that I constantly see in the feeds of baby-boomer social media. It’s from a particularly terrible show called the Newsroom, and it’s very impressive in the way that it gets so much right and so much wrong. I can’t embed it, because every copy I can find on youtube has embedding disabled, but here’s a link.
This video encapsulates the issues I’m talking about, after going off on a litany of why America is not the greatest country in the world (though I prefer ‘Thank You for Smoking’s answer as to why it is: “Our endless appeals system”) our author stand-in resolutely informs his strawman that she is part of the Worst Period Generation Period Ever Period. Well, alright. All of America’s poor rankings that were listed previously, how is that the fault of a 20 year old’s generation? All the problems about how we and the government act now that he takes issue with, how is that the fault of a 20 year old’s generation? Why is it so damn hard for him to see that the problems he’s railing about aren’t the fault of a generation of kids who are barely old enough to run for congress but his own generation? He speaks wistfully of how America used to be (And he speaks about an America that never existed), but can’t bring himself to admit that whatever it is he thought this country was, it was his own generation that ruined it.
My wife and I were once at our favorite local drinking establishment when another man and his associate sat at the table next to us. This man was firmly in the now hallowed baby boomer generation, he was also the award winning owner of a local business. Before long he was telling his young employee about everything that was wrong with his generation, how they didn’t have respect, or loyalty to businesses (this was his biggest concern). More employees gathered as time went on, and he was telling the crudist, dumbest, most sexist jokes I’ve heard in public family setting, loudly, demanding, begging to be heard. When he joked about raping a waitress, we decided to leave and let him know what we thought of his behavior. He was unapologetic. This is a man complaining about my generation, his employee’s generation. And he’s a damn pillar of the community. My House Stranger has said that if people complain about how this is the generation where everybody gets a trophy, who is giving out the trophies? That is the kind of man who is giving out the trophies.
I think the greatest lesson to take from this is to do away with mortal hero worship. The Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, Bucer, Roosevelt, Reagan, Obama, no matter who they are or how brilliant they were, they’re but fallible men who do not hold up to scrutiny. Canonizing them doesn’t do them or us any favors.
My generation is not the Greatest Generation 2.0, and I roll my eyes whenever I hear it talked about that way, but we’re far from being worse than any previous generation. I just finished a biography about Cicero and in 50 B.C. they were complaining about how the youth were immoral and didn’t respect tradition. I don’t think there’s been a period in time when people approved of their replacements. I’m already having difficulty accepting some of mine, with their Snapchats and their Vines. Get off my lawn.